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iTRAK System Achieves Extraordinary OEE

DT Engineering designs unique system that pushes the boundaries of independent cart technology

Challenge

  • Improve repeatability, speed and flexibility in assembly, dispensing and packaging applications

Solutions

Results

  • Increases overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
  • Improves flexibility and changeover
  • Achieves precise synchronization for dispensing/filling applications
  • Maintains tight tolerances

“Mass customization” is a concept that has been around for decades. But with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and more sophisticated automation technology, a flexible manufacturing environment that can efficiently address multiple SKUs and more personalized production is becoming a reality.

“For many of our customers, the critical questions are where and how to automate,” said Ken Cook, director of business development, DT Engineering. “We help customers stay on top of the latest technologies – and deliver solutions that improve return on investment (ROI), provide flexibility and address workforce challenges.”

DT Engineering is a family-owned, industrial automation developer and system integrator that prides itself on an innovative approach to project execution by Bringing Concepts to Life. Located in Lebanon, Missouri, DT Engineering serves leading appliance, HVAC, agricultural, tire, consumer product and pharmaceutical/medical device companies.

Conventional Conveyance Limits OEE

“Regardless of industry, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is a critical key performance indicator for our customers,” Cook said. “And repeatability, speed and changeover time significantly impact OEE in filling, assembly and packaging applications.”

Conveyance is central to these applications. And the method used oftentimes limits OEE improvements. 

“Assembly, filling and packaging typically involve transporting components or products through a series of processing stations,” Cook explained. “Many of the line shaft, cam-driven machines on plant floors today use belt-type conveyors or other conventional methods for transport.”

Conventional conveyors are designed to move products through a line on a preconfigured path – at a fixed speed. Products on the conveyor are equally spaced – and the system only runs as fast as the slowest process on the line.

Recently, DT Engineering took a new approach to improve machine speed and performance in a multi-application solution featuring Rockwell Automation independent cart technology (ICT).

A Better Way: Independent Cart Technology (ICT)

“We had partnered with Rockwell Automation to develop and deploy a “double-decker” system to a Fortune 500 customer based on iTRAK® ICT,” said Cook. “We designed the solution to meet the customer’s OEE standard – 85%. Currently, the system is achieving 97% OEE.”

Based on that success, DT Engineering designed a double-decker iTRAK solution that can serve as a prototype for many applications.

iTRAK technology is based on linear synchronous motors, which enable the independent control of multiple magnetically propelled carriers. Control software and embedded sensors continuously calculate carrier position.

Instead of traveling at a fixed speed, carriers move independently from station to station.

In the prototype solution, one iTRAK system transports products to processing stations. A second iTRAK runs overhead and can assume various roles.

“Depending on the application, the upper iTRAK system can be used to dispense material to products on the lower track – or to stage another product SKU for changeover,” Cook said. “The system can also be configured to run two SKUs simultaneously."

The solution runs on an Allen-Bradley CompactLogix™ 5380 controller and features Allen-Bradley Kinetix® 5700 servo drives, Allen-Bradley PanelView™ graphic terminals, and Allen-Bradley Stratix® 5700 managed switches. The solution is integrated on an EtherNet/IP™ network.

For the pick and place applications in the prototype machine, DT Engineering installed FANUC® robots. FANUC is an Encompass™ Product Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork™ program. Additionally, DT Engineering is an Authorized System Integrator for FANUC robots.

More Efficient. Repeatable.

DT Engineering can replicate the process steps used in their previous machine applications. But thanks to the iTRAK system, the way they can execute those steps has changed significantly.

“Because accelerations, decelerations, velocities and positions are all programmable, we can actually speed up and slow down between some of the processing stations,” Cook explained. “This improves the overall efficiency of the system considerably.

“And since tolerances are electronically tuned and controlled, the system is highly repeatable,” Cook added.

Precise Synchronization

The most challenging aspect of the project was implementing the company’s inventive approach to material dispensing using the upper iTRAK. To dispense a load, an assembly transported by the upper track must be married to the product carried by the lower track for an interval of time.

Achieving precise synchronization – at 7 thousandths of an inch – was an engineering feat that required exceptional collaboration between DT Engineering and the Rockwell Automation team.

“Rockwell Automation completed the simulations for us to determine the number of carriers needed on both iTRAK systems – and the dwell time needed for each station,” Cook said.

To extend OEE further, the prototype includes a PTC® Vuforia® augmented reality (AR) experience that simplifies maintenance by guiding operators through procedures. PTC, a digital transformation leader, is a Rockwell Automation strategic alliance partner.

DT Engineering anticipates many customers will capture a significant return on OEE by taking advantage of new ways to develop and deploy iTRAK solutions – and smart, digital technologies.

Learn more about how Rockwell Automation helps improve machine builder performance.

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