Royal Australian Mint simplifies manufacturing systems and processes

Driven by the need for increased efficiency, improved process maturity, and greater information sharing across the business, the Royal Australian Mint set out to find an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution that offered the adaptability and flexibility it required.

As a listed entity within the Commonwealth Government portfolio of the Treasury, the Royal Australian Mint is the sole supplier of Australia’s circulating coinage. Since its establishment, the Mint has produced more than fifteen billion circulating coins and now has the capacity to produce two million circulating coins per day. The demand for uncirculated coins has led to the expansion of the Mint’s manufacturing capability of high-quality and innovative collector coins.

In addition to producing Australia’s coinage, the Mint produces coins for other countries – along with medals, medallions, tokens, and seals for private clients both national and international. The Royal Australian Mint is also a tourist attraction. It educates students and visitors on the history of Australian coinage, and it explains how technology is being used in its modern manufacturing environment.

Shifting focus

In 2010, the Royal Australian Mint had implemented a manufacturing resource planning solution to facilitate the production of circulating coins and numismatic coins. The solution was designed to provide integrated manufacturing, sales, dispatch, financial, maintenance, HR, and document management capabilities. As the solution was reaching its end of life, a significant investment was required to upgrade.

The business of the Mint had also changed since the solution’s initial implementation – driven by the requirement to increase production efficiencies, improve process maturity, and the need for greater information sharing across the business. The original solution had been significantly customised, making it difficult to update regularly. This meant the solution became outdated and difficult to use, hindering the Mint’s ability to improve business processes.

Ricardo Alberto, Chief Technology Officer at the Commonwealth Treasury, explains: “We are seeing a decline in the amount of circulating coins in Australia. Because this part of the business is funded by the Government, we needed to grow the commercial side of the business to cover the shortfall. To do this, the Mint had to become more commercially focused – something that is unique for a government agency.

“We needed to find efficiencies across the business to deal with the increasing demand for collector coins. This was a big challenge, as the collector market has lots of different coins which are higher in value.”

Consequently, the Mint needed an adaptable and flexible manufacturing enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution that could drive production efficiencies and improve processes. The solution also needed to enable information sharing across the business, real-time reporting, and online capabilities so the Mint could have visibility across its entire operations.

“Every efficiency that we can get out of manufacturing workflows and financial reporting translates into a significant benefit for the business,” says Alberto. “We needed a solution that would effectively address business process efficiencies.”

Flexibility and simplicity needed

After identifying its challenges, the Mint needed to decide on the right approach to solve them. The business knew it could either upgrade its legacy system or test the market and look for a new manufacturing ERP solution. The Mint wanted a simple and user-friendly solution that was preconfigured and would deliver value almost immediately.

“We didn’t want to spend 12 months writing specifications, designing, and building the solution,” says Alberto. “Typically, these projects take 12 to 18 months just to start the implementation phase. We were looking for something that was known within the industry, with standard set-ups to complete basic manufacturing and financial functions, and with a user-friendly interface.

“The Mint has a diverse workforce, and the chosen solution would be used by factory staff, as well as administrative, finance, and senior executives. It needed to be a simple solution, as we would need to explain how to use the system to approximately 240 of our employees across all branches.”

The Mint went through a thorough evaluation process before finally selecting Epicor ERP. As Alberto explains: “One of the main reasons we chose Epicor was that the solution met our organisational goals of flexibility and simplicity. The user interface – which was delivered out of the box – fitted perfectly with the Mint’s strategy of not having to customise significantly.

“Epicor also demonstrated its expertise and experience in the manufacturing industry. We wanted a specific manufacturing solution, and it was evident that the Epicor technology has been designed with all the intricacies associated with manufacturing in mind. Using an out-of-the-box solution, the team hasn’t come across any instance where additional functionality is needed to complete tasks. There are multiple options to choose from, allowing the team to map work practices to at least one of those options.

“For example, the costs of the different parts in the manufacturing process are aligned with the correct financial accounts. The system can be configured and integrated without having to apply any additional code. Thanks to the Epicor solution, we didn’t need to code any specific workflows.”

