Working with our strategic partner, Rockwell Automation, we have access to many robust and scalable tools. At the recent Rockwell Automation Fair, we connected with their experts to learn more about iTRAK®. Today’s Tech Talks explores how iTRAK® smart conveyors enable greater precision and control of automated assembly lines.
iTRAK® Smart Conveyor for Precision Automated Assemblies
At the heart of what we do with automation engineering is fine-tuning automated assembly processes. With advanced automated assemblies, precision motion control is crucial to achieving continuous production and maximum throughput.
iTRAK® is an intelligent track system that combines a software control interface and independent cart technology. It uses a modular set of magnetic smart conveyors which deliver fast, smooth performance. Its smart conveyor carts can move individually and asynchronously.
So, with iTRAK®, we can control the speed and coordinated motion of each cart moving along the conveyor path. Additionally, we can configure precise cycle times at each assembly station. Then, after commissioning, we can program cart movement changes in real time, preserving critical uptime.
iTRAK® Smart Conveyor Configurability
Because iTRAK® is a highly configurable smart conveyor system, below are some of the key advantages we identified for automated assembly lines.
|> Individual carts link to enable smaller builds and footprints within straight or curvilinear paths.
> With thoughtful planning and a modular machine frame design, sections can be expanded and scaled as manufacturing or conveyance capacity requirements change.
> Linear motors use magnets to provide fast and frictionless movement, up to 5 meters per second.
|Even smaller-scale manufacturing projects, like a proof-of-concept line, are supported with an advanced assembly and conveyance design. iTRAK® scales with our client’s manufacturing automation trajectory.
|> Independent movers enable the programming of continuous or intermittent motion and synchronous or asynchronous motion.
> Programming for individual cart or group cart movement enables ultra-precise positioning and batch processing of assemblies.
> Precise control of acceleration and deceleration of assembly payloads enables programming to accommodate changes in mass and inertia.
|We gain high-precision motion control throughout multiple assembly stations to achieve faster and more efficient production.
We can leverage asynchronous motion for precise line balancing between fast stations (part insertions or vision inspections) and slow stations (welds or leak tests). Although all carts are on the same iTRAK®, we can stop individual carts at fast stations for short durations, while multiple carts stop together in a batch for slower stations.
|> Cart movement can be synched with other external components on the line to coordinate motion with pick-and-place robots, vision scanners, and other components.
> iTRAK® models can be imported and dynamically tested within a 3D simulation.
|Motion synchronization opens the design space to new possibilities, including creating 3D images from 2D scanner images, improving quality inspection details. In addition, we can dynamically test and optimize the performance of iTRAK®.
|> Tracking and traceability enable precise position identification of each independent moving cart.
> During production, we can make on-the-fly adjustments to accommodate production changes.
|Our clients can track materials and assemblies anywhere on the line. Additionally, we can fine-tune and manage overall performance adjustments without halting production.
Watch the high configurability of iTRAK® in action.
Tips on Communication & Planning for iTRAK® Integration
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth noting that communication is king when assessing the compatibility of an advanced smart conveyor system, like iTRAK®. So, we recommend the following tips to strengthen and streamline your collaboration.
Work closely to communicate the details.
Work closely with Rockwell Automation’s support team and take full advantage of their expertise and knowledge about the system’s capabilities.
Maintain clear and open communication about your needs and unique challenges – don’t hide the details. Remember, their goal is to help you achieve a successful transition from assessment to procurement and implementation.
Be proactive and assign a liaison to coordinate the details.
Take a proactive approach and assign an engineer as the primary liaison between Rockwell Automation and your internal team. Next, work with them to coordinate how support, training, and technical details are shared efficiently between both parties.
Tips on Defining Technical Performance for iTRAK®
Rockwell Automation provides specialized support for iTRAK® implementations. Consequently, it’s critical to consider what technical requirements will impact the performance of the technology.
We assembled several tips below to improve integration with the iTRAK® smart conveyor system.
Define the technical requirements of the assembly path.
Identify the technical requirements of each assembly station: cycle times, number of stations, station operations, duration at each station, and so on.
They require that you have these details before they assign a support person or team, and for good reason. These requirements greatly impact on whether iTRAK® is the right solution for you and, if so, how the system should be configured for optimal performance and at what cost.
If your specifications change along the way, don’t worry – it’s bound to happen at some level, and Rockwell Automation is a helpful and flexible support partner.
Consider the geometries and behavior of parts and assemblies.
It’s crucial to consider the geometries of parts that will be moving through the assembly conveyor and the behavior of the parts and assemblies on the conveyor path: dimensions, mass, center of gravity, and position relative to each station.
For example, although acceleration and deceleration are modifiable through the iTRAK® software interface, objects that are particularly unwieldy or have a high center of gravity may be challenging to control during changes in velocity.
It’s not uncommon for us to develop novel solutions for custom part assemblies or find ways to bolster the stability of parts adversely affected by the behavior of certain motions through a system.
Consider risk factors when designing near personnel or tooling.
For personnel or tooling near to the moving conveyor line, factor in safety risks, especially for delicate or precision assemblies. For example, an accidental vibration or impact can fault a system and ruin an otherwise seamless production line. Even unexpected nudges from a maintenance technician can lead to time-consuming adjustments.
Rockwell Automation can advise on integrating protective barriers or tunnels with iTRAK® to safeguard personnel from injury or the assembly line from accidental impact when the tooling requires these measures.
Identify and mitigate excessive external forces on the conveyor line.
What about external forces applied during assembly? Determine the force exerted on the conveyor line when a part is secured, attached, detached, pressed, or pushed into place.
Factor any component, tool, or force that interacts with the track into your engineering design. Avoid or minimize external forces in the direction of travel. Use a shot pin or other external holding device to hold travel-direction forces at individual stations.
Remember, some forces and interactions may require external design adjustments to your assembly line. For example, if a press on the line applies a two-ton load, an external anvil is needed to support the load.
Plan for environmental conditions.
Because iTRAK® is a magnetically-driven conveyor system, it runs fast and smoothly. However, even frictionless conveyors can be impacted by the operational environment.
Work with Rockwell Automation to determine if you need a cleanroom version of the iTRAK® or ensure the environment is not excessively dirty or requires medical-grade components.
Are you ready to take advantage of Rockwell Automation technology with AC?
Does your manufacturing automation line need a fast, highly configurable, and scalable smart conveyor? Let AC connect your vision to Rockwell’s iTRAK® technology.
It’s an exciting time to innovate with Rockwell Automation’s innovative and powerful manufacturing automation technologies!
How can we help? Speak with an AC engineer today.