For the annual Design World Trends issue, dozens of industry experts shared their insights. Here is additional information from some of those experts on the design, manufacture, and distribution of consumer products. Especially since COVID, the manufacture and distribution of home appliances, consumer electronics, and have evolved with advanced automation technologies.
MEET THE EXPERTS
Abdullah Al Ramadan |Sales product manager • high speed conveyance • Bosch Rexroth
Brad Fuqua | Business development manager • warehouse automation • Bosch Rexroth
James Gallant | Director of operations • ISL Products International Ltd.
Chad Solomon | Technical engineer — HMI business unit • Microchip Technology
Andrew Jung | Director of engineering • Bishop-Wisecarver
Marco Pardo | Agile integration with robotics • Dorner
Jeff Maina | Senior applications engineer • PBC Linear
John Uzzolino | Business develop manager • Parvalux
Robert Luchars | V.P. of business development • ECM PCB Stator Technology
Mike Beasley | U.S. semiconductor production • maxon
Patrick Varley | Product marketing manager — mechatronics • Mitsubishi Electric Automation
Adoption of custom components in consumer products continues unabated.
Gallant: Our dc gearmotors can be found in many consumer products; the applications are essentially endless. Applications include handheld power tools, delivery robots, coffee machines, hunting devices, farming equipment, blenders, hand mixers, e-bikes, drones, and automated door locks. We never know what we will be working on next, which makes our work very fun.
Solomon: Touchscreen penetration is on the rise among home-appliance OEMs. Until recently, OEMs shipped their highest-end models with touchscreens. Now though, intuitive and functional (and beautiful) touchscreens are being integrated into some more mainstream home-appliance models. The trend is towards reducing user-interface clutter and moving more controls to a single touchscreen.
Jung: Bishop-Wisecarver products impart long life to sliding doors, automated wine cellars, and other motorized designs needing smooth and quality operation.
Luchars: We’ve created custom electric motors having with 96% efficiency to power home appliances, power tools, and automated devices. In contrast with bulky off-the-shelf motors with copper windings, our technology uses a printed circuit board as the central motor component. A SaaS design platform lets innovators dial in precise performance and dimensional specs to create these custom electric motors that are lighter, quieter, faster, and requiring less raw materials to manufacture than traditional motors.
Maina: We welcome the opportunity to collaborate on new designs and updates to lower cost, extend life, and boost performance. Custom bearings and bearing assemblies can be designed (or redesigned) to solve specific application problems, lengthen service intervals, improve equipment performance, or save energy. In fact, about 25% of our total revenue comes from custom solutions.
Luchars: Recently we collaborated with Los Angeles film-equipment startup NODO on action-movie filming equipment. With us, NODO developed an Inertia Wheels MAX controller design leveraging PCB-stator motors. It offers haptics feedback with the electric motor deep in its wheel assembly for more torque sans cogging. We’ve also created unique designs for blenders and washing machines.
Maina: PBC Linear online product configurators let users configure linear-guidance and actuator products via prompted selections. Once configured, a budgetary list price is provided with the option to download 3D CAD models in various file formats. Design engineers can access several communication paths and connect with a team of application engineers dedicated to assisting and supporting design engineers. Often this via collaboration and (in some cases) video-conference application review.
Beasley: For power tools, we sell on features and benefits (not cost) so are primarily specified into professional-grade equipment used by contractors and not do-it-yourselfers. Here, maxon’s compact power-dense BLDC drives make for lightweight, efficient, and precise designs for demanding applications. Recent trends in the power-tool market are shrinking operator skillsets requiring the ability to record operating times and conditions for future use. We address this need with closed-loop active-feedback smart drives as well as HMI connectivity.
Solomon: Safety regulations once presented a significant hurdle for appliance OEMs looking to simplify their interfaces because separate controls were needed with functional safety certification for appliances such as ovens with self-cleaning functions and laundry machines with door-lock controls. Microchip is the first company to have removed those hurdles by allowing all controls — including functional safety critical buttons — to be moved to the touchscreen.
We offer the world’s only touchscreen controllers that are pre-certified for UL 60730 Class B (for U.S. shipments) and IEC 60730 Class B (for Europe, the Middle East and Africa or EMEA and Australia and New Zealand or ANZ shipments). maXTouch now lets OEMs develop single global models that can ship into Asia (where these standards are not mandatory but can be used as a point of differentiation for OEMs to position themselves as the safe choice for consumers) in addition to North America and EMEA.
New conveyor solutions are core to the manufacture, warehousing, and distribution of consumer goods.
Warehouses around the world could number nearly 200,000 in just a few years. Where warehouse labor is in short supply, conveyor-centric automation often offers fast ROI to support and execute a wide array of material-handling and packaging tasks.
Pardo: When you strip down almost any automation, the heart is conveyance. After all, the ability to accurately move products through each step of manufacturing and packaging depends on conveyance. That’s why selecting the right conveyor to complement a specific line’s automation requirements is so important.
We specialize in developing conveyance for challenging automation applications. Often, product must be correctly oriented at specific times at various locations along the line. That’s not an easy thing to do, but our specialized conveyance solutions do this well.
Al Ramadan: As intelligent conveyance becomes common across industries, we could see increased use of linear synchronous motor-based systems. These motors provide a unique combination of precision, speed, power, and flexibility for advanced automation environments.