Integrating across the business

The Mint now has an ERP system that manages its daily operations across the entire business. The solution lets the Mint manage quotes, sales orders, packing, and dispatching orders, as well as manufacturing processes – including planning, scheduling, purchasing of raw materials, and labour. The ERP system also allows all costs to be recorded so reporting can be completed accurately.

The Epicor ERP system is integrated with the Mint’s retail sales channel – including its eShop and its customer relationship management (CRM) system. It is also integrated with Australia Post’s eParcel system to track shipping deliveries recorded in the system.

The Mint worked with Precise – an Epicor partner – to implement a point of sale (POS) system in the retail store, which integrates with the Epicor ERP software.

“Previously, the Mint did not have any integration with the POS system,” Alberto notes. “The time it took to do reconciliations between the retail store and roadshow sales has been significantly reduced thanks to the Epicor solution. We save up to several days per month on reconciliations for the mobile coin fairs and a few hours per week in the retail store.”

Reflecting business operations

“The prime benefit for the Mint has been in dispatching orders,” Alberto continues. “Before the implementation of the Epicor ERP solution, the process of dispatching orders was not efficient – especially when we were experiencing a period of high sales, such as when a new product was released. Epicor has provided an electronic way to sort through orders, providing greater efficiencies and allowing customers to receive orders in a timely fashion.

“Simplicity and reliability have been the key themes throughout this project. One of the greatest advantages of using the Epicor ERP system is that we can track and trace everything. For example, if we are questioned about an inventory transaction, we are able to track all actions that have occurred with that inventory.

“Using the Epicor best-practice manufacturing solution to drive change management, our employees have become really engaged, and the project has challenged staff to think about business processes. It has put the whole business on a new footing, and employees are taking responsibility for these processes. The Epicor solution has proven to be a powerful support tool for our employees, and the easy-to-use user interface meant that the employees have adapted to the new technology quickly.

“We are confident that the Epicor ERP system reflects what is happening in the business, in every area, every step of the way.”

In terms of supporting the company’s future growth, the Mint now has the flexibility to accommodate new ideas and new ways of approaching the market. Alberto concludes: “Epicor offers the flexibility to support the business wherever we want to expand because we don’t need to customise the solution. This means we can use native processes to deliver solutions and stay up to date and regularly upgrade the solution.”

Plug-and-play connectors can empower engineers to create modular machines

The assumption that hardwiring of industrial machines will minimise wire installation costs turns out to be wrong, writes Simon Pullinger.

If you design or build industrial machines, you probably know all about hardwiring. It remains the most common way to bring power and signal to the machine because it offers perceived savings in installation costs. But the cost savings are really a mirage once you factor in the full range of wiring costs. These obviously include time and materials: the cost of the wire, cable, accessories and labour. Less obvious is the fact that you’ll also incur hidden installation costs with their own labour and time-to-market considerations.

For example, many machines have to be disassembled for shipping and reassembled for start-up, so you’ll have to hardwire parts of the machine at least twice. Then there’s the cost of errors. Field wiring errors are common, especially when local electricians, unfamiliar with the machine, handle the wiring. At best, these errors can delay machine commissioning. At worst, they can damage the machine. Finally, add in the cost of testing, which can be complex and expensive in hardwired systems. Keep in mind the hidden costs will grow exponentially with the number of connection points on the machine.

Fortunately, you can avoid these costs through ‘connectorisation’. While connector components require a bigger upfront investment, you will recoup that money and then some.

Connectors enable lower-cost machines

Using connectors gives engineers the flexibility to create modular machines that are faster and less expensive to build. In this approach to machine design, common subsystems and components can be pre-built, tested and stocked for installation. Many machines can be designed from reusable modules, including control panels, junction boxes, populated cable tracks and motor assemblies. Sensors and actuators with prewired connectors are also increasingly available.

Connectorisation provides the plug-and-play assembly that makes modular machines so attractive from a cost standpoint. Not only will the connectorised modules be easier to assemble, but they also ensure wiring integrity. For example, when multiple connectors can be mounted side-by-side, they can be keyed so that each cable connector only mates with the right receptacle.

