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Author: Damian Żabicki

Benefits of automating complex assembly and testing processes, exemplified by production lines for shock absorbers and gas springs

The potential of ELPLC S.A. primarily lies in the ability to design and implement prototype stations, workstations, and lines that precisely meet the needs and address the issues present in industrial production and assembly processes. Based on a technical analysis of specific technological processes, concepts for machines that automate factory work worldwide are developed.

Our potential is comprised of a team of over 160 specialists: designers, programmers, mechatronics engineers, automation engineers, and operators. Our in-house Research and Development Department significantly expands our capabilities in executing R&D projects. A prime example is the current product innovation project POIR.01.02.00-00-0056/18-00 – “Innovative Technological Line for the Assembly and Testing of Shock Absorbers and Gas Springs,” intended for international Tier 1 component manufacturers. The R&D work, aligned with National Smart Specialization No. 14 on the automation and robotics of technological processes, has already yielded numerous benefits. This includes devices such as a damping force characteristic tester for shock absorbers and gas springs, a gas filling and closing station for shock absorbers, and a gas filling and closing station for gas springs. It is worth taking a closer look at these solutions, especially the benefits their implementation brings to production.

Testing the Damping Force Characteristics of Car Shock Absorbers – Technological Requirements

When attempting to automate the process of testing the damping force characteristics of shock absorbers, it is necessary to use appropriate drives that induce movement to measure the relationship between vibration amplitude and frequency, considering different damping coefficients. As practice shows, most testers cannot simulate the movements that reflect the real working conditions of a shock absorber. Additionally, the characteristic test requires the smallest possible measurement error, which in standard applications can be as high as 10%. Furthermore, a short cycle time and precise displacement measurement over a wide range are necessary. For proper testing of the shock absorber characteristics, it is essential to measure the force with specified accuracy.

Automation of the Shock Absorber Damping Force Characteristic Testing Process – ELPLC S.A. Conceptual Assumptions

Given the above technical requirements specified by manufacturers worldwide, ELPLC S.A. undertook the challenge of designing a system that allows for determining the damping force characteristics of a shock absorber. This challenge was not randomly taken on by ELPLC S.A. The extensive R&D experience gained from automotive projects guaranteed an appropriate approach and design background. Additionally, the company’s portfolio already included several prototype and dedicated solutions in the form of robotic and modular production lines and systems, including both automatic and semi-automatic assembly stations. This includes a range of innovative and successfully operating solutions such as leak testers and various types of control and measurement workstations, including those based on complex vision systems, working in quality control in highly precise technological processes in the automotive industry.

During the design phase, it was necessary to use technical solutions that could simulate the work of the shock absorber, allowing measurements to be taken with errors resulting from the technical specifications of the automotive industry standards. Additionally, the machine’s versatility, enabling the testing of many shock absorber references of different diameters and heights, was expected. A crucial assumption was the modular design, allowing the machine to be adapted to the factory’s conditions. The designed testing station had to ensure an appropriate return on investment, primarily determined by the cycle time.

The design of the control and visualization system for the tester’s operation was based on Industry 4.0 standards with full traceability functionality. This includes data collection, real-time machine status monitoring, diagnostics, and data analysis. The ability to properly operate the machine with possible integration with other IT systems in the factory played a significant role. Another aspect of compatibility with Industry 4.0 is the line’s adaptation to work with AGVs/AMRs.

To meet the set requirements, ELPLC S.A. designed a damping control system based on examining the vibration characteristics of the shock absorber, with movement induced by linear motors. The testing station design includes two such devices. These are Siemens linear motors – they drive the testing actuator. This way, a compression force (Fmax) of 10350N was achieved. Ensuring the measurement’s accuracy required damping force measurement, handled by an HBM strain gauge (12.5 kN) with an appropriate analog-to-digital converter. It is noteworthy that the test force of 6.5 kN is confirmed by simulation with a specified reserve. For the measurement to be accurate, it had to be taken in a strictly defined position of the shock absorber, considering a set travel range from 0 to just over 400mm. – The designed station had to ensure such a position.

The choice of the Siemens linear motor was also influenced by its maximum speed (Vmax) reaching 90m/min. This parameter allowed for a shorter testing cycle time. The force measurement is complemented by the control of the distance traveled in a unit of time. For this purpose, the IMS-I measurement system by Bosch Rexroth was used.

ELPLC S.A.’s Competitive Advantage

The technical solutions implemented by ELPLC S.A., along with appropriate control systems, ensured the automatic operation of the testing station. The measurement error achieved was 1.5%. It is worth noting that in solutions based on hydraulic drives, this parameter can be as high as 10%. A cycle time of 6.8 seconds was also achieved – in the case of hydraulic drives, it is 7.2 seconds. The measured displacement exceeds 450mm (standard is up to 350mm).

