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Agile Automation Leads Small Businesses to Success

Agile Automation is helping companies like WALT Machine Inc. win contracts.

Patrick Tawagi Sales Development Manager / Mar 15th, 2019

Automating the factory floor has always been a time-consuming task. It involves an army of mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, robotics engineers, electricians, and control specialists working side-by-side to implement proprietary technology for high-volume production. In fact, everything in the current industrial automation industry is focused on one thing: higher throughput. The simple act of designing, manufacturing, and commissioning a custom PLC enclosure, let alone the automated equipment itself, is measured in months of lead-time and tens of thousands of dollars in investments. It’s almost impossible for a business to earn an ROI on these investments unless it manufactures a lot of units.

Traditional automation solutions generate an acceptable ROI in large-scale manufacturing applications such as automotive plants, but they’re simply not adapted to the reality of a small business. A small business will typically produce smaller batches for contracts that have a beginning and an end. Simply put, their “time window for payback” is small. And small businesses are up against the same constraints as large ones, facing the same pressures to keep costs down and the same labor shortages. They need a different approach to industrial automation which enables a rapid and flexible response to change. We like to call it Agile Automation.

A new era in industrial automation

Small businesses like Mississippi-based WALT Machine see the manufacturing floor as a living thing. Every new contract means rearranging the shop floor. Sometimes it’s to accommodate a new CNC machine; other times it’s to regroup a series of CNCs in a more efficient layout. In every case, the shop floor configuration is one of the biggest factors in determining whether the business makes money from a contract or looses it. Automated equipment found across the floor—from robots, to part dispensers, to packaging equipment—must be easy to configure and quick to redeploy.

In Feed, Out Feed and Quality Inspection Stations

To support the Agile Automation approach, Vention developed the MachineMotion automation platform. The goal was simple: empower small and medium manufacturing businesses to design and commission their automation equipment quickly, on their own, without any external experts. Vention users can easily design industrial equipment in their browser, place the order online, and receive all their modular hardware in a matter of days. Automated equipment like conveyors, range extenders, palletizers, and pick-and-place machines can all be designed with Vention’s library of modular parts, connected to the plug-and-play MachineMotion controller, and configured through MachineApps. No need for a custom PLC enclosure, component integration, or proprietary software—just unpack, connect, and go!

The case of WALT Machine

WALT Machine specializes in CNC machining for the defense industry. They were one of the first machine shops to implement cobots and Tommy Caughey (President) has been quite involved within the Universal Robots community for years. WALT Machine considers these skills—deploying robots and automated equipment on their manufacturing floor—as some of their core activities, so they do it quickly and effectively in-house.

WALT Machine recently won an important production contract that lead them to regroup three CNC lathes while automating the entire machine-tending and post-machining inspection with a single UR10 robot. They used Vention to design and commission a 40-foot-long 7th axis and had a UR10 robot inject and eject parts from a single replenishing station to the appropriate CNC lathe. They had one month to complete this project and a maximum budget of $28,000 (to ensure they would earn the proper ROI on their contract). This robot cell configuration is intended for a 3-month period and includes the following equipment.

control station and cnc lathes

Vention’s 40-foot 7th axis for Universal Robot UR10

WALT Machine’s 7th axis is quite unusual. With a total length of 40 feet, and fully configurable linear speed and acceleration, it’s also the perfect solution for WALT’s triple-CNC robot cell. The 7th axis is ceiling-mounted, with the robot base located exactly at 2,200 mm above ground. Carrying a UR10, the robot can move at speeds of up to 1.5 m/s. The full technical details of the range extender are as follows:

CAD Design of the 7th axis with UR10 in Vention's MachineBuilder

  • Linear Speed: Up to 1.5 m/s
  • Control: Vention MachineMotion controller, plug and play, 2-output configuration (reverse synchronization)
  • Operating Software: Vention URCap for Linear Motion, with multiple set points, speed and acceleration control.
  • Length: 40 feet (12.2 m)
  • Height (robot base flange to ground): 87 inches (2,200 mm)
  • Equipment Cost: USD $23,000 for the entire 7th axis, including controller motor, wiring, and URCap software
  • Design Time: 4 hours
  • Assembly Time: 24 hours
  • Calibration & Commissioning Time: 16 hours

  • ceiling mounted 7th axis
    Ceiling mounted 7th axis
    UR10 tending to the machine

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