One knock you’ll hear about connectors is that they can’t possibly cover all the scenarios addressed by point-to-point wiring, which is inherently a custom approach. Nowadays, however, electrical connectors address just about every power, control, signal and data application you can imagine.

Some of these connectors are dedicated to specific electrical specification and have a fixed number of contacts. And custom modular connectors can meet specific machine requirements not addressed by off-the-shelf dedicated connectors. These modular connectors can pack power and control contacts, fibre optic contacts, pneumatic ports and data bus connectors into an environmentally-protected housing.

Faster ship, quicker commissioning

When new, large machines get ready to be shipped, they have to undergo some disassembly. At the very least, cables to and from the control panel will need to be disconnected for shipping. With hardwired machines, this extra step can be time-consuming, expensive and fraught with error.

With connectorised machines, you simply unplug any cables from the panel’s bulkhead connectors. Wire routing and connections internal to the panel remain undisturbed. The same holds true for junction boxes, motor assemblies, sensors and data cables.

Once the machine arrives at its destination, all wires disconnected for shipment need to be connected all over again. In many cases, local electricians perform this crucial rewiring process using a set of wiring schematics. Since the electricians may know little about the machine and how it works, the rewiring process is notorious for costly mistakes and start-up delays. Machine builders sometimes minimise this risk by sending one or more factory technicians to complete the installation and traveling technicians will drive additional cost.

Connectorised machines, by contrast, have a true plug-and-play start-up process. The need to rewire the machine in the field, and the possibility of wiring mistakes, are eliminated. No wiring mistakes means no costly troubleshooting or replacement of damaged components. For large, complex machines, installation and start-up procedures that would take several weeks can often be reduced to a matter of days.

Machine buyers today expect and demand continuous, uninterrupted operation of their manufacturing and assembly lines. In large factory operations, even the briefest downtime can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to lost production. With a connectorised machine, replacement of a burned out motor, failed sensor or damaged component or cable takes place as quickly as the replacement parts can be installed on the machine. To put it another way, connectorised systems remove any wiring-related downtime.

For machine builders, the ability to quickly ship, install and maintain machines represents an important selling point for their customers. While the upfront cost for connectors is higher, this one-time cost will be more than offset by the recurring and hidden costs associated with hardwiring.

Go modular for design flexibility and savings

Connectorisation usually makes a lot of sense compared to hardwiring, but what if you can’t find an off-the-shelf connector that meets your technical requirements? That’s where modular connectors enter the picture.

Based on plug-and-play modules in standard frame sizes, modular connector technology covers a wide range of power, control and data connections. These include high voltage, high current, thermocouple, Profibus and Ethernet. Modular connectors also support hose-connected pneumatics up to 145 psi.

The main benefit of using modular connectors is that they combine the best attributes of custom and off-the-shelf products:

  • Custom design flexibility. By combining power and signal modules freely, you get all the design flexibility of a custom product. Often, modular connectors will allow you to consolidate what would otherwise have been multiple connectors, saving panel space and reducing installation costs. Modular connectors can also be pre-assembled, fully tested cable assemblies – for even greater savings in installation and replacement costs.
  • Off-the-shelf convenience. Despite their custom nature, modular connectors have lead-times similar to off-the-shelf products, which helps you meet your delivery deadlines.

Simon Pullinger is the General Manager of Lapp Australia.

Bosch Australia

Many of us have experienced

Bosch Australia

Many of us have experienced

Glass bottle redesigned with confidence using clear SLA 3D printing

Packaging redesigns are a serious undertaking. On the marketing side, changes are visual and emotional; on the manufacturing side, changes cost money.

Before making the investment to overhaul its glass bottle tooling systems, the maker of James Boag’s Premium Lager needed to know an update to its bottle would not be change for change’s sake. It needed to be sure the new bottle would look good and be well received by customers. Ideally, this confidence would come before spending major time and capital on the project.

As the supplier of Boag’s bottles, Orora had skin in the game to validate the design quickly and accurately. Orora’s Innovation & Design team put wheels into motion by contacting 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing, a long-time partner, to develop a state-of-the-art 3D printed prototype. Keeping Boag’s existing supply chain processes top of mind, a new-look bottle was designed to comply with the manufacturing infrastructure already in place to help avoid expensive and time-consuming changes.