In turn, the force measurement is +/- 10 kN (standard is +/- 5 kN). Thanks to the system’s appropriate dynamics resulting from its weight, the resolution of the displacement measurement system, and the stability of the readings, an optimal speed range of 0.5mm/s – 1000mm/s was achieved. This allowed for functional testing of most shock absorbers available on the market.

Testing the Characteristics of Shock Absorbers in a Technological Assembly Line – Assumptions

However, the R&D work on the shock absorber characteristic testing station went much further. In response to market needs, it was assumed that the designed machine could be one of the modules in a comprehensive assembly line for car shock absorbers.

During the data collection phase for designing the line, ELPLC S.A.’s designers and engineers continuously consulted on the concepts and technical parameters of individual stations. Process engineers from shock absorber factories worldwide expected a universal machine that allows for assembling various shock absorber references. It was noted that the produced shock absorbers have tubes with diameters from 30 to 60mm, with heights ranging from 120 to 600mm. It was necessary to consider different diameters (from 30 to 300mm) and the position (from 25 to 100mm) of the spring seat ring. Individual stations and transport sections of the line had to work with the finished product with a height ranging from 300 to 1000mm. Additionally, the need to maintain a specific gas pressure in the shock absorber (from 0 to 25bar) and the appropriate gas force in the shock absorber (from 20 to 500N) was emphasized. The assembly process also required working with end caps of different diameters (40-80mm) with a maximum component weight of up to 8 kg.

There was also a need to meet several additional requirements regarding maintaining parameters such as force (45-150kN), as well as the damping force of the shock absorber (-6500 – 6500N), occurring in its proper working position (from 0 to 400mm). It was also necessary to maintain the required working speed (from 0.5mm/s to 1000mm/s).

Additionally, factory representatives emphasized the need for the line to check the basic dimensions of the shock absorber. The importance of precise oil dosing in quantities ranging from 60 ml to 600ml was noted.

The technological line designed and produced by ELPLC S.A. is characterized by automatic operation, durability, and high assembly and testing accuracy. The line does not require production workers for full operation. It only requires loading containers with components at the loading station (module 1) and receiving loaded containers. The technological line, including control cabinets, can be adapted to the factory’s logistics layout. Special high IP protection connectors are provided for connecting the line to the control cabinets.

Process Flow and Technical Parameters of the Shock Absorber Assembly Line

After loading the line by the operator at the initial station, the shock absorber is filled with oil (module 1). The shock absorber is then sealed in module 3. It is worth noting that the sealing operation uses the technology of rounding the upper part of the cylinder while simultaneously gassing and maintaining the required gas pressure in the shock absorber.

In module 2, the described damping force characteristic test of the shock absorber is conducted. The next step is to check the key dimensions of the shock absorber (housing length from 120 to 600mm). This task is carried out at station C4 of module 1, using the Cognex vision system and the Edmunds 6mm Techspec 2/3″ fixed focal length lens.

A crucial step in the assembly process is the precise dosing of oil into the shock absorber chambers (module 1). For this purpose, a Prema hydraulic cylinder was used. Oil dosing can be compared to the operation of a syringe applying the appropriate amount of oil. The cylinder piston is connected to a screw drive powered by a Siemens servo drive. Depending on the type of shock absorber, the amount of dosed oil ranges from 60 to 600ml.

Thanks to the appropriate design solutions and the line’s versatility, it is possible to assemble shock absorbers with tube diameters ranging from 30 to 60mm. It should be noted that the diameter of the shock absorber tube mounted on the line affects not only the transport pallet but also the operation of the damping force characteristic testing station and the gas filling and rolling station. Therefore, systems for retooling tools cooperating with a specific tube diameter were used. To adapt the operation to the shock absorber tube height at all stations, an appropriate clearance was provided, allowing the safe passage of the tube and the attached piston rod.

Parameters such as diameter (from 30mm to 300mm) and position (from 25mm to 100mm) of the spring seat ring are achieved at all key modules. The diameter of the spring seat ring is a shock absorber parameter that can significantly increase the component’s dimensions. As a result, the ELPLC S.A. line’s transport system can transport shock absorbers with ring diameters from 30mm (smallest cylinder diameter) to 300mm.

Since ELPLC S.A. focused on the line’s versatility during the design phase, the total height of the handled finished product ranges from 300 to 1000mm. Components of these heights can freely pass through the entire transport section of the line. For this property, pallet tooling with the lowest possible support point of the shock absorber was used, and in some places, upper tools with reduced height were provided.

In module 3, the shock absorber is filled with nitrogen and sealed by rolling. It is assumed that the gas pressure in the shock absorber ranges from 0 to 25bar. Direct pressure application to the shock absorber is done in the head.

The gas force in the shock absorber is 20N – 500N. An HBM strain gauge with a transducer was used to measure the gas force. The specially designed rotary system plays a crucial role. The measurement range was chosen to cover 90% of the parameters of commonly produced shock absorbers.

