OEMs Need Automation to be Competitive

Automation is a requirement for competitiveness of original equipment manufacturers’ (OEMs’) products, states Peter Karlsson, global manager for OEM/value-added-reseller at Wonderware (www.wonderware.com), the Lake Forest, Calif.-based automation software supplier that is a unit of Invensys Operations Management.

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The reason, Karlsson suggests, is the better machine performance that automation brings. Equally important is end-users’ ability to prioritize “flexibility and availability in their production” and “for them to analyze-measure-adjust-inform. Automation is the key in that process.”

Bob White agrees. “The only way you can compete worldwide is by automating your equipment. In the United States, your labor cost is so high compared to the rest of the world,” remarks White, president of Janda Co. Inc. (www.jandawelders.com), Corona, Calif., which builds welding machines. “With automation, you know what your throughput is each and every hour. You know that the quality of the product is going to be consistent. Labor costs go down by a tremendous amount. Plus, if a machine’s automated—it depends on how much—you know everything that’s going on with it.”

Janda’s welding machines find wide use in industrial sectors such as wiring, sheet metal, aerospace and automotive, White says. From its beginning, the OEM has always had some automation in its products. But, for example, “in the old days, we’d have a 60-inch cabinet with relays,” he recalls. Progress and experience led to Janda now having a 24-inch cabinet “that goes the whole nine yards. We also have an operator interface using view screens, instead of a station box.”

Some customers request customized machines, and automation helps him and them meet their needs. For example, one end-user requested machines to make steel 2-inch-by-4-inch structural members. “We decided to use automation, and the client saved buying about five standard welders for the price of one automated welder,” White says. But, he asserts, there was no loss, but actual gain, in output. “We believe the output of an automated welder will be about double the total number of the standard welders.”

White likes automation in machines because of decreased maintenance made possible by the automation. “It’s pretty much zero. We have automated oilers, guided by the PLCs (programmable logic controllers), as well as other functions such as forming and shearing,” he explains.

Something else automation gives his welding machines—more precision. “With a standard welder, we get 0.125-inch tolerance. But with the automated welder, we’ve seen tolerances of 0.001 inch,” White reports. Product quality also improves and expenses are reduced through automation, he adds.

White believes that going from multiple automation vendors to a single vendor has been a major positive factor. “We’ve always made automated machines, since the 1960s. With different vendors, there might a problem in having parts fit together. We went through that phase. Finally, we said, ‘To heck with it.’ ”

Now’s the time

But the current economic downturn casts its shadow on OEMs. That’s led Janda to seek more business in non-automotive places, White reveals. And while OEMs might struggle with the downturn, it might give them time to contemplate their use of automation, Karlsson suggests. “Now it is the perfect time for them to look at things they had no time for in the past.” If they can find the money, that might include taking, as Karlsson suggests, their current automation solution to the “next level.”

C. Kenna Amos, ckamosjr@earthlink.net, is an Automation World Contributing Editor. 

Wonderware
www.wonderware.com

Janda Co. Inc.
www.jandawelders.com

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