Bottom Line-driven Integration

Metcam, a manufacturing company in Alpharetta, GA, specializes in custom sheet metal fabrication serving a diverse industrial base, including commercial HVAC, healthcare, electronics, automotive, food service and air filtration. It partnered with AutomationDirect in an integration project designed to provide a scalable automation system that allows for continued growth and expansion. See photos.


  • Parts finishing system upgrade

  • 35-40% saved in project costs

  • Scalable controls provide room to grow, higher visibility

Temperature control, pushbuttons, controllers

Metcam, a manufacturing company in Alpharetta, GA, specializes in custom sheet metal fabrication serving a diverse industrial base, including commercial HVAC, healthcare, electronics, automotive, food service and air filtration. It partnered with AutomationDirect in an integration project designed to provide a scalable automation system that allows for continued growth and expansion. First focus was an outdated parts finishing system.

Metcam provides many value-added services such as metal finishing, custom coatings, electronic assembly, packaging and direct shipping. The company has an ISO registered quality management system, and has received numerous awards from world-class customers and professional organizations for quality, service, and delivery.

Production control at Metcam is handled in “the War Room,” a large central area with offices around the perimeter. The walls are scattered with white boards, schedules, calendars, bulletin boards, literature boxes, and the plant’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) monitor. The SCADA monitor is a Samsung 22-in. display connected via VGA-Ethernet converters to the automation server running Microsoft Windows XP, KepDirect, and Lookout Direct automation software.


High visibility for conveyor line speed ensures products arrive where they
High visibility for conveyor line speed ensures products arrive where they're supposed to be and when.

In combining some of the best talent to provide a comprehensive manufacturing solution, Metcam seeks to find ways to improve processes. Brainstorming sessions are common (among two employees or a full department) , as problems are considered opportunities to excel and stay ahead of competition.

A few years ago, an opportunity to substantially increase sales required improvements in many areas very quickly. Plans focused first on areas where the largest returns would be recognized, such as the finishing department. The finishing line includes a five-stage industrial parts washer, multiple powder coating booths, and drying and curing ovens. The existing system, in place since the company’s 1989 inception, had been well maintained, but it was inadequate to meet the new demands. Management decided to upgrade the system by providing additional mechanisms for improving quality, using in-house resources to minimize cost.

Finishing systems parameters are crucial to the process. In the past, cleaning, drying, coating and curing processes were controlled by discrete components. Pump and fan motors ran at full speed operated by NEMA-style starters. Self-contained process controllers with built-in loops controlled temperatures. Control panel fronts were filled with 30 mm pilot lights and pushbuttons. Flame safety relays were tucked away inside enclosures with no feedback to the operator. Conveyor line speed was at operator discretion, without velocity feedback.

During development phase discussions, Metcam personnel developed a wish list of improvements. They agreed that certain items were an absolute necessity, while others were more for convenience. Also, scalability was an important requirement for the new system: the finishing system must easily integrate with new systems added in the future, allowing for continued expansion.

A system integration partnership with nearby AutomationDirect was deemed to be the best choice, based on Metcam’s prior experiences with the company.

Indicator lights and additional readouts supplement HMI information.
Indicator lights and additional readouts supplement HMI information.

System components

The finishing department project involved integration of a control system with SCADA capability. The first phase required increasing the capacity of the existing cure and dry ovens. The two ovens operate independently of each other with their own heat source. Each oven is a direct-fired natural gas convection type.

After mapping I/O points, a DL260 programmable logic controller was selected as the main processor. Discrete inputs and outputs handle basic operator functions and feedback. Analog I/O includes temperature monitoring as well as actuator control for the main gas valve to control heat. All temperature sensors are AutomationDirect’s J-type thermocouple FC-T1 signal conditioners. The use of signal conditioners reduced rack space and simplified wiring, by eliminating long thermocouple wire runs back to the control system.

A C-more 15-in. industrial touch screen was selected for the HMI. All functions, with the exception of power on/off and E-stop, are controlled through the C-more panel. The panel allowed development of maintenance screens depicting actual photos of the machine with component and switch locations, providing feedback to the operators and maintenance personnel. A switch or input status can be checked by bringing up the maintenance screen; the operator can also determine the physical location of the switch on the screen.

The final component of the first phase was a SCADA system. KepDirect was selected as the OPC server and Lookout Direct as the SCADA client. The system was up and running within a day, reporting information back to the facilities manager’s office and to the display in production control. Everyone can see at any time what is happening in the finishing department.

At the conclusion of the first phase, Metcam realized a savings of 35-40% for project integration. The system has been in commission and operating without failure for 14 months, and we expect additional partnering with AutomationDirect to help maintain the bottom line.

Authors: David Sanders is facility manager and Bob Cheek is quality manager at Metcam, a custom sheet metal fabricator.

From the 2009 edition of the Automation Integrator Guide, a supplement to Control Engineering magazine. This annual print guide to nearly 1,800 automation system integrators is searchable online at .


Read other articles in the 2010 Automation Integrator Guide .


Temperature control, pushbuttons, controllers

According to Dave Sanders, facilities manager, Metcam first used AutomationDirect’s Solo temperature controller several years ago. It was purchased at a fraction of the cost of a replacement controller and worked well, he said; later, the system was decommissioned and replaced with a PLC-controlled loop. Another project where AutomationDirect products were used exclusively was a level and pump control system for a washer. The system, a simple hard-wired relay control with 22 mm pushbuttons and pilot lights, is still in use five years later, with zero failures. It is slated to be replaced in 2010 when the washer is upgraded. The system then will be controlled by a DirectLogic 260 PLC.

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