In order to maintain our top spot as an outstanding supplier and engineering integrator with competitive prices, on-time delivery and high quality, we implement AUTOMATION in all areas of our business, including:
- Manufacturing processes and operations
- Material handling
- Process and product Inspection
Various levels of automation are required depending on product, quantities manufactured, and processes used. We are capable of automating our processes just to the right extent in order to meet the requirements of each order. In other words, if a high level of flexibility is required and quantities produced are low for a particular order, we assign the work order to our JOB SHOP or RAPID PROTOTYPING facility. At the other extreme, for an order that requires minimum flexibility but maximum productivity, we assign the production to our FLOWLINES and TRANSFER LINES. Automation provides us the advantages of integration, improved product quality and uniformity, reduced cycle-times, reduced labor costs, improved productivity, more economic use of floor space, safer environment for high volume production orders. We are equipped for both SMALL-BATCH PRODUCTION with quantities typically ranging between 10 to 100 pieces as well as MASS PRODUCTION involving quantities over 100,000 pieces. Our mass production facilities are equipped with automation equipment which are dedicated special-purpose machinery. Our facilities can accomodate low and high quantity orders because they operate with a variety of machines in combination and with various levels of automation and computer controls.
SMALL-BATCH PRODUCTION: Our job shop personnel for small-batch production is highly skilled and experienced in working on special small quantity orders. Our labor costs are very competitive thanks to our highly skilled large number of workers at our China, South Korea, Taiwan, Poland, Slovakia and Malaysia facilities. Small-batch production has always been and will be one of our major areas of service and complements our automated production processes. Manual small-batch production operations with conventional machine tools does not compete with our automation flowlines, it offers us additional extraordinary capabilities and strength that manufacturers with purely automated production lines do not have. Under no circumstances should the value of small-batch production capabilities of our skilled manually working job shop personnel be underestimated.
MASS PRODUCTION: For standardized products in large volumes such as Printed Circuit Board Assemblies (PCBA) or Wire Harness Assemblies, our production machines are designed for hard automation (fixed-position automation). These are high value modern automation equipment called transfer machines that produce components very fast for pennies a piece in most cases. Our transfer lines for mass production are also equipped with automatic gauging and inspection systems that assure parts produced in one station is within specifications before being transferred to the next station in the automation line. Various machining operations including milling, drilling, turning, reaming, boring, honing…etc. can be performed in these automation lines. We also implement soft automation, which is a flexible and programmable automation method involving computer control of machines and their functions through software programs. We can easily reprogram our soft automation machines to manufacture a part that has a different shape or dimensions. These flexible automation capabilities give us high levels of efficiency and productivity. Microcomputers, PLCs (Programmable Logic Controller), Numerical Control Machines (NC) and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) are widely deployed in our automation lines for mass production. In our CNC systems, an onboard control microcomputer is an integral part of the manufacturing equipment. Our machine operators program these CNC machines.
In our automation lines for mass production and even in our small-batch production lines we take advantage of ADAPTIVE CONTROL, where operating parameters automatically adapt themselves to conform to new circumstances, including changes in the dynamics of the particular process and disturbances that may arise. As an example, in a turning operation on a lathe, our adaptive control system does sense in real time the cutting forces, torque, temperature, tool-wear, tool damage and surface finish of the workpiece. The system converts this information into commands that alter and modify process parameters on the machine tool so that the parameters are either held constant within min and max limits or optimized for the machining operation.
We deploy AUTOMATION in MATERIAL HANDLING and MOVEMENT. Material handling consists of functions and systems associated with the transportation, storage and control of materials and parts in the total manufacturing cycle of products. Raw materials and parts may be moved from storage to machines, from one machine to another, from inspection to assembly or inventory, from inventory to shipment….etc. Automated material handling operations are repeatable and reliable. We implement automation in material handling and movement for both small-batch production as well as mass production operations. Automation does reduce costs, and is safer for operators, since it eliminates the need to carry materials by hand. Many types of equipment is deployed in our automated material handling and movement systems, such as conveyors, self-powered monorails, AGV (Automated Guided Vehicles), manipulators, integral transfer devices…etc. Movements of automated guided vehicles are planned on central computers to interface with our automated storage/retrieval systems. We use CODING SYSTEMS as part of automation in material handling to locate and identify parts and subassemblies throughout the manufacturing system and to correctly transfer them to appropriate locations. Our coding systems used in automation are mostly bar coding, magnetic strips and RF tags which offer us the advantage of being rewritable and working even if there is no clear line of sight.