Fuqua: Data analytics and AI is being strongly considered for use in warehouse automation as well as life sciences. Add-on systems are already leveraging these technologies to drive conveyance predictive-maintenance programs.
Pardo: Dorner’s DCMove conveyors feature motors internally mounted in the tails to minimize the conveyor footprint and simplify integration. With flush-side design allows installation in tight spaces and maximizes belt coverage. In combination with V-guided belt tracking and precise rack-and-pinion belt tensioning, DCMove belt conveyors are suitable for logistics, e-commerce, and material handling.
Al Ramadan: Today’s high-speed conveyance now allows full dynamic control, data collection, and the ability to quickly change product specifications. Our ACTIVE Mover conveyor excels in case packing because it allows on-the-fly changes to case size; lets operators control pallets; and run packaging of various sizes based on demand.
Uzzolino: The need for conveyance will continue to grow with the proliferation of e-commerce, e-grocery operations, micro-fulfillment centers, urban warehousing, and warehouse automation in general. Brushless motor-driven rollers or MDRs eliminate belts and pulleys as well as motor-brush maintenance — and can have high IP ratings to operate in challenging environments.
In increased demand are power efficiency from low-voltage motors; integrated power management (to allow sleep mode when product isn’t flowing, for example); and high-efficiency brushless motors. Also becoming mainstream are integrated networking and Industry 4.0 for IoT integration, cloud computing, analytics, functional safety, and artificial intelligence.
Soon (as power density and energy efficiencies continually improve) we’ll see direct-drive motor-driven rollers without gearboxes … a solution needing almost no maintenance.
Al Ramadan: In the life sciences industry, Bosch Rexroth is seeing increased use of high-speed intelligent conveyance based on conveyors having independently driven pallets. Applications include the production of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Intelligent conveyors are also heavily used in the consumer-packaged goods market. Here, the conveyors support case packing, cartoning, and flow wrapping.
Fuqua: The intelligent conveyance trend applies to warehouse automation as well. The goal is no longer moving something from point A to point B. Increasingly functional conveyance solutions can now execute positioning, gapping, and accumulation tasks as well.
Increasingly important is the intersection of robots and conveyance in consumer-goods manufacture and packaging.
Pardo: Robotic automation typically involves unscrambling, sorting, picking, labeling, case packing, sealing, palletizing, and stretch wrapping. Maximizing efficiency on these larger-scale lines requires conveyance that integrates well with robotic automation.
Al Ramadan: Our autonomous mobile robots support various applications and can even integrate with conveyors for pallet-transfer applications. At a recent Pack Expo, we demonstrated a pick-and-place application using our ctrlX AUTOMATION platform, VarioFlow plus conveyor system, MP1000R autonomous mobile robot, and a Kassow seven-axis collaborative robot.
Pardo: We’re seeing many companies within a variety of industries take steps to automate warehousing operations because they see the long-term value that investment brings. Especially in the e-commerce segment involving products and parcels continually on the move, the best way to maintain those shipping goals is through robotic automation. Of course, a critical component to ensuring those products are sorted, picked, labeled, and shipped ontime is conveyance.
As more industries add automation to their warehousing, conveyance will be vital to maximizing efficiency. We lead in developing new technologies to aid in e-commerce, automation, material handling, and packaging. Here, robots do much of the heavy lifting … but conveyors are the heart of the automation.
Varley: Our robotics are increasingly used for the production of home appliances, power tools, and consumer electronics.
Our DCMove belt conveyors are well paired with collaborative robots. Cobots are becoming more universally accepted; they’re safer for employees to work around and are easy to setup. Of course, robotic automation is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Quickly gaining popularity are small agile cobots designed to safely share a workspace with people. This is opening new applications within packaging, assembly, and other industries that previously involved no robotic interaction.
For example, robotics are increasingly common for modest operations in end-of-line applications where light parts are palletized. Here, robots can relieve employees of monotonous pallet loading and unloading all day long. That save organizations money in the long run while reducing the risk of repetitive-stress injuries.
Pardo: Robotics manufacturers have gone to great lengths to remove the guesswork and fear associated with programming and make integration with conveyance an easier endeavor. So many traditional conveyor facilities are now considering adding robotics.
Streamlining conveyor-and-cobot integration begins with robotic manufacturers who’ve created their own software to make installation and programming fast and easy.
Universal Robots offers a software package that allows Dorner to piggyback off their system. For example, Dorner’s 2200 Series conveyor and related accessories can be controlled with Universal Robot’s software plugin to aid in setup, configuration, and control. Once the program is installed, conveyors can be added to the cobot control program, and users can set inputs and outputs needed for starting, stopping, speed reference, and monitoring status information. This integration acts as a handshake between the conveyor and cobot so operators can run multiple conveyors off one controller as well as observe overall line performance.
Traceability is increasingly sophisticated as well.
Fuqua: Traceability and inspection are key in logistics — and that includes usage of barcodes, tracking product locations within a warehouse, and 3D scanning of package sizes. Here we’ve seen some big advances. For serializations and tracking of barcodes, our ctrlX AUTOMATION platform can automate that tracking. In addition, warehouse engineers can use the platform as an IT device when monitoring entire operations.
Read the rest of our experts’ insights in this series by visiting designworldonline.com/trends. Also be sure to watch Design World for a follow-up article on automation in consumer-product design and distribution.