For today's consumers who make many of their purchases online, overnight delivery is no longer an exception. It's an expectation that's accelerating the need for more efficient inventory management and material handling throughout the supply chain.
Larger companies are taking advantage of the “anytime, anywhere” nature of e-commerce to consolidate manufacturing and warehouse facilities. Smaller entities are rethinking ways to maximize space and streamline processes.
“Many smaller and mid-sized facilities are not built for high-density storage,” said Joe Van De Hey, founder and CEO, C3 Corporation. “They must optimize space for raw materials and work in process – and efficiently track and move that material throughout their plant.”
Headquartered in Appleton, Wisconsin, C3 began as an integration firm in 1994 and has evolved into an equipment manufacturer with an acute understanding of information systems. Recently, the company introduced an automated pick and place gantry as an efficient alternative to conventional pallet-based material handling systems.
“Our studies show that in many plants, up to 50 percent of downtime is caused by inefficient material delivery,” Van de Hey explained. “In other words, machines are idle and waiting for material.”
The pick and place gantry system automates material delivery in line with production and order requirements – and improves space utilization.
While the company's initial system was designed for mattresses and foam components, the scalable offering can be configured for a wide range of applications.
In the mattress application, the gantry system is the production entry point for foam cores. As the foam enters the system, material data is collected and automatically aligned with the plant's inventory. The gantry locates appropriate storage space, and then tracks, retrieves and delivers material as needed.
“The gantry system replaces forklifts or automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and allows us to use floor space in better way,” said Van De Hey. “Thanks to our gantry's reach, we can extend material storage from floor to ceiling in many cases, and sometimes double or even triple capacity.”
Built with three axes of motion, the gantry runs horizontally on a track of unrestricted length and can extend vertically to about 30 feet. In addition, the gantry's side-to-side reach is 80 inches in both directions, which allows material storage on either side of the track.
Material delivery can be generated automatically via integration with a company's ERP system or triggered manually, through an operator interface on the plant floor.
“We provide our customers with one integrated system, which is much easier to improve and support over the long term than multiple systems,” Van De Hey said.
To ease integration, the pick and place gantry relies on an information-enabled Rockwell Automation control system, featuring an Allen-Bradley® CompactLogix™ controller and Allen-Bradley® PowerFlex® 755 AC drives. The system runs on an EtherNet/IP™ network and is monitored on an Allen-Bradley PanelView™ Plus 7 graphic terminal.
“The PowerFlex drives provide the high-resolution feedback required to control the movement of the system's three axes,” said Van De Hey. “The drives also help maintain safe handling of the load during vertical lifting to higher storage areas.”
TorqProve™, a standard feature of the PowerFlex 755 drive, is specifically designed for coordinated and sustained control of a load and mechanical brake. The TorqProve algorithm enables the drive to monitor and hold the load position – and bring the load down safely and slowly in the event of a power disruption.
C3's first pick and place gantry was installed in just one week and quickly exceeded cycle time expectations. Initial targets of about 125 feet per minute or one cycle per minute were achieved upon installation. Within two weeks of commissioning, the system was running at more than 175 feet per minute and completing one cycle every 30 or 40 seconds.
“Whether it's foam, paper or another application, our gantry system is a significant step toward a more efficient, smarter production line,” said Van De Hey. “It provides just-in-time access to inventory information – and enables better decisions regarding production scheduling.”
Allen-Bradley, CompactLogix, PanelView, PowerFlex, Rockwell Software and TorqProve are trademarks of Rockwell Automation, Inc. EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA. Other trademarks are the property of their respective companies.