Vital components in our automation lines are INDUSTRIAL ROBOTS. These are reprogrammable multifunctional manipulators for moving materials, parts, tools, and devices by means of variable programmed motions. Besides moving objects they do also other operations in our automation lines, such as welding, soldering, arc cutting, drilling, deburring, grinding, spray painting, measuring and testing….etc. Depending on the automated production line, we deploy four, five, six and up to seven degrees-of-freedom robots. For high accuracy demanding operations, we deploy robots with closed loop control systems in our automation lines. Positioning repeatabilities of 0.05 mm are common in our robotic systems. Our articulated variable-sequence robots enable human-like complex movements in multiple operation sequences, any of which they can execute given the proper cue like a specific bar code or a specific signal from an inspection station in the automation line. For demanding automation applications, our intelligent sensory robots carry out functions similar to humans in complexity. These intelligent versions are equipped with visual and tactile (touching) capabilities. Similar to humans, they have perception and pattern recognition capabilities and can make decisions. Industrial robots are not limited to our automated mass production lines, whenever needed we deploy them, small-batch production processes inclusively.
Without the use of proper SENSORS, robots alone would not be sufficient for the successful operation of our automation lines. Sensors are an integral part of our data acquisition, monitoring, communication and machine control systems. Sensors widely used in our automation lines and equipment are mechanical, electrical, magnetic, thermal, ultrasonic, optical, fiber-optic, chemical, acoustic sensors. In some automation systems, smart sensors with capabilities to perform logic functions, two-way communication, decision-making and action-taking are deployed. On the other hand, some of our other automation systems or production lines deploy VISUAL SENSING (MACHINE VISION, COMPUTER VISION) involving cameras that optically sense objects, process the images, make measurements…etc. Examples where we use machine vision are real-time inspection in sheet metal inspection lines, verification of part placement and fixturing, monitoring of surface finish. Early in-line detection of defects in our automation lines prevents further processing of components and thus limits economic losses to a minimum.
The success of automation lines at AGS-Electronics relies heavily of FLEXIBLE FIXTURING. While some of the clamps, jigs and fixtures are being used in our job shop environment manually for small-batch production operations, other workholding devices such as power chucks, mandrels and collets are operated at various levels of mechanization and automation driven by mechanical, hydraulic and electrical means in mass production. In our automation lines and job shop, besides dedicated fixtures we do use intelligent fixturing systems with built-in flexibility that can accommodate a range of part shapes and dimensions without the need of making extensive changes and adjustments. Modular fixturing for example is widely used in our job shop for small-batch production operations to our advantage by eliminating the cost and time of making dedicated fixtures. Complex workpieces can be located into machines through fixtures produced quickly from standard components off our tool store shelves. Other fixtures we deploy throughout our job shops and automation lines are tombstone fixtures, bed-of-nails devices and adjustable-force clamping. We must emphasize that intelligent and flexible fixturing gives us the advantages of lower costs, shorter lead times, better quality in both small-batch production as well as automated mass production lines.
An area of great importance for us is of course PRODUCT ASSEMBLY, DISASSEMBLY and SERVICE. We deploy both manual labor as well as automated assembly. Sometimes the total assembly operation is broken into individual assembly operations called SUBASSEMBLY. We offer manual, high-speed automatic and robotic assembly. Our manual assembly operations generally use simpler tools and are popular in some of our small-batch production lines. The dexterity of human hands and fingers offer us unique capabilities in some small-batch complex parts assemblies. Our high-speed automated assembly lines on the other hand use transfer mechanisms designed specially for assembly operations. In robotic assembly, one or multiple general-purpose robots operate at a single or multistation assembly system. In our automation lines for mass production, assembly systems are generally set up for certain product lines. We do however have also flexible assembly systems in automation which can be modified for increased flexibility in case a variety of models is needed. These assembly systems in automation do possess computer controls, interchangeable and programmable workheads, feeding devices and automated guiding devices. In our automation efforts we do always focus on:
-Design for fixturing
-Design for assembly
-Design for disassembly
-Design for service
In automation the efficiency of disassembly and service are sometimes as important as the efficiency in assembly. The manner and ease with which a product may be taken apart for maintenance or replacement of its parts and serviced is a vital consideration in some product designs.