The caps of the assembled shock absorbers can have diameters ranging from 40 to 80mm. These elements are picked up from the pallet using a gripper. Interchangeable jaws allow the gripper to clamp over such a wide range of caps. ELPLC S.A.’s innovative solution is a special quick-change system for the gripper jaws with positioning. The maximum weight of the components for assembly is 8 kg.

Derivative Projects

Designing the shock absorber characteristic testing station allowed ELPLC S.A. to undertake several additional R&D projects alongside the comprehensive assembly line.

Thanks to the assumptions, design concepts, and thorough process analysis, a gas filling and closing station was also designed, integrating two processes into one. This solution halved the cycle time. Instead of two operations, usually carried out on separate machines – preliminary closing with gas filling and final closing, these tasks are performed in one motion. The availability of a continuous force value chart facilitates data analysis and quality control.

It is worth noting that gas filling and closing stations are a common element of the gas spring production lines manufactured by ELPLC S.A. They operate in both automotive factories and other industries, such as furniture manufacturing. Additionally, alongside the implementation project of the shock absorber damping force characteristic testing station, work was conducted on using HoloLens 2 technology as a key element of Industry 4.0 and modern machine operation. It is based on smart augmented reality glasses. This allows for quick diagnostics and detecting machine operation irregularities. Moreover, using such a solution, especially during COVID-19 restrictions, shortens the time for retooling, servicing, and inspections and reduces the likelihood of machine failures and unplanned downtimes. Using the glasses, data from the process can be remotely collected for automation purposes or to indicate faults and locations of machine failures to maintenance personnel.

Conclusions from the ELPLC S.A. Case Study

The station designed by ELPLC S.A. is a solution that global manufacturers expected for automating the shock absorber damping force characteristic testing process. They emphasized the need to reduce the cycle time to at least 6.8 seconds, achieve a measurement error of 1.5%, measure displacement exceeding 450mm, and measure force at +/- 10 kN. For shock absorber manufacturers, achieving optimal testing speed in the range of 0.5mm/s to 1000mm/s was important, which ELPLC S.A. achieved thanks to the system’s appropriate dynamics related to its weight, resolution of the displacement measurement system, and stability of readings. As a result, the designed station allowed for functional testing of most shock absorbers available on the market.

It is worth noting that the tester can also be one of the elements of a complete, modular technological line for assembling and testing shock absorbers. This solution is ELPLC S.A.’s response to the needs of manufacturers seeking automation of the shock absorber assembly process, considering automatic operation, high assembly accuracy, performed tests, and durability. For full line operation, zero operators are required. The line only requires loading (module 1) and unloading, for example, using AGVs/AMRs. This translates to a quick return on investment and eliminates manual assembly, along with the associated errors and risks.

What Does a Design Engineer’s Job Look Like at ELPLC S.A.?

ELPLC S.A. specializes in the design and construction of machines in the form of workstations, stations, and production and assembly lines, which automate technological processes across virtually all industrial sectors. Our expertise allows us to create automation concepts from scratch, designing dedicated solutions precisely tailored to specific technological processes.

Prototyping and Design:

The creation of prototype concepts is handled by our design engineers, who have access to advanced tools and, most importantly, possess interdisciplinary knowledge and creativity, allowing them to develop even the most complex automation concepts. Ryszard Sobol, one of our design engineers, when asked about his beginnings at ELPLC S.A., says, “My work at the company as an independent designer began almost 14 years ago. I took on this position as one of the first employees. Over all these years, I have seen the company grow and the role of the design engineer evolve, and most importantly, the needs of our clients change. It can be said that ELPLC S.A. is a dream job for design engineers. It primarily offers independence and growth. To create concepts in the world of automation, which is a very challenging field, freedom is necessary. Without a doubt, finding new solutions also involves collaboration with other departments (design, programming, machining, mechanical and electrical assembly). Therefore, proper information exchange and data integration play a key role.”

Responsibilities of a Design Engineer at ELPLC S.A.

The range of tasks performed by design engineers at ELPLC S.A. is very broad. Primarily, they create automation concepts, considering client specifications and requirements. During this process, 2D construction documentation and 3D models are developed. Creating descriptive documentation and technical specifications for designed elements is crucial. It’s worth noting that conceptual design work is conducted for both new and modernized machines. Engineers select components and commercial subassemblies based on client standards. They consider machine functionality, component weight, and manufacturing capabilities. Additionally, during the conceptual design phase, FMEA analysis and other risk assessments are conducted to ensure machines comply with legal regulations, standards (including ISO 13849:2016, ISO 13857:2010), and the Machinery Directive. Evaluating the product in terms of safety and compliance with project documentation is essential. When designing concepts, various factors are considered, including technical and financial aspects—cycle time, production volume increases, quality control, production costs, available space, etc.

Qualities of a Design Engineer

Design engineers at ELPLC S.A. are primarily passionate individuals who combine their acquired knowledge and skills with technical insight. Keeping their knowledge up to date by following trends and innovations in automation is essential. They expand their knowledge through specialized training, trade fairs, workshops, conferences, and industry symposia.

