This article from Misumi explains how medium and small machine builders can benefit from using suppliers of configurable components, thereby avoiding the heavy investment often made by larger companies in 'standardisation.'
Common practice among machine designers is to think initially about the components needed for the machine and then move towards looking at the custom parts needed to complete the machine. This is when the real work begins. Drawing, sizing, measuring, specifying are all common activities required for developing the complete list of components needed to complete a machine. This process consumes precious resources.
Machine builders are therefore constantly striving to improve productivity, efficiency and quality. To help achieve this goal, during the past couple of decades large machine builders have heavily invested in the concept of standardisation. The cornerstone of this concept is efficiency, while the vehicles to efficiency are led by reducing costs and time through a library of compatible components. Through the creation of standardisation departments, these companies have focused on value-add engineering projects dedicated to standardisation in order to streamline every aspect of the design, build and procurement of a machine. In turn, this has reduced the overall cost of each system and its lead times. The result has been addressing the three most important factors when choosing the right company which are the project lead time, the cost of the system and the design itself. Evidence of success can be found in the large machine builders who have invested in such a department and have seen the project cycle reduced to the point where in some cases it is up to 50 per cent shorter than it was a 20 years ago. In addition, many machine builders have created a modular concept for their machines, which has led to a certain level of consistency and increased the ease of doing business.
So where does this leave the medium to small machine builders who cannot afford to create a standardisation department? Many of these machine builders are finding it progressively harder to compete in the world of automated machinery. Often these companies cannot afford to even invest in the standardisation concept. This is especially true when many of them produce a range of unique automation machines that do not lend themselves to commonality between designs.
Besides medium to small machine builders struggling without a standardization department they are also under pressure from increased build costs in other areas - such as the in-house machine shop. The rising costs from a machine shop can have a direct impact on the company, especially with the medium to small machine builder. And when a machine builder finds itself between jobs, the management often faces hard decisions. The need to maintain a talented employee base is one of the most crucial decisions.
Nevertheless, between jobs many medium to small machine builders are forced to part with these talented individuals, leaving the machine builder short of resource when the next job is assigned. So, increasing the cost of a project not only affects that project, but often it affects the entire company. These types of crucial decisions are made every day whenever a machine builder is involved with a challenging project, especially, when it comes to project budget. After a component is designed the machine builder is often faced with the dilemma of purchasing the component and leaving the internal machine shop idle, or manufacturing the component in-house. The machine builder does not want its own machine shop to remain idle, so the machine builder will manufacture the component, which typically increases the overall price of the machine. This type of scenario is too common and continually makes it more difficult for a machine builder to meet project budgets. This is just one type of scenario that can occur, but the machine shop can become a major drain on a machine builder simply through the costs of people, time and machine maintenance, as well as the paperwork and space that is required to keep this department running at an efficient level.
Today, hope is on the horizon for medium to small machine builders, as suppliers begin to offer configurable components in addition to a plethora of non-configurable components. In the world of factory automation there are three major types of components. First is the custom component; then there is the non-configurable component, which is typically manufactured and sold at high volumes. Now there is also the configurable component, which enables design engineers to specify components through various design parameters. The configurable component allows machine builders to work towards achieving efficiency at some of the same levels a large machine builder might achieve through an entire standardisation department. While design engineers are earning their degrees, they may hear professors talking about the future of lean automation component supply chain that would efficiently and quickly manufacture the component to the design engineer's specifications. This is because the future of factory automation supply chain lies with the configurability of components, which is also referred to as mass customisation. Those machine builders that utilise configurable components will be able to work within parametric standards for various components used by the industry and greatly reduce the need for a machine shop. The component suppliers will be able to produce even small quantities of components configured to the design engineer's specifications. In addition, these configured components will offer pricing and lead times that are competitive with high-volume, non-configured components offered by various catalogue vendors today. In addition, with a flexible footprint of manufacturing, configurable component suppliers are able to offer no minimum ordering quantity so there is no need to stock components.
This concept becomes more of a reality as machine builders learn how to use the configurable component to their benefit. For example, a machine builder might use an angle plate on almost every machine build project. However, the design engineer is not able to simply create a standard and stock a few angle plates because the hole locations and overall size may vary from project to project. Now with suppliers offering configurable components design engineers can simply set the parameters and use supplier CAD configurators to set the hole locations and size dimensions for the angle plate, then download the native CAD file and insert it into their assemblies, complete with part number, cost and shipping time. The machine builder can then use supplier web ordering systems to place the order for the configured angle plate so it arrives on-time for the machine build.
