SAGE Automation wins 2013 PACE Zenith Award for Manufacturing

PACE Zenith Awards 2013: Automotive & Manufacturing category sponsored by ifm efector

WINNER: SAGE Automation
Project: Countermeasures Manufacturing Facility

SAGE Automation successfully designed, developed and installed a new aircraft countermeasures production facility for Chemring Australia in the regional Victorian town of Lara near Geelong. Chemring Australia has a 10 year, $160 million contract with the Australian Defence Force to supply aircraft mounted countermeasures designed to draw missile attacks away from the aircraft.

The $11 million new production facility was considered essential for the fulfilment of the contract. Constructed in four stages, this is the first automated countermeasure manufacturing plant constructed in the southern hemisphere.

The project was a unique combination of manual and automated processes and required SAGE Automation to consider issues such as delicate product handling techniques, functional safety requirements, machine guarding, hazardous areas and high operating temperatures of up to 85 degrees C.

SAGE invested heavily in the first stage of the program to develop a solution which met the unique requirements of the project, especially a combination of both hazardous areas and high temperatures. With both mechanical and electrical requirements within the manufacturing environment, products and control architecture was researched both local and off-shore to source and trial the appropriate equipment to develop a solution.

The aircraft countermeasures require highly energetic materials during construction. If these materials are not handled correctly, they will auto-initiate. As such, the safety critical manufacturing operation requires reliable and repeatable processes which work smoothly not only the first time, but every time.

Additionally, the facility was developed to keep people outside of the danger blast area – thus requiring full automation of systems. In addition, all the machinery and systems employed by SAGE had to meet exceptionally high standards of safety operation.

SAGE Automation was responsible for the development and integration of 13 different assembly stations. The first six stations were required to be unmanned due to the volatile nature of the product ingredients and therefore completely automated. The process undertaken within these stations is monitored from a central control room, with vision being provided via 100 CCTV cameras.

While featuring significant levels of mechanical assistance, the remaining seven stations included some elements of manual assembly or production. As part of the development process, the overall facility was integrated seamlessly under a common Siemens WinCC SCADA system.

SAGE Automation rolled out Profibus at the device level and a combination of intrinsically safe Profibus in hazardous areas and standard Profibus in safe areas. Safety communications are managed with Profibus as well as Profinet Ethernet communications, while peer to peer communications between PLCs also have safety communications over Profinet. Communication to VSD’s are over Profibus.

Besides producing countermeasures for the Australian Defence Force, the Lara facility has the ability to also produce countermeasures for use by the US and British defence forces.

David Delany, Managing Director, ifm efector congratulates Paul Smith of SAGE Automation.

David Delany, Managing Director, ifm efector (R) congratulates winner Paul Johnson of SAGE Automation.

Since the facility would be required to undertake work within the international defence sector, it has to be compliant with strict compliance standards and ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) requirements. ITAR is a set of United States government regulations that control the export and import of defence related articles and services on the United States Munitions List.

Being able to demonstrate compliance with defence department standards and having the processes in place to protect defence intellectual property is essential in winning defence contracts. Due to the complexity of the process and the need to import technology components from the UK, the project was delivered as a staged implementation, with the back end of the facility put into operation prior to the front end.

To ensure smooth and timely delivery, SAGE Automation undertook and followed a detailed implementation schedule. The project was delivered over 2 years, with the majority of the work completed in the first 12 months. SAGE met all schedule requirements set by Chemring Australia.

According to Chemring Australia, working with SAGE Automation proved to be an effective partnership, especially given the complexities and difficulties of the project, with its many potential challenges.

Being the first installation of its kind in the southern hemisphere, the facility’s outcomes are benchmarked against operations from around the globe. All production benchmarks are being met or exceeded. The product throughput is exceeding levels set and the reject rate is low.

SAGE Automation met the quality and safety requirements as well as the development of a Hazardous Areas dossier for the facility, consisting of over 750 hazardous rated devices within both Gas and Dust Hazardous Areas.

The facility is now fully operational having produced in excess of 50,000 countermeasures for the RAAF. The facility gives Chemring opportunities for further work with the Australian Department of Defence, with the flexibility of the system contributing to its onogoing success.

Since entering the defence sector 18 months ago, SAGE has experienced growth within this market, resulting in the sector contributing to approximately 10 percent of the company’s turnover in 2011/12.

Project: Light Weight (Carbon Fibre) Mine Vent Duct

RPC Technologies leveraged its know-how in composite to design and develop a foam-ribbed Fire Retardant and Anti-Static (FRAS) Light Weight Mine Vent Duct made out of carbon fibre. Lighter and stronger than fibreglass ducts, the new product can withstand a higher vacuum.

As the carbon fibre mine vent duct is half the weight of its fibreglass counterpart, this reduces the work health and safety risks associated with handling the ducting during installation. This is useful, because these ducts are often handled multiple times to change the extraction layout in the mines depending on the application needs.

RPC Technologies selected the right type of carbon fibre fabric, resin and foam for the product to ensure quality. It also developed an alternative manufacturing method to cope with the new materials, replacing the traditional filament winding manufacturing method. This new method allowed the processing of carbon fibre into the filament winding process at the same production rate as previously achieved.

The carbon fibre mine vent ducts have been engineered to be strong, in order to cater to its primary application, which is to extract methane and coal dust from the coal face in underground mining environment. This application requires the ducts to be able to withstand the vacuum pressure associated with dust extraction.

The line of carbon fibre mine vent ducts includes straight duct and standard fittings (such as elbows, branches, dampers) and fans but other custom fittings and add-ons can be supplied as well. The range is not set, and will evolving with the customers’ needs and requirements.

The fire retardancy and anti-static properties are a regulated safety requirement for materials used in the mine as per the ‘MDG3608-Non metallic materials for use in underground coal mines’ guideline.

Currently, to extract methane and coal dust, the mines mainly use plastic flexible hoses of large diameters or fibreglass ducts. The flexible hose solutions are very versatile but are limited in their capacity to withstand vacuum; on the other end the fibreglass solution is strong enough to withstand higher vacuum pressure, but is more difficult to handle (partly due to its weight).

According to RPC Technologies, its new manufacturing process puts it in good stead to compete with its immediate competitors in the carbon fibre mine vent duct industry, which uses a costly although highly controlled, efficient and sophisticated process.

RPC Technologies developed the process while aiming to achieve a similar result, using as much as possible the current filament winding equipment.

The final result is homogeneous (there is no specific process-induced weak point on which the duct is likely to fail, as opposed to a prepregs and autoclave process that generates a weak seam along the length of the duct), very satisfactory (airtight enough to ensure more vacuum than the fibreglass product, no significant leaks as opposed to the competitor’s product), and more cost competitive.

The 2013 PACE Zenith Automotive and Manufacturing Awards are sponsored by ifm efector.
Read moreifm efector continues to focus on innovation and strong customer support

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