Ryszard Sobol adds, “A design engineer must have great imagination, experience, and technical knowledge. The ability to create automation concepts can be compared to a painter creating artwork, transferring his vision onto canvas. Similarly, design engineers transfer concrete ideas into projects, which then turn into the technical documentation of the machine (mechanical, electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic). ELPLC S.A. design engineers are characterized by patience, composure, and the ability to learn quickly. Any project difficulties lead to new, better concepts. As a result, dedicated solutions are created, tailored to specific industrial processes.”

Design engineers at ELPLC S.A. have excellent technical drawing skills and are proficient in specialized computer software, such as SolidWorks and AutoCAD. Additionally, our engineers use several dedicated design tools with digital representations of automated process flows using simulations and animations.

Extensive Technical Knowledge

A broad range of knowledge encompassing mechanics, electrical engineering, automation, pneumatics, hydraulics, machine construction, and materials science is crucial. Understanding industrial technological processes is also important. The ability to work both independently and as part of a team is essential, including listening to suggestions from other team members and drawing constructive conclusions when discrepancies arise. This is a very important trait for design engineers.

Ryszard Sobol, when asked about sources of inspiration during concept creation, emphasizes that he always seeks knowledge. Relevant information is often found in various popular science materials and specialized industry portals. Learning through observation is also crucial. “It helps the most. […] I have often participated in the construction and modification of machines and observed how individual elements are integrated into a cohesive whole. Additionally, relying on young minds is very important. Students have a completely different perspective, stemming from progress. Therefore, students and interns who often stay with ELPLC S.A. longer are always welcome,” adds Ryszard Sobol.

Daily Responsibilities and Skills

In the daily work of a design engineer, communication skills are essential for collaborating with clients, understanding their needs, and organizing work efficiently. Proficiency in English is also necessary for working in an international environment.

What ELPLC S.A. Offers Design Engineers

Aside from access to various benefits (→ see the Careers page), design engineers at ELPLC S.A. have the opportunity to work on innovative projects worldwide. Independence and access to the latest design tools and technical innovations are emphasized.

“I am particularly proud of the prototype projects where ELPLC S.A. is a market pioneer. This largely stems from our clients often needing highly automated solutions, and not all suppliers have the human and technical resources to develop the right concept. Participating in such projects not only gives a sense of belonging to the project but also satisfaction from being part of a challenge realized here in Tarnów,” emphasizes Ryszard Sobol.

ELPLC is a producer of specialized production lines and custom solutions for automation and robotics in production. The company has unique know-how in implementing production lines, based on 17 years of operation and experience. It is a complete provider of industrial automation and machine production, cooperating with leading system and component suppliers.

ELPLC S.A. is a team of over 160 specialists: designers, programmers, mechatronics engineers, automation specialists, operators. It has its own R&D department, an automated production system, and design and programming workshops. The manufacturing potential is defined by approximately 4200 m² of production space and its own park of 26 machines, including 8 CNC centers, 9 conventional milling machines, 3 lathes, and 6 grinding machines. The company offers complete robotic production lines, automatic and semi-automatic assembly stations. It provides production systems with numerous innovations, such as leak testers, control and measurement stations, including those based on vision systems for controlling very precise processes, and modular production lines.

How to Choose an Automation System Supplier? (5)

When choosing an automation system provider, it is worth checking their capabilities in integrating drive technology, control, and communication devices from different manufacturers.The need to use devices from a specific manufacturer may arise from corporate requirements or other standards adopted in factories. The automation system provider should be able to meet these requirements. This involves broad integration in terms of power supply, control, communication, and software. Such capabilities are confirmed by appropriate certifications.

Quality and Availability of Components Used

The highest quality of the components used determines the stability and reliability of the machine. This ensures production continuity and operational safety, minimizing the risk of unplanned downtime. Additionally, it is important to verify whether the provider has a well-equipped warehouse supported by IT tools and whether the client can verify the functioning of such a warehouse under real working conditions. The provider should demonstrate that their supply chain is well-organized and guarantees the availability of components regardless of market conditions.

Service and Remote Access

When choosing a provider, it is advantageous to select one who designs and manufactures machines with their own resources, guaranteeing fast service. However, a competent provider should foresee solutions during the preliminary design phase that minimize the likelihood of malfunctions. Additionally, the use of remote diagnostic tools to provide machine service support should be considered.

ELPLC S.A. is a certified partner of Siemens, the only one in Poland in the field of Advanced Motion drive technology. This is the highest level of certification, providing significantly greater technical capabilities concerning this manufacturer’s drive technology. As a result, solutions can be created that are optimally tailored to process needs. In terms of cooperation with robot suppliers, ELPLC S.A. boasts the SI Elite distinction, the highest status among Mitsubishi Electric integrators in Poland, and the KUKA Official System Partner status. Moreover, we can supply and integrate robots from other manufacturers and have our own prototype of a universal six-axis robot with a patented movable member made of carbon fiber (Unirobot).