And all of this can be accomplished at a fraction of the cost it would take to draw and manufacture the component in-house or through an outside machine shop. This is possible because the configurable component supplier has a flexible manufacturing system that allows components to be configured in many types, shapes, styles, sizes and materials. Thus, design engineers no longer need to calculate specifications and draw a custom component, but instead can configure size specifications by very precise increments. By offering multiple configuration specifications, suppliers can meet a wide array of needs by supplying the engineering community with a wide array of components. The result makes perfect sense, as design engineers simply configure the component they need, which nearly negates the need for custom components.
For nearly 20 years the configurable component supplier has set configuration specifications for components and has thrived on the other side of the globe. Noticeable differences can be found when comparing the machines builds from Japan and machine builds from the USA. Most notably the machine builds from Japan are nearly modular even though they might be built by different companies. In other words, the Japanese factory automation machines are very uniform in design, look, feel, performance and compatibility to the point where the machines look as if they were designed by the same team of engineers. It is close to the exact opposite in the USA - and often in Europe - where nearly every machine looks unique, even machines from the same company and even the same team of engineers. One could argue the advantages and disadvantages of each approach; however, the fact that the Japanese machines are highly efficient is an undeniable point. The reason Japanese machines are highly efficient is because the design engineers are utilising configurable components from common suppliers. In the USA design engineers might use a group of major component suppliers, but the difference is the design engineers in Japan are able to choose from a much larger group of commonly procured configurable components. Japan does not always rely upon the machine shop for components but instead relies upon configurable component suppliers for their machine builds. Thus, the efficiency objectives typically achieved through standardisation departments can be achieved through configurable component suppliers, which is especially important to machine builders.
In recent years one Japanese configurable component supplier has further expanded its global presence by opening offices in the UK. Misumi UK Ltd offers 600,000 metric components for factory automation. Customers are quickly becoming familiar with Misumi due to this supplier's ability to offer configurable components with reliable delivery and cost-effective prices. Some of the most popular configurable components available from Misumi are linear shafts, linear guides, and urethane rollers with shafts, rotary shafts, locating pins, posts, washers and collars. In addition, metric components can be configured using either the Misumi catalogue or website at www.misumi-europe.com.
As design engineers know, the typical design process, after the conceptual stage, usually starts with the final machine build. The design engineer then calculates what forces and motions are needed for the operation and performance of the machine. Next decisions revolve around the size of the motor and specifying as many components as possible. This is when the work really begins, as the design engineer then starts solving the many issues involved in connecting the various components together using custom designed and manufactured components. This stage is where most efficiency is lost. It only makes sense that with a very large variety of configurable components the design engineer can greatly reduce the amount of custom details. Configurable components not only help reduce design time, but also help lessen compatibility issues and performance compromises that are typical when using non-configurable components that are close, but really do not offer the fit needed for a quality machine build. But, due to time, performance and cost pressures, many machine builders are forced to accept such compromises.
Lastly, the parametric aspect of configurable components typically allows them fit together with extreme ease and little effort, which produces great efficiency in the machine build. When examining a system it is easy to spot these efficiencies at the component level. This is especially true when many of what previously were custom components are now replaced with configurable components. Additionally, these configurable components all easily fit together, which has revolutionised the components in a typical machine build. With configurable components a design engineer would start by obtaining the configured linear shafts and linear bushings. It is then an easy next step to design in the configurable ball screws, which offer machined ends that fit non-configurable shaft supports. The ball screw nut bracket can be designed to fit the nut and the height can be configured with fine increments. This allows the ball screw to adjust for the height of the shaft assembly without the need for custom components. Furthermore, plates and brackets can be configured and machined to the design engineer's specifications, all the way down to the location and size of the machined holes.
Once the motor is sized, the design engineer can easily select a coupling with holes that have inner diameters which can be configured in either inch or metric. Even hybrid couplings can be configured. Normally many of these components would be custom, but with configurable capabilities sizing a component such as linear shaft in one-millimetre length increments is a possibility. Even components such as washers and collars have configurable OD and ID along with thickness and other various alterations.
The efficiencies produced from the ease at which configurable components typically fit together are especially evident where they are used most. It is common to encounter a Japanese machine builder with a small work cell, a few design engineers and absolutely no stockroom of parts and no machine shop. There are a few reasons for this phenomenon:
The results are clear, as a medium to small Japanese machine builder is able to sustain a healthy business and grow due to maximised efficiencies producing minimised overhead. The great news is that the configurable component supplier has arrived in the UK and is ready to revolutionise the life of the design engineer and breathe life into the entire factory automation industry.
For more information, go to www.misumi-europe.com.