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iTRAK System Achieves Extraordinary OEE

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

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



  • 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.

“Our customers are researching new and better ways to automate their processes,” said Mark Meckem, director of engineering and technology, DT Engineering. “We collaborate with customers and suppliers to offer solutions that adhere to cycle time, improve return on investment 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

Since Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is critical to return on investment (ROI), OEE is a key performance indicator for most industries. Improvement in changeover time and equipment accuracy impact OEE, thereby improving ROI.

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

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.

“High-speed assembly and packaging applications involve transporting products with control and precision,” Meckem explained. “Old style line-shaft cam or belt-driven equipment has a high degree of accuracy but no flexibility. A system based on independent cart technology has both accuracy and flexibility, thereby reducing the capital expenditures for multiple SKUs.”

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

A Better Way

“We had partnered with Rockwell Automation to develop and deploy a “double-decker” system for a Fortune 500 customer based on iTRAK® ICT,” said Meckem. “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.

“The ability to transfer tooling from iTRAK system to iTRAK system creates several opportunities for improved product flow,” Meckem said. “For example, the system can be used to stage multiple SKUs, manage quality control, enable component revisions to support warranty items, and incorporate additional processes that improve cycle times.”

“The system can also be configured to run two SKUs simultaneously,” Meckem added.

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,” Meckem explained. “This improves the overall efficiency of the system considerably."

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