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Why Flexible Automation – AEi's Flexible Automation Philosophy

A high percentage of our customers’ manufacturing applications require flexible automation to accommodate rapidly changing products with shorter market life cycles for their customers.

Why is Flexible Automation Important?

Unlike tradition fixed or hard automation, flexible automation can manufacture a variety of different products instead of a single product. This wider range of capability has potential advantages in many industries, especially those where product life cycles are short or where product families need to be produced with many permutations. The many different advantages of automation, including lower labor costs, faster cycle times, better process repeatability, and higher yields are more easily justified as the cost of implementation spreads over a wider volume of manufactured goods. Flexible automation also supports faster new product introduction and ramp up to production, as long as the level of flexibility is high and effectively implemented.

How to Best Achieve the Benefits of Flexible Automation

As the level of flexibility in automation equipment increases, the complexity of this equipment also increases. Traditionally, this lead to substantially higher procurement and maintenance costs. It also meant that often the equipment was less available to operate, due to maintenance or production changeover time. The best approach to minimizing these drawbacks is to incorporate three primary building blocks to achieve cost-effective flexible automation solutions:

  • Modular interchangeable tooling and subsystems that support multiple different manufacturing operations on the same platform as required
  • Machine vision and other highly capable and flexible active sensing and instrumentation technologies
  • Highly capable control software that is quickly re-configurable to support different manufacturing processes and sequences without requiring traditional programming

Specific Tools to Facilitate Flexible Automation Implementation

AEi often uses kinematic couplings to make swapping out tooling and fixturing modules fast, accurate, and repeatable. Using station bases with features such as precision optical breadboards enables quick changes of motion stages, material handling subsystems, and processing subsystems for new products or processes. Active air isolation minimizes the effect or impact of external vibrations on precision automation systems. This is essential when the positioning accuracies for alignment are in fractions of a micron.
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AEi uses a wide variety of sensing technologies, both contact and non-contact, in flexible automation implementation. Our machine vision and active alignment algorithms use direct feedback on product and process performance from the activated product itself to improve manufacturing yield and cycle time. Monitoring force feedback from grippers is another AEi technique which gives the automation system flexibility in handling, and compensating for, variations in parts.
AEi Flexible Automation Philosophy photo 2
Our FlexAuto integrated machine vision and motion control software platform supports integrated machine control sequencing that can be quickly and easily modified for overall station control. We use this to monitor and interpret the output of the wide variety of contact and non-contact sensors and instruments used in the feedback process. This control software has been designed specifically for flexible automation, using process sequencing recipes that can be easily created and modified without traditional programming.
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