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Wes Luallen, production engineer at Samtec Inc., stands in front of a press with an iPad screen behind him to the left, which shows auxiliary equipment status.
Hoofing it around a 150,000 ft2 plant answering alarms and attending to job changeovers on 15 injection presses can be an energetic workout for the lone material handler on day shift at Samtec Inc. in New Albany, Ind. But for the last 18 months, that job has proceeded at a less strenuous pace, thanks to remote monitoring and control of web-enabled materials-handling auxiliaries at the plant.
Internet connectivity for plastics equipment is a relatively new and growing technology (see also the cover story of this issue). Here’s how it works at Samtec.
The firm is a $500-million manufacturer of electronic connectors and cable systems with seven plants in six countries. Besides injection molding, it performs wire extrusion, metal stamping, electroplating, automated assembly, and even thermoforming of packages for its products. It started molding about four years ago, and as that operation grew, the firm built a new dedicated plant at its New Albany headquarters.
Wes Luallen, now in the Production Engineering Dept., was lead technician for the installation of the web-connectivity system for the new plant a year and a half ago. That system networks 15 hopper loaders on the presses, plus four blenders, one deduster, and loaders on 11 dryers—all from The Conair Group, Cranberry Township, Pa. These units have hard-wired links to a Conair FLX central control station that uplinks wirelessly to the internet. As a result, says Luallen, “We can see what’s going on with any piece of Conair equipment on an Apple iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. In fact, we have an iPad at each molding press, for which we build our own apps.”
This step up to wireless remote monitoring and control grew out of Samtec’s two-year experience with its Nissei molding presses that have similar wireless remote capability. “I can control any function with my iPhone,” says Luallen.
LESS RUNNING AROUND
Deploying web connectivity for the Conair auxiliaries at Samtec involved mainly an upgrade to the central FLX controller, at very modest cost. As a result, the material handler can attend to any of the loaders, blenders, etc. without having to run over to the machine or to the FLX control station, which could be 200 ft away from where he is standing.
“It’s such a time-saver,” says Luallen. "It eliminates 90% of the steps he’d have to make walking around during the day. He can be anywhere in the plant and turn any piece of equipment on or off, such as at the end of a job run. He can see the control screens and change any setting there, such as loader dump times. We have mezzanines, and he no longer needs to climb up there to look at the equipment.
“It’s great for troubleshooting,” Luallen continues. “He can energize a loader and hear whether the valves are switching on and off as they should. If we’re getting wet material into the hoppers, he can increase the time for purging the lines.”
As a result of this experience, Luallen would recommend web-connected equipment to any molder: “It’s a very useful tool. I don’t know how we could go back to the old way of having to be on the spot to check things."