Intelligent machines improving production, productivity

Companies are turning to intelligent machines and robots to improve plant-floor productivity and the bottom line. Humans get to avoid dull and repetitive jobs that can be difficult to fill.


Brian Kyles, technical director, Delta Systems and Automation, talked about intelligent machines changing the production floor at Pack Expo in Chicago. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE MediaMaking machines smarter, faster, and more efficient was a consistent theme at Pack Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago. In many markets, consumer demand for customized, sophisticated products is growing, and manufacturers in many industries are working to meet those demands.

"It's an exciting time to be in the machine industry. We're going through a lot of new migration, and intelligence is being embedded into machines," said Brian Kyles, technical director, Delta Systems and Automation, during his presentation "How intelligent machines are changing the production floor."

Kyles cited three traditional avenues of machine improvement: Uptime, speed, and efficiency. "We want more product out the door in less time with less downtime," he said. "With efficiency, we increase the number of good products we can deliver to the customer."

Intelligent machines that adapt to the environment and make decisions based on experiences can play a major role on the plant floor.

"Intelligent machines, when used correctly, optimize efficiency, eliminate faults, and reduce workload," Kyles said. It's important, he said, to reduce physical actions and optimize the worker's role on the plant floor.

Brian Dillman, area sales manager, Universal Robots, had a similar sentiment. "The challenge is taking the good employee and increasing their value. Remove the dirty, dull, and dangerous, the three D's, from their role and give them something that will provide added value to the company."

Finding valuable employees, even in this economy, can be a challenge. Dillman noted that many newly hired employees don't stick around through the job training.

"If they stick around on Monday [past the first payday], then we know we have a valuable employee," Dillman said he has heard from UR customers.

This workforce shortage has become a problem for companies who can improve their volume and sales. This has led companies to turn to collaborative robots and smart machines to fill these gaps. 

Secure, safe packaging

The XPak Robox box erector, which was on display at Universal Robots' booth, is an example of filling the gap and improving productivity. The XPak Robox is equipped with a UR10e cobot arm, which is designed to pick a box, fold, and seal the bottom flaps with tape without changeover. A sensor is attached to the base of the Robox to prevent the robot arm from operating at full speed if a human worker is nearby.

See a video of the Xpak Robox in action.

Stu Shepherd, regional sales director for Universal Robots, stressed ease of start up and use on the plant floor.

The Xpak Robox box erector is equipped with a UR10e cobot arm, which is designed to pick a box, fold, and seal the bottom flaps with tape without changeover. Courtesy: Mark T. Hoske, CFE Media"You can put the robot where it's needed on the plant floor," he said. "It is designed to start up the same day and that's with user training."

Signode Industrial Group is addressing similar concerns with their packaging, bundling, and unitizing products, which are designed to securely wrap and secure products of all shapes and sizes.

"We're focused on solving the customers' problem," said Joe Albert, vice president of sales and marketing for Signode. "We can do it in a variety of different ways, but at the end of the day, it's about maximizing uptime."

Machines in the Signode booth are designed to operate with little to no human interference while maximizing uptime. In packaging, not every product will be the same size and shape, but the sensors and interfaces plugged into the machines can make adjustments and compensate for any challenges. 

Augmented intelligence

Even with all of the advanced intelligence and predictive maintenance in the world, Kyles admitted that machines will break or not function properly. Augmented reality (AR) can help companies by flagging points of interest on a tablet or handheld device. This can include everything from current status to faults and even advice on how to fix the problem.

"Information equals time," Kyles said. "It's about reducing the amount of time to recover and getting the machine back working."

The information and the ability to act on it is out there, Kyles said. The future of intelligent machines is bright, but it's a question of taking advantage of the information available to the user and maximizing based on what the company has and could have.

Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

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