To get Boag’s buy-in on the new design, a credible appearance model was needed for evaluation. To be convincing, the 3D printed models needed to have the same clarity and hue as glass as well as the same in-hand heft. 3D Systems’ experts accounted for weight disparities by adjusting the interior wall thickness of the design file based on the density of the selected stereolithography (SLA) resin, and then got to work on colour-matching to achieve the iconic green of the classic Boag bottle.

Using 3D Systems’ leading SLA 3D printing technology and VisiJet SL Clear resin, 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing experts printed four SLA prototypes.

“Successful lab testing of 3D Systems’ clear materials verify they are the best solution for transparent 3D prints,” said Dr. Don Titterington, Vice-President of Materials R&D, 3D Systems. “Used in a variety of demanding applications, clear materials deliver high-performing, cost-effective choices for functional, transparent prototypes.”

Once printed, the bottles were put through an in-house finishing protocol to bring them to final product quality. This included wet and dry sanding, applying a surface tint, and a final clear coat to deliver a glass-like sheen. With just a few simple steps, clear SLA prints can be transformed with incredible results.

According to Tracy Beard, General Manager for 3D Systems’ facility in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, thousands of clear parts are produced at the facility each week: “The materials are versatile enough to be quickly finished and tinted for perfect prototypes.”

The appearance models were ready within a week, allowing Orora and Boag to quickly transition the new design to customer trials and gauge the public’s reaction. They filled the 3D printed bottles with liquid, outfitted them with a label and cap, and put them in a shop for monitoring. Feedback from these in-store trials indicated that the new design was a hit, clearing the new design for production.

“The new James Boag’s Lager bottle has set a standard within Orora for the way packaging design and 3D prototyping can come together seamlessly with short notice,” said a spokesperson for Orora’s Innovation & Design team. “It’s the sort of technology innovation that’s giving us a critical edge when it comes to developing best-practice bottling design and manufacturing solutions for our customers.”

Building Industry 4.0: Three steps to getting the IT foundation right

Australia’s manufacturing sector is undergoing a period of seismic change as new, disruptive technologies and economic realities take hold and new markets emerge. Despite recent doom and gloom over closures, the industry is poised for a resurgence if it can quickly embrace innovation, diversification and market changes. It’s no wonder Industry 4.0 has moved to the centre of the conversation. By Keith Buckley, Managing Director for Riverbed A/NZ.

More than just a flashy catch-phrase, Industry 4.0 is a merging of trends and technologies that promise to reshape the way things are made. Its goal: make manufacturing faster, more efficient and more customer-centric and detect new business opportunities and models. The biggest challenge to embracing it: knowing where to start.

According to a recent study by Deloitte, while Australian executives are optimistic about the potential of Industry 4.0, few (2%, compared to 14% globally) are confident they’re ready to lead its implementation. So, where’s a manufacturer to begin? Just as the strength of a building lies in its foundation, so too does the successful implementation of digital technologies rely on its underlying IT infrastructure. If you skimp on either, and something fails, it’s not an easy fix.

A recent Riverbed survey of Australian IT decision-makers on the future of IT revealed that nearly all (99%) believe legacy network infrastructure will have difficulty keeping pace with changing demands of the cloud – this includes the cornerstones of Industry 4.0: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), machine learning and artificial intelligence. In order for manufacturers to establish a firm foundation for Industry 4.0, it’s clear that a fundamental rethink of the networking – and of the tools used to monitor, measure and manage it all – is needed.

Step 1: Rethink old-school approaches to networking

Though often overlooked, the network is an absolutely essential link in an organisation’s ability to successfully implement digital technologies. However, traditional networking technology was designed long before the cloud was formed. While the world at either end of the pipes has changed dramatically, networks haven’t changed much since the 1990s.

As organisations embrace disruptive technologies and hybrid networks, add more users, applications and devices, and become increasingly mobile – legacy approaches to managing it all have remained much the same: hardware-centric, manpower-intensive, rigid and error-prone. As a result, these networks have the potential to be a major roadblock for Australian manufacturers in their drive towards transformation.