To ensure the highest level of machine safety, ELPLC S.A. selects “top-shelf” components during the project phase. This allows the production of applications that are reliable and safe. Additionally, ELPLC S.A. has a large warehouse located directly next to the production hall. Supply continuity is ensured by agreements signed with suppliers.

ELPLC S.A. designs and manufactures machines independently, ensuring quick diagnostics and fault elimination. It is worth noting that ELPLC S.A., as a global provider, successfully utilizes tools for remote diagnostics and machine upgrades. It is also worth mentioning the continuously developed diagnostics based on augmented reality smart glasses by ELPLC S.A. This enables quick diagnostics and detection of machine operation irregularities. Furthermore, using such a solution, especially during COVID-19 restrictions, shortens the time for retooling, servicing, and inspections and reduces the probability of machine failures and unplanned downtime. The glasses can remotely collect process data for automation needs or indicate faults and failure points to maintenance services.

How to Choose an Automation System Supplier? (4)

One can confidently say that a good provider is a global provider.Wide-ranging competencies, experience in process automation, design and production capabilities, financial backing, as well as a structured human resource framework, an in-house machinery park, and adequate facility resources, enable the global delivery of machines.

Only a few providers have the potential for a global reach. This requires significant financial backing and human and infrastructural resources. A global provider must meet several additional requirements, such as ensuring business continuity, risk management, proper documentation flow for projects, and change management, additional validation of design capabilities, and meeting extra verification criteria for potential and quality.

Communication with the Client

Efficient communication and documentation flow in sales, project, and acceptance phases are crucial for the successful execution of investments. The sales process for capital goods typically runs on multiple levels simultaneously. Various departments, including technical (e.g., process engineers), decision-making, advisory (e.g., maintenance services), purchasing, and management, participate in the information flow process. Hence, appropriate actions must be tailored to the specific organizational and decision-making structure of each client. It is therefore beneficial to choose a provider who effectively manages sales, project implementation, and post-sales processes.

Adequate Facility Resources

The provider should have buildings and production halls that allow for comprehensive production, commissioning, and trial production. Therefore, it is important to ensure adequate hall space and transport routes (e.g., for truck access). The production hall should have access to utilities with appropriate parameters, allowing for safe operation of the line during trial commissioning.

ELPLC S.A. possesses significant technical and financial potential, enabling their machines to operate successfully in many countries beyond Europe. Their workstations, stations, and production and assembly lines are operational in Slovakia, Spain, Bulgaria, Russia, the Czech Republic, France, the United Kingdom, China, Mexico, and the United States, among others. At ELPLC S.A., the sales process is coordinated and supported by the Sales Department, ensuring the highest level of communication and guaranteeing a smooth flow of technical information. This process includes demonstrating ELPLC S.A.’s competencies and resources, collecting data for conceptual work, presenting concepts, implementing changes to concepts, and submitting technical-commercial offers that meet the client’s needs, up to coordinating the flow of order documentation. All this ensures that the process of selecting a “tailor-made” solution is quick and efficient.

During the project implementation phase, ELPLC S.A. assigns a Project Manager to communicate with the client. The Project Manager has comprehensive knowledge and competencies for smooth project execution. They are the primary communication line and coordinate work across all execution branches. The Project Manager manages the production process, machine commissioning, acceptance, documentation handover, and oversees post-sales support for upgrades and adaptations to any changes in the process.

During the investment implementation phase, ELPLC S.A. develops a work schedule that is presented to the client. The Project Manager oversees its execution. Any corrections and changes are made continuously in consultation with the client to ensure the project is completed within the planned time frame.

How to Choose an Automation System Supplier? (3)

At the stage of choosing a provider, it is worth checking their financial health, which guarantees the execution of large projects. Additionally, a competent automation system provider should have its own specialized production capabilities.

Investment in an Automation System

The premise of investing in an automation system is to achieve the expected return on investment within a specified time. Therefore, financing, like the designed technical solution, should be “tailor-made.” Only a few providers with sufficient financial potential can afford flexibility in this regard. It is important to emphasize that a financially stable provider can handle large projects that are implemented over an extended period. Moreover, many projects, especially prototype ones, entail the need for the provider to incur additional costs resulting from performing a series of additional studies, tests, prototypes, 3D prints, etc. The provider should therefore have adequate financial potential, ideally domestically sourced, with the possibility of obtaining additional support at every stage of the project implementation.

Machinery Park

A well-equipped machinery park guarantees that machine components can be produced in one place, reducing the time for application execution, with quick response to changes and availability of spare parts. Additionally, it ensures the execution of even the most complex and unusual structural and transport elements under strict supervision of designers, with the possibility of modifications and necessary changes at any production phase.

Adequate Facility Resources

The provider should have buildings and production halls that allow for comprehensive production, commissioning, and trial production. Therefore, it is important to ensure adequate hall space and transport routes (e.g., for truck access). The production hall should have access to utilities with appropriate parameters, allowing for safe operation of the line during trial commissioning.

