Automation Supplement

What Can a Systems Integrator Do For You?

Canadian Plastics spoke with Doug Matton of Reko Automation & Machine Tool Inc. about how system integrators operate, the advantages of working with an integrator, and the important considerations you need to make before working with an integrator on an automation system.

Most processors who are looking into secondary automation know that it can’t be implemented overnight. Successful automation projects require a significant investment of your capital, resources and time before they come to fruition.

The reallocation of resources can be particularly challenging for processors who are operating under the lean mantra. For example, some operators may not have the engineering staff or capabilities to develop automation solutions in-house.

“A lot of companies are operating very lean in terms of their staffing and capabilities, it is a large overhead to be full servicing,” noted Doug Matton, vice president at Tecumseh, Ont.-based Reko Automation & Machine Tool Inc. “Companies like ours are filling that gap to help [the processor] learn and put the most cost effective solutions in place.”

In essence, an automation systems provider or a system integrator provides turnkey solutions that match the customer’s processing needs. An integrator can perform a range of tasks related to automation process development, such as planning floor layouts, material flow analyses and process development.

“Reko has several customers who essentially identify the product requirements, and the floor space constraints, and then our team develops the entire process and layout for the customer, in some cases establishing initial capital budgets for quoting processes,” said Matton.

“This allows customer’s engineers to remain focused on day-to-day production and continuous improvement objectives,” he continued.

According to Matton, Reko traditionally works with processors who already have an existing operation with a number of molding machines. These customers are producing a number of new products, and Reko helps develop a process and a cost model to produce those parts.

When working with a system integrator, the processor defines vital production information such as product specifications, volume requirements, operating modes, target costs, molding machine specifications and technical capabilities. The integrator then develops a process layout and initial equipment design, subject to customer input and design reviews.

Matton noted that once the equipment is complete, the integrator typically conducts capability studies and runoffs at its facility. If the line meets all specifications, it is then installed and revalidated at the customer’s location.

ADVANTAGES & BENEFITS

Matton lists several benefits to involving an integrator instead of going it alone. For one, integrators allow processors to draw on a larger base of engineering expertise. Although a processor may have dedicated engineer staff working in-house, Matton noted, “their experience level is sometimes limited to their personal exposure.”

Reko Automation, for instance, has a team of mechanical designers, a controls engineering group, a machine shop and a controls wiring department in place to serve customer needs.

Involving an integrator can also reduce the likelihood of false starts or hiccups, which can be a particular concern when embarking on new projects or operating in a just-in-time manufacturing environment.

“The cost from a bad launch can run upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, and when you are sitting there making the decision, the cost of going to an integrator is going to be far less than a bad launch,” argued Matton.

The other key benefit is in the name: integration. For example, Reko Automation provides training services and a consolidated operation and maintenance manual as part of its services. The integration service providers also work to connect secondary automation equipment together.

“We may have a robot, a leak tester and a CNC machine, and those will all be interconnected and running through one operation panel,” said Matton.

FINDING THE RIGHT INTEGRATOR

Reko Automation’s Matton has some key advice for processors on the market for an integrator. Plastic processors should pay particular attention to integrators who have experience with tooling and molding.

“There are often trade offs and interactions between what can be molded and what needs to be done to the part after molding,” explained Matton.

Additionally, the integrator should have experience working with the part function and the material being used, and the capacity to complete all the important aspects of the project. Matton said the integrator should have strong project management, in-house manufacturing, and offer 24/7 after-installation support and service.

Processors should also look for an integrator who is target-cost driven, with production experience to boot.

Finally, an integrator who provides full and complete system documentation -- including mechanical and electrical prints -- can represent a key benefit to the processor.

“Many integrators do not provide this complete documentation, forcing processors to use them exclusively for after sales spare parts and manufactured components, often at extreme mark-ups,” said Matton.

Resource List

Reko Automation & Machine Tool Inc. (Tecumseh, Ont.)
www.rekoautomation.com; 519-727-3287

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