Enter the future of networking: SD-WAN, or software-defined wide area networking, a set of capabilities that enables the network to be more flexible and efficient – especially as businesses look to connect offices, workers and “things” to the cloud and for hybrid networks. SD-WAN supersedes the managing of individual network devices using arcane command line interface commands and scripts, automating some of the most complex network tasks. In addition to driving cost-savings and operational efficiency, it helps make organisations more agile, transforming the way they’re able to innovate.

Step 2: Modernise the edge

Branch offices and manufacturing sites are where business gets done, but they’ve become an expensive roadblock to digital transformation due to limited IT expertise, islands of aging infrastructure, inefficient operations, unreliable application performance, and massive volumes of unprotected data.

The rise of IIoT and Industry 4.0 will only make these challenges become more pronounced. The explosion of data coming out of a new, highly-connected environment will overtax legacy IT operations and expose the business to increased risk. All of this is creating a new focus for IT: “the edge”.

A modern edge infrastructure replaces costly islands of IT in each location with a single platform that combines cloud networking technologies like SD-WAN, storage caching and high-performance computing, collapsing data into the data centre or cloud where it is 100% secure. Application users still benefit from superior, local-like experiences at the edge, and all IT operations are managed from a central location to bring new levels of agility, performance, efficiency, and security to the business.

Step 3: Get an end-to-end view of performance

In the era of Industry 4.0, complexity threatens to reign. With apps, devices, and data coming from everywhere, the number of blind spots in the application delivery chain will increase exponentially. One glitch in the performance of a business-critical supply chain app can cause a ripple through product delivery that grows into a wave crashing on the bottom line.

Now more than ever before, the performance of applications and the networks that deliver them are vital to technology adoption and value realisation. And the key to delivering great app performance is understanding what is happening. This requires visibility into everything that impacts app performance – code, network, user experience – to detect and fix issues instantly. Visibility will help ensure it all runs as expected – that manufacturers can be agile and operate efficiently – and ultimately succeed in a highly competitive and rapidly changing marketplace.

Taking the revolution in stride

All revolutions are disruptive, and Industry 4.0 is no exception. It poses risks, but it also offers tremendous opportunity: for new products and services, better ways to serve customers, new kinds of jobs, and completely new business models. Success in the digital era will require manufacturers to take this revolution in stride, embrace change and commit to a start. Focus on the foundation and get to building.

Small QLD firm hits big milestone in recycling plastics

A revolutionary new method for replacing steel mesh used in concrete reinforcement with recycled plastic has seen Queensland engineering firm Fibercon recycle over 50 tons of plastic waste.

Developed in conjunction with researchers from Queensland’s James Cook University, the technology uses recycled polypropylene plastic for reinforcing concrete instead of the traditional steel, resulting in reduced carbon dioxide emissions, water usage and fossil fuels. Since its first use in 2017 the technology incorporated into Fibercon’s Emesh product has been used by councils predominantly in footpaths, but also has applications from pavement concrete to channel drains, embankment erosion control, precast sewer and stormwater pits.

According to a report prepared for the Department of Environment & Energy in 2016, Australia averages 107kg of plastic waste per person each year. Therefore, says Fibercon CEO Mark Combe, “We have effectively recycled the plastic waste for 467 Australians.”

Steel reinforcement in concrete – or rebar – was first introduced in the mid 18th century as a means of improving the tensile strength of concrete, and is now the most commonly used form of concrete. With concrete use at approximately one cubic metre per person, Australia uses 25 million cubic metres of concrete per year. At a conservative estimate, 5% is footpath and light pavements – equating to 1.25 million cubic metres.

“If we replaced all the steel mesh in these pavements with Emesh, we would reduce our carbon dioxide by 125,000 tons annually, and reuse 5,000 tons of waste plastic,” says Combes. “It’s an exciting goal for us.”

Worldwide around 1.6 billion tons of steel is produced per year, and it is heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels and water. The process makes steel from iron ore by heating it with carbon – predominantly coal; carbon dioxide is produced as a by-product. Production of a ton of steel generates almost two tons of carbon dioxide emissions, making steelmaking one of the world’s leading industrial sources of greenhouse gases accounting for as much as 5% of total emissions.