It is also worth considering the convenient location of the provider’s headquarters. Although technologies such as mixed reality and remote access are increasingly used for project implementation (e.g., for tests, changes, options, inspections, etc.), potential access to the site where the machines are made should be convenient. Thus, it is best if the design center and production halls are located in one place, near major national roads and highways as well as airports.

ELPLC S.A. is a Polish company with substantial financial backing and additional support from the financial investor Tar Heel Capital. This translates not only to financial stability but also to flexible payment terms for machines (e.g., installment payments with schedules tailored to the client’s needs).

Regarding the machinery park, it is worth noting that ELPLC S.A.’s machining center is based on CNC machines (8 units), conventional machining machines (9 units), lathes (9 units), and grinders (6 units). This allows the company to produce even the smallest elements (components and spare parts) in-house, both for production needs and spare part availability.

ELPLC S.A., headquartered in Tarnów, has two buildings with a total area of 4200 m², thus the designed machines are manufactured in Poland, in its own production halls located near the A4 highway. Additionally, ELPLC S.A.’s headquarters can be quickly reached from Kraków-Balice or Rzeszów-Jasionka airports.

How to Choose an Automation System Supplier? (2)

A good automation system provider should base their approach on individual solutions for automating production and assembly processes. This way, innovative and dedicated applications are created, which are closely tailored to specific process needs.

Research & Development Potential

Thus, pioneering and prototype concepts should be developed in separate departments focused on the development of new applications considering the latest market solutions and technological trends. Real problems occurring in factories must be taken into account, considering the specifics of production technology as well as the physical properties of components and the final product. A competent automation system provider should have the human and technical resources necessary for designing and building prototype machines. Therefore, it is crucial that the concepts for automating complex production processes can be translated not only into projects but also into innovative, special, prototype, and optimized machines that can be put into operation with guaranteed stability and reliability.

Experience in Automated Processes

Experience in automated processes is very important for the proper design of a workstation, station, or production line. Knowledge of production processes translates into the optimal selection of solutions considering specific requirements. It is also important to transfer automation competencies for specific processes from one industry to another.

Proprietary Traceability Systems and Smart Factory Software

In this area, it is worth opting for proprietary and custom-made solutions developed from scratch by a single manufacturer. As a result, you get a system strictly tailored to the needs of a specific application. Additionally, proprietary systems are continuously developed in line with the latest technological trends (e.g., ELPLC Smart Factory).

ELPLC S.A. has its own R&D Department responsible for creating concepts that are closely tailored to specific technological needs. The focus is on close cooperation with process solution providers. Simultaneously, numerous research and development works are carried out (e.g., in the field of Industry 4.0 and Industry 5.0 philosophy), in collaboration with factory representatives (managers and process engineers), as well as scientific research centers and universities. All this translates into professional advice, the creation of comprehensive solutions, and their adaptation to clients’ requirements and needs.

Moreover, in cooperation with other departments of ELPLC S.A.: Construction, Supply Chain, Production, Mechatronics, Electrical Engineering, Software Engineering, Commissioning, Maintenance, Retrofitting, it is possible to create even the most complex and comprehensive solutions. Consequently, for designing concepts and project implementation, engineers (approx. 18% of the employment structure), programmers (approx. 13% of the employment structure), assembly and commissioning teams (approx. 30% of the employment structure), and the mechanical processing department (approx. 23% of the employment structure) can be engaged. All these competencies must be perfectly integrated through excellent communication, guaranteed by a dedicated Project Manager for each client.

Among the numerous competencies of ELPLC S.A., it is worth noting the extensive experience in automating precise assemblies and welding operations for a wide variety of materials, which is often found in industrial assembly processes. Thanks to such competencies, there is an opportunity for an ideal match for welding operations, even for the most complex components. The ability to design standalone or modular solutions, as well as integrated test solutions and additional operations (assembly, closing, passivation, testing, quality control, or packaging), plays a significant role. It is worth emphasizing that ELPLC S.A. was the first in Europe to use resistance welding devices with pulse control in its application.

The machines produced by ELPLC S.A. can be equipped with a dedicated traceability system that ensures monitoring of the technological process with full data analysis. Such an application is compatible with all process controllers. It is also worth noting the possibility of connecting with different types of screens, web browsers, and mobile devices. Moreover, Smart Factory systems, which are a digital reflection of the process flow according to the assumptions of Industry 4.0, play a key role.

The Smart Factory system by ELPLC S.A. (ELPLC Smart Factory) is based on four functional modules: data collection, line status monitoring, diagnostics, and analyses (historical, performance, and line failure). This system is designed from scratch by ELPLC S.A. engineers, creating a solution by engineers for engineers, made by a machine manufacturer, hence it can be strictly tailored to specific needs.

How to Choose an Automation System Supplier? (1)

Investment in the automation of production processes should be well thought out. It is necessary to consider a range of factors and criteria, both technical parameters and economic assumptions.

