FEATURE Materialsy

Productivity through process improvement

Kevin Cook, Technical Manager at Intertronics, shares insight on how manufacturers can improve productivity by updating their adhesives process


or manufacturers, improving productivity is not always about speed alone, but often about improving accuracy,

consistency, yield and material usage. In a bonding or coating process, many of these improvements can be achieved with dispensing and application equipment.

Steps to process improvement There is no one-size-fi ts-all method for adhesives application process improvement, it ultimately depends on the process and the fi nal goals. A good understanding of the adhesives process and what the pain points are is crucial and the Six Sigma approach is a good starting point. This measurement- based methodology provides a framework to improve processes, by identifying causes of defects and suggesting methods to eliminate them. Away from Six Sigma, companies can still identify specifi c areas for improvement: it could be that production times are slow, work in progress is high, process control is poor, or results are unpredictable. Once identifi ed, steps should be taken to overcome these.

Upgrading manual processes Improving productivity may be as simple as buying a time-pressure dispenser to help with a manual process. For example, an operator may experience issues with physical strain or discomfort while manually dispensing viscous liquids like silicones. Switching to a pneumatic-driven machine

If a manufacturer is experiencing problems with consistency, either with an individual operator or between operators, it may be that the application can be replicated using a small benchtop robot. The programming might copy the operator’s methodology, which could be very effi cient, but a robot will take out operator variability, remove human error and will often be quicker. It is also possible to combine multiple processes using a robot, for example dispensing and curing, or dispensing on an array of parts so that larger batches can be produced more quickly. Operator skills can be redeployed into tasks that cannot easily be automated and ones that add more value. One successful example is Intertronics’s work with GJD Manufacturing, a motion- detection system manufacturer, whose manual silicone dispensing process was time-consuming, ergonomically unsatisfactory and resulted in material waste and clean-ups. The company purchased a Fisnar Dispensing Robot with a pneumatic dispensing valve fed from a cartridge, which substantially improved effi ciency. It then opted for further process improvement by upgrading to a preefl ow ecoPEN 600 precision volumetric positive displacement pump, which off ers > 99% repeatability and ±1% accuracy.

LED illuminator

would lead to an immediate increase in productivity, as the operator works more steadily and effi ciently, and the risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI) is mitigated.

24 July/August 2020 | Automation

It’s important to remember that automation is not always the answer — a process needs to balance. Opting to automate part of a process without clear understanding of the bigger picture could increase work in progress. Manufacturers who mix multiple materials together may fi nd that manual mixing is another source of inconsistency and process woe. Switching from a manual process to a mixing machine like Thinky Mixer can improve mix uniformity and save time. For example, using it to evenly disperse epoxy resin, hardener and aluminium powder before application, or to mix ingredients for cosmetic products.

Improved yields If there is an issue with poor adhesion resulting in a high reject rate and a lower number of saleable products, it may be possible to improve productivity with surface treatment prior to bonding. Plasma

GJD uses the

preeflow eco-PEN 600 to automate its silicone dispensing

pre-treatment, for example, improves the surface’s wettability, which can increase adhesion and ultimate bond strength, and therefore increase the number of QA passed products out the door. Plasma surface treatment is an easy process to automate, which will help to improve production effi ciency if replacing an existing pre- treatment process, and potentially remove a wet chemical process.

Process-friendly packaging Manufacturers can purchase material in a range of containers, from very small syringes to large pails. Package size availability and selection are contributory factors, with the need to balance shelf life, batch sizes, handleability, and so on. The type of container can help optimise the dispensing process and reduce material waste. Single part materials supplied degassed in dispenser-friendly syringes or cartridges can add to accuracy and line effi ciency, as well as chemical handling. Purchasing in bulk containers can reduce material costs, but can add challenges to the dispensing process. For best results, manufacturers should work closely with an experienced adhesives and dispensing equipment supplier, to determine the most effi cient and cost-eff ective equipment for the task.



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