iTRAK System Doubles Machine Capacity

iTRAK System Doubles Machine Capacity

Challenge

  • Improve capacity, repeatability and flexibility of cartridge assembly application – within original footprint

Solutions

Results

  • Increases capacity incrementally from 40 to 80 parts per minute
  • Improves flexibility – enables simultaneous runs of different product SKUs
  • Achieves precise synchronization of media dispensing
  • Maintains tight tolerances

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

For machine builders, satisfying new capacity and performance requirements for an existing customer can be more challenging than the initial installation. But oftentimes those challenges can spur extraordinary innovation.

In the case of DT Engineering, a customer request for an assembly application upgrade led to a solution that pushes the boundaries of independent cart technology.

DT Engineering, a family-owned, custom machine builder, prides itself on an innovative approach to project execution that brings concepts to life. Located in Lebanon, Missouri, DT Engineering serves leading white goods, agricultural and consumer packaged goods companies.

Optimizing 20-Year-Old Process

“Our customer was using a line we designed about 20 years ago to assemble cartridges for industrial applications,” said David Grunwaldt, mechanical engineer for factory automation systems, DT Engineering. “They asked for a replacement that would more than double their current production capacity – within the original machine’s footprint.”

In addition, the customer required better application repeatability and flexibility.

Assembling cartridges is a complex process that requires empty cartridge bodies to move through 12 stations, including deionizing, media dispensing, inspection systems and more.

The original equipment, a line shaft, cam-driven machine, moved the cartridges on pallets via conveyor to each station. The pallets were locked into position for the duration of each process. Stations were equally spaced and the conveyance speed between them was constant. The original machine ran at 32 parts per minute (ppm).

“The accuracy and speed was about as good as you can get on a largely mechanical system,” said Grunwaldt.

Unique Approach to Assembly Control

To meet customer objectives, DT Engineering designed the new machine on a Rockwell Automation® platform, featuring iTRAK® independent cart technology. iTRAK technology – based on linear synchronous motors – enables the independent control of multiple magnetically propelled movers.

One iTRAK system transports the cartridges to the processing stations. A second iTRAK runs above the cartridge transport system and carries tube assemblies, which dispense media particles into the cartridges.

The control system also includes Allen-Bradley ControlLogix® and GuardLogix® 5580 controllers, Allen-Bradley Kinetix® 5700 servo drives, and Allen-Bradley PanelView™ Plus 7 graphic terminals. The solution is integrated on an EtherNet/IP™ network.

In addition, DT Engineering replaced the pick and place assemblies used throughout the system with 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.

iTRAK: Up to the Challenge

“The process steps are still the same as the old machine, but the way we are executing those steps has changed significantly,” Grunwaldt said. “And that’s primarily due to the iTRAK system.”

The iTRAK system is completely programmable for deceleration, speed and positioning.

“As a result, we can actually speed up and slow down between some of the processing stations,” Grunwaldt explained. “This improves the overall efficiency of the system considerably. And since tolerances are now electronically tuned and controlled, the system is more repeatable, too.”

The most challenging aspect of the project was implementing the company’s inventive approach to media dispensing. To dispense the media load, the tube assembly transported by the upper iTRAK system must be married to the cartridge carried by the lower system for a three-second interval.

Achieving precise synchronization was an engineering feat that required exceptional collaboration between DT Engineering and the Rockwell Automation team.

“Rockwell Automation completed all simulations for us early on to determine the number of movers needed on both iTRAK systems,” Grunwaldt said. “They also helped determine the dwell time needed for each station – including the media dispensing.”  

Future-Ready Speed & Flexibility

For initial installation, the machine is configured to load empty cartridges from the front side of the iTRAK system and process 40 ppm. In the future, infeed and processing stations will be added to the back side to increase capacity to 80 ppm.

“To start, we’re using half of the iTRAK loop for processing – the other half simply returns empty movers to the infeed,” Grunwaldt said. “When the customer is ready, we can add stations and double capacity within the same footprint.” 

Since the stations on the backstretch can be programmed for different media loads than those on the front, the customer can run two SKUs simultaneously – as long as the cartridge size is the same.

Although most assembly applications will not require both upper and lower iTRAK systems, DT Engineering will apply lessons learned to future implementations.

“Moving forward, our company plans to standardize on the lower iTRAK system for appropriate opportunities,” Grunwaldt said.    

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

Allen-Bradley, ControlLogix, Encompass, GuardLogix, iTRAK, Kinetix, PanelView, Rockwell Automation and Rockwell Software are trademarks of Rockwell Automation, Inc. EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA, Inc. FANUC is a trademark of FANUC Corporation. Trademarks not belonging to Rockwell Automation are the property of their respective companies.

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