Technical Aspects

One must take into account a well-specified process flow, define the system’s functionalities, and calculate the expected technical parameters for each operation. Equally important are standards for drive and control technology, the mode of operation (automatic or semi-automatic), the method of supplying machines with components and handling finished or semi-finished products, cycle times, methods of retooling, integration with the environment, and media supply, etc.

Economic Aspects

In relation to the business environment, factors such as return on investment (ROI), financing methods, implementation time, and the ability to adapt the machine to changing market needs are analyzed.

Choosing an Automation System Supplier

The choice of an automation system supplier is a separate issue. Their competence should translate into a well-chosen automation concept and its conversion into a detailed multi-disciplinary project. By choosing a competent supplier, you gain the guarantee of smooth project implementation, deployment, and the introduction of any necessary changes resulting from the evolving technological process that must adapt to market needs.

ELPC S.A. is capable of completely designing, manufacturing, and implementing dedicated automatic production lines and individual stations. Our solutions are universal (easy retooling), modular (expandable), and scalable (quickly adaptable to the dynamic needs of the factory).

TOMAI Factory System – Effective Management of Production Processes and Industrial Infrastructure

The TOMAI Factory System is a dedicated, flexible, and scalable solution tailored to the specific needs of various applications for monitoring and controlling production processes in a factory. It functions as a digital twin, capturing, storing, and analyzing data from production processes and industrial machines. This enables improvements in OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), identification of failure points and low-quality production areas, and reduction of overproduction and material or component waste.

Developed based on the Industry 4.0 concept, the TOMAI Factory System incorporates the principles of the Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality, Cloud Computing, Big Data, Automation, Additive Manufacturing, Connectivity, and System Integration. This comprehensive approach allows real-time monitoring of production lines, rapid response to changes in production parameters, and simultaneous tracking of media consumption. A critical aspect is the analysis of machine failures and performance declines.

The system’s flexibility (Connectivity & System Integration) allows integration with other factory systems such as ERP, MES, CMMS, WMS, SCM, etc. The TOMAI Factory System can communicate bidirectionally with PLC controllers from various manufacturers. Data is collected in real-time, enabling immediate implementation of preventive actions within the ongoing process.

The TOMAI Factory System (Web application) can be operated locally using touch panels and computers, or remotely via web browsers or mobile devices (Android, iOS). User authorization management is also noteworthy, for example through RFID card logins, enhancing monitoring, control, and security of the production process.

The system is built on four functional modules: data collection, line status monitoring, historical diagnostics and analysis, and performance and failure analysis.

Data Collection Module

The TOMAI Factory System hardware infrastructure collects data from all PLC controllers, servers, and IT systems. The gathered information is stored in a local MSSQL database.

A significant feature of the system is media consumption analysis—electricity, compressed air, water, technical gases, etc.—which leads to optimized production costs and precise allocation (e.g., per produced item). Additionally, it enables quick responses to potential media losses (e.g., leaks) and detailed production cost breakdowns. By analyzing media consumption, the system can forecast usage based on trends, examining the relationship between media consumption and production downtimes.

Current Line Status Monitoring Module
The TOMAI Factory System’s functionality allows for real-time data monitoring from production lines. This results in real-time tracking of the manufacturing process, both for the entire production line and individual stations. Parameters are presented clearly using graphs. The system also provides a view of the current production items. Both operational time and alarms on the line or individual stations are recorded. The system ensures centralized recipe management, which can be exported and imported from various systems. Recipes can also be compared—for example, in terms of raw material quantities—and synchronized between different machines, preventing production quality drops.

Historical Diagnostics and Analysis Module

This module generates reports with selected criteria, ensuring quick analysis of large amounts of process data.

The system can not only compile materials used in production but also monitor their usage. Furthermore, it verifies the correctness of material usage in components. Analysis and modification of stock levels are crucial aspects.

The TOMAI Factory System supports historical data management. Thus, both the entire production history and the history of each item can be analyzed.

If necessary, results for multiple stations can be compiled. Additionally, the system analyzes relationships between production parameters, line, and operator performance, and downtime causes.

In terms of production serialization, the TOMAI Factory System allows for setting production and production boards and tracking manufacturing progress in real-time on custom-designed charts and reports.

It provides a view of reference parameters changed by users. A very useful feature is the Pareto Diagram of statuses divided by references for stations within a given timeframe. Production can be summarized considering the pallet/socket number. Moreover, reports of global parameters and station status summaries are generated. Collected data can be exported (CSV).

Performance and Failure Analysis Module

This module defines relationships between alarms on production modules and identifies bottlenecks, common causes of downtimes, delays, jams, etc. All machine parameters are recorded and configured via the TOMAI Factory System. Considering the working time of the production line and other machines, the maintenance department can schedule inspections and overhauls, reducing the risk of unplanned downtimes.

Optionally, a KPI module can be implemented to analyze operator performance, including their average working times. This module’s functionality is closely tailored to user needs.

