Intelligent transport for production lines

Carmen Klingler-Deiseroth, Freelance journalist.

To square the circle of reconciling mass production with batch-of-one production, enterprises need highly flexible manufacturing systems that are also efficient and profitable. B&R’s ACOPOStrak intelligent transport system promises to deliver just that. B&R became part of the ABB group in 2017.

For today’s generation of digital natives, the ability to personalize the products they buy is increasingly a given. To keep pace with this rapidly changing situation, the makers of these products need highly flexible manufacturing systems that are, at the same time, efficient and profitable. This introduces a whole new set of demands on plant infrastructure.

Batch-of-one production is nothing new – in fact, it is standard practice in many craft businesses. What is new, however, is the idea of making customized products under mass-production conditions. So far, this has proven difficult to implement in a way that is economically viable. That is because any increase in system flexibility is usually accompanied by a reduction in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). In short, individualization becomes unprofitable.

The ACOPOStrak intelligent transport system will fundamentally change the way production lines are designed and operate.

The ACOPOStrak intelligent transport system will fundamentally change the way production lines are designed and operate.
The ACOPOStrak intelligent transport system will fundamentally change the way production lines are designed and operate.

The goal of mass customization is, therefore, to keep the three factors of OEE – availability, performance and quality – at a level consistent with what can be achieved in mass production. In addition, manufacturers seek to maximize their return on investment (ROI) and to minimize their time to market for new and improved products. This is the only way to make mass customization viable from an economic perspective.

Up to now, developing flexible manufacturing systems has been a tedious process. In many cases, problems are not seen until the system is up and running. At that point, fundamental changes to the machine design can extend the time to market by months, which is a costly affair.

ACOPOStrak intelligent transport system

If flexible manufacturing is to match the increasing demand for true mass customization and batch-of-one production, then new approaches to mechanical design and motion control hardware must be conceived. Breakthrough innovations in these two areas are at the heart of ACOPOStrak – an intelligent transport system whose revolutionary design enables adaptive manufacturing systems and promises a new era in flexible and efficient production. ACOPOStrak was developed by B&R Industrial Automation GmbH, an Austrian company recently acquired by ABB.

Diverter maximizes OEE

So, what is it that makes the intelligent transport system so uniquely suited for automating adaptive processes? The answer lies with the diverter. The diverter is – quite literally – a pivotal component of the system. It is 100 percent electromagnetic, so does not require any additional components, as a diverterless transport system does, and is, therefore, entirely free from wear. Like a highway junction, the ACOPOStrak diverter lets product flows diverge and converge and allows the shuttles that carry the product components to switch tracks at full speed with no compromise in productivity.

The ACOPOStrak diverter allows mass-produced items such as bottled beverages, for example, to be grouped on-the-fly into custom six-packs – three of one flavor, two of another and one of a third – with- out any changes to the hardware. To sustain high quality, lines must be able to react to faults and defects in real time – without compromising the production process. Defective products need to be rejected on the spot, while maintaining full production speed. If a defective item is not sorted out immediately following quality inspection and is instead permitted to continue down the line, it may eventually become necessary to scrap an entire job lot of products. The ACOPOStrak diverter allows defective products to be sorted out as soon as they are identified.

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