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A case study: Collision Avoidance

3D modelThe painting of Boeing airliners is done by skilled artisans who need to work quickly and accurately. As they work, they travel along the plane on movable platforms. They get very close to the plane, but the platforms must never be allowed to collide with the aircraft. An existing collision avoidance system had a few frustrating limitations, so Boeing hired Concept Systems to develop a better solution.

SUMMARY

The problem

To paint each airliner, a crew of Boeing painters moves along the plane on eight moveable platforms that are controlled by the painters themselves. But the movement of the platforms must be constrained to prevent them from ever colliding with the plane. Boeing’s previous collision-avoidance system used a very coarse 3-D virtualization of the plane that sometimes prevented painters from moving the platform exactly where they wanted it. Additionally, when a new airplane model came into production, the painting hangar would be out of service for several days to update the system.

The solution

Concept Systems integrated various existing technologies to build an efficient automated collision-avoidance system. One of the breakthroughs was finding software developed at the University of North Carolina called the Proximity Query Package, which can detect approaching collisions between two different computer-generated objects. Integrated with Open Graphics Library and Boeing’s own design software, the system can build precise virtual representations of the situation in the painting hangar at any moment and then make complex decisions about what platform movements are allowed. Continue Reading →

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Random bin picking just got easier

robotic-pick-place2You want your robot to accurately and repeatably pick up random parts. SICK’s PLB 3D vision system makes that an easy task. It integrates a wide array of software packages that turn your PLB hardware into eyes and a brain for your robot.

Many 3D scanners on the market ignore the software side of things, so you and your integration team have to select software and configure it correctly. Now, you don’t have to worry about that. The SICK PLB, a next generation 3D vision scanner, was designed from the ground up as a random bin picking solution that integrates out-of-the-box very well with your chosen robot system.

The power of the SICK PLB scanner is not just the software packages that are integrated for you, but also the new generation triangulation type laser scanner, which captures the whole laser picture with no visible movement. You can mount the laser in a fixed location using a simple frame, where previous generations required the use of a conveyor or a robotic movement to see the product. Continue Reading →

Creating a Prioritized List for Your Automation Roadmap

Identify where existing capabilities are furthest from aligning with what will be needed to achieve business and production goals.

In my last blog, I urged manufacturers to establish an “automation roadmap” to help plan and prioritize technological upgrades over a set period of time.

As I travel and talk to customers, I am encouraged to hear that more and more folks are doing exactly this. Manufacturers, in general, understand how technology can boost quality, efficiency and production in their plants. And many of them are realizing the value of proactively deploying new technologies as they emerge. Maximizing these returns is what the automation roadmap is about.

With so many folks catching on, the chances are your competition has an automation roadmap in place, regardless of whether you have one or not. And simply put, if they have one and you don’t, you’re in danger of being outpaced.

No one wants to be left behind, so read on to learn how to get started.
Continue Reading →

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How Automation and Control System Integrators can help OEMs

Long before I started Concept Systems with my partners, I worked for an OEM. OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, and although it has many meanings, in this context I mean a designer and builder of automation, manufacturing and process equipment for the factory floor. While my current business, control systems integration, is related, the two are distinctly different – and often complementary.

OEMs are typically focused on a particular industry and on particular products and technologies. When they do branch out it is with the intention of introducing a new product, something that can then be included as one of their standard offerings. But even when this happens, they rarely stray far from those industries and technologies they’re familiar with.

An automation and control systems integrator is a different animal. We see ourselves as technology experts and risk managers. We provide control, information and automation solutions to customers across many industries and in many applications. Continue Reading →

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Apple Car?

We scour the Internet for any mention of Concept Systems, and recently this one from 9to5mac.com popped up. I’m not one to pass on rumors, but this is a pretty good one so I need to share it.

One of our own, Sawyer Cohen, is said to be working on the highly secret Apple car.

Sawyer is a brilliant engineer. He worked with our Seattle team coming fresh out of Stanford, before returning to California to join Apple. Go get ‘em Sawyer! And keep us in mind when it comes time to automate the factory!

You can read more about the Apple car in this Wall Street Journal article.

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Don’t Just React to Problems, Get an Automation Roadmap

Gain process reliability and leverage emerging technologies by understanding your operations, processes, threats and opportunities.

Do you have a three- to five-year automation roadmap for your manufacturing operation? If not, I urge you to establish one. Regardless of the state of your plant today, there is value in going through the process.

If your facility is outdated and struggling, the benefits are obvious. But even if you run the highest tech facility around, it’s helpful to consider emerging technologies and how you might apply them down the road. Creating a roadmap to do this is a matter of understanding your operation, your processes and the threats and opportunities you face.

For most manufacturers, the reason they haven’t done this is that they get stuck in a reactive mode. Something breaks, so they fix it. In and of itself, of course, that’s necessary. The problem is when you do not address why things break, and all you ever do is fix things. As equipment ages, the breakdowns become more frequent. The fixes become harder. They take longer. Access to spare parts becomes increasingly limited. Valuable production time is lost every time. Continue Reading →

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