Summary

The TOMAI Factory System is a flexible solution for real-time monitoring of the production process. Designed from scratch by ELPLC S.A. engineers, it ensures functionality tailored to the specific needs of a factory. Integration with existing production lines, machines, and IT systems such as ERP, MRP, MES, CMMS, WMS, etc., is vital. This includes data exchange at both the IT and OT levels. During implementation, ELPLC S.A. engineers can modify the software of existing control devices.

Implementing the TOMAI Factory System primarily provides financial benefits for the factory. These arise from effective management of raw materials used in production, ensuring appropriate production quality, and overseeing manufacturing with performance analysis of machines and operators. Additionally, it identifies bottlenecks, common causes of downtimes, delays, jams, and reduces the risk of unplanned machine downtimes.

Why is it Worth Automating the Quality Control Process?

Automated quality control based on vision systems is a common element of assembly lines and stations designed by ELPLC S.A. Automating this process allows for 100% quality control without the need to stop the production line and eliminates errors that can occur in the manual process. Vision Control systems are designed with the assumptions of the Industry 4.0 concept in mind.

Modern vision control systems find applications in verifying the correctness of features such as dimensions, assembly accuracy, surface properties, shape, color, etc. Vision systems are also used for verifying graphic elements and text, as well as for checking the presence and position of objects. A properly designed computer application, working in conjunction with the system, generates quality statistics with the ability to compare actual parameters with defined ones. The system can notify when predefined parameter thresholds are exceeded and signal the need for preventive or corrective actions in the production process.

In many applications, vision quality control systems are integrated with production machines, allowing for real-time correction of their operating parameters. It is possible to generate appropriate documentation for quality control purposes, taking into account the requirements of system and industry standards.

Applications

The range of applications for Vision Control systems is very wide. In the automotive industry, they are used for precise positioning of parts with verification of free positioning within components, considering the appropriate shape tolerances. Vision systems also check the functionality and parameters of car headlights and lamps.

In the machinery and metal industries, threads (external and internal), dimensions and shapes (e.g., after machining), color, and surface condition and structure are verified. Defects, such as corrosion on components, can also be detected. ELPLC S.A.’s Vision Control systems are often implemented in robotic welding applications, e.g., for monitoring weld parameters.

In the pharmaceutical industry, vision control systems are used for verifying blister fill levels and checking labels on packaging, e.g., for the presence and position of labels, batch numbers, expiration dates, etc. The requirements of industry standards and systems, such as GMP, can also be considered.

Vision control systems are frequently used in the electronics industry for checking the operation of indicators, positioning accuracy, content of packages, and presence and position of electronic components for assembly purposes. In the food industry, Vision Control Systems are used on bottling lines to detect defects—dents, cracks, microcracks. They can also check expiration dates and the condition and content of packages. Vision systems are often used for applications like counting bottles and cans.

Vision Control systems are also used in applications for capping bottles on production lines. In this solution, the gap between the cap and the bottle lip is verified. Similar applications are found in the cosmetics industry. In transport and logistics, vision systems are used for monitoring the palletizing process and checking labeling accuracy.

Design and Implementation of the System

At the design stage of the vision quality control system, ELPLC closely considers the needs of system users. First, the properties of the material of the controlled elements are analyzed, and the parameters to be checked, tolerated values, and limit thresholds are defined. ELPLC is a manufacturer of machines and production lines, a supplier of process automation and robotics. Therefore, engineers approach such systems individually and flexibly, understanding the processes, risks, and needs of the end user.

For stations operating automatically or as part of automated assembly lines, the appropriate method of component feeding is considered. This includes feeders, robots with grippers, and transport systems. The station dimensions are designed for specific applications. More advanced systems may use several vision cameras.

Appropriately selected algorithms are crucial for the proper functioning of the system. For reading and distinguishing characters, the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) algorithm is effective, while the OCV (Optical Character Verification) algorithm is better for character comparison.

Operation

The system operation method is selected, whether remote or local—PC computers, HMI panels, mobile devices—as well as its functionality concerning reporting. Cooperation with other systems operating in the factory—production lines, ERP, MES, CMMS, SCM, PLM software, etc., considering a specific data exchange standard—is important. Both the hardware and software parts of Vision Control are designed from scratch by ELPLC S.A. engineers.

Summary

Dedicated vision quality control stations from ELPLC S.A. allow for analyzing object parameters such as shape, dimensions, color, 1D and 2D codes, OCR, etc. Each solution is designed considering the specific application’s needs in terms of functionality and operation—remote, local, from mobile devices, as well as reporting and integration with other solutions working in the factory. The application range of vision quality control systems is very broad. Such applications are found in the automotive, metal, machinery, food, and pharmaceutical industries, among others.

Investing in Vision Control implementation quickly pays off, primarily due to improved effectiveness in the quality control process. This is done automatically, eliminating errors that often occur with operator-performed quality control. All this translates into improved production quality and reduced losses.

 

 


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