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Bespoke solutions for the production process

South Australian-based irrigation fitting specialist Philmac had a vision – to be a world-class developer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative fluid transfer solutions for global markets.

However, in order to achieve this, it needed to make sure its factory was not only running at capacity but efficiently, too. One of the key ingredients to this efficiency was making sure plant was operating at its best especially in the areas where the labelling was being manually applied where people were weighing, bagging and packing parts. They engaged with automation manufacturing solutions provider Bosch to help come up with a solution for better throughput and efficiencies.

“They started talking to us and engaged us to get across a concept of what we would do,” said Bosch business development manager John Croft. “We went about putting a couple of proposals to them. They liked what they saw and now 60 per cent of the total volumes are going through the machine instead of being completed manually. Their cycle times were well within what they were trying to attain, which was around four seconds.”

Like any project there were teething problems. Because of the numerous variations of shapes of the components it was important that the vision systems were doing their job.
“The vision systems had to locate the products and also work out what orientation the product is in so that it can communicate with the robot how to pick it up,” said Croft. “Then the product was presented to the labeler and the label was applied automatically via it being wiped onto the products and then dropped into another conveyor.”

“Overall, Philmac makes about 25 million final assembled products each year,” said Paul Thomas, general manager of manufacturing at Philmac. “The previous process we used was very manual orientated. The new system is simple and easy to use and has good safety features. Also, the changeover time is very quick, which is really important because of the volumes we process.”

The type of information that was needed for the configurations was down to the software programmes within the robot and systems. Bosch made it so Philmac could configure the programmes to suit its specific needs, due to the funny shape of the parts it was labelling.
One key point Croft is keen to make is that when all is said and done Bosch is offering bespoke solutions to help companies solve their production process and efficiency problems. He acknowledges that each device has its own set of issues, which is more due to the customised nature of some of the different robots.

“These are not products where you build four or five of them for different companies,” said Croft. “Every company has its own needs. The hardest thing is, that because you are making bespoke equipment delivery, being on time is one of the biggest issues. It can easily blow out because of various bugs you may find because it’s not a standard piece of machinery. We’ve been building bespoke equipment since the 1960s but all of that equipment has been for the automotive industry in other Bosch plants so everything has been reasonably similar. So, it’s easy for us.”

Croft said that Bosch is looking to do work for Philmac’s sister company, Vinidex, too.
“Whereas Philmac does all irrigation fittings, Vinidex does PVC fittings,” said Croft. “So, we’re looking at another machine for labelling for Vinidex, but they want to take it a step further. The products come out, they get labelled, they go up to a bagging machine where they are bagged, sealed and packed.”

Vinidex wants it products to go through the same procedure as Philmac’s, and then go to palletising as well, so as a box is filled, it automatically palletises.

Croft also points out that there is a wealth of information available to clients who want to work with Bosch on solving their manufacturing process problems and moving into the next industrial revolution 4.0 where Bosch is an industry leader.
“There is a lot of knowledge within Bosch and I suppose because of the size of Bosch – you’re looking at 390,000 people –  we have a complete global philosophy where we may find a solution,” said Croft. “It’s really important to us that we have a strong relationship with our customers so that if there is an issue they don’t mind calling us up to help figure it out.”

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