By using the recycled plastic technology, Fibercon has also seen a reduction to date of 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 200 tons of fossil fuels reduction, and a 18,000 cubic metres of water reduction.

“According to the US Environmental Protection Agency calculations, the reductions we have achieved in carbon dioxide emissions, are the equivalent of taking 214 passenger cars off the road for one year,” says Combes. “Plastic fibres in concrete have been around for 20 years – what is new about our product is that it is 100% recycled. The intention is to do something to give back, to close the cycle of useless waste.”

With increasing recognition by governments at federal, state and local level of the need for sustainable building practices, Emesh is seen as a solution that can contribute to the ever-growing quest for carbon neutrality and reduced environmental impacts.

High-end machines and automation are key to success and sustainability for SQP

West Australian precision engineering company SQP Engineering produces crafted CNC products capable of withstanding the toughest mining applications and meeting the standards of industries including the aeronautics industry. This requires a degree of exactitude and precision that SQP confidently delivers on.

Based at Bibra Lake, SQP is a proud family-run business founded by husband and wife team David and Heidi Miller more than a decade ago. SQP takes its name from Service Quality Products, and these qualities are present in every level of the business.

“Providing high-quality service and products is at the forefront of every aspect of the company from building relationships with customers and suppliers to manufacturing  quality products using the latest low impact technologies,” says David, SQP’s Managing Director.

The provision of quality service is proudly expressed by SQP in interactions with customers at every step of the process. David holds the strong belief that ‘service is in the detail’, and this is evident in situations as simple as a phonecall, or as complex as understanding how different material grades will suit an application. SQP prides itself on its availability to answer questions and provide accurate updates so the customer is in the loop throughout the entire process and can be assured they are receiving a quality product to their exact specifications and vision.

According to David, building strong relationships with both customers and suppliers is vital. From the aspect of quality, the importance of strength in every link in the chain means investing in the latest high-end machines and technology.

“Our workshop is a networked streamlined automated operation, requiring minimal staff to enable SQP to compete internationally with consistent high-quality products manufactured to fine tolerance specifications every time,” says David.

An important part of the company’s quality has been the selection of the best machines available, with robust construction and high-quality output, along with the technical expertise and backup service to support the machines. David had experienced Okuma technologies earlier in his career and was extremely impressed by Okuma’s high levels of service. Alongside the state-of-the-art technologies, this dedication to service stood out, matching David’s own expectations for quality business practice.

With this experience, when planning SQP’s first major investment, David’s natural instinct was to turn to Okuma. Hence a long, strong relationship has been built with Okuma Australia over the last decade. Today SQP operates an extensive range from Okuma including CNC lathes, vertical machine centres and FANUC robotics.

Today SQP covers a broad range of industries, notably mining and oil & gas, as well as aeronautics, marine, food and agriculture, and general engineering. Operating up to 24 hours a day, the automated solutions provided by Okuma are an invaluable resource. SQP specialises in CNC production machining, one-off samples, prototypes and large-volume production, working with almost every material from plastics and synthetics to steel, aluminium, bronze, and sometimes wood. Rare materials not stocked in WA are also used according to customers’ special requirements.

With a reputation for professionalism and excellent workmanship, the company plans to acquire more automated machines to allow increased productivity. Minimal staff and the introduction of robotics is an important part of this objective. SQP also draws on the experience of Automated Solutions Australia (ASA) to optimise the robotic application processes within the facility.

“Investment in more machines that look after themselves, and investment in robotics will be the future, allowing cost reductions to secure and maintain a competitive advantage,” says David.

SQP is also looking towards the future with regard to sustainable manufacturing. Seeing what has been achieved by the Okuma Dream Sites regarding automation and sustainability efforts has been a motivating factor in the company’s lasting relationship with the brand. David explains: “One reason SQP went with Okuma was they had the same philosophy and direction we believed we should be heading with environmentally sustainable manufacturing.”

With a focus on minimal footprint manufacturing, LED lighting is used throughout the SQP workshop and electrical reduction systems are in place to supply energy only when needed, ensuring optimised electrical energy usage. Energy costs are reduced by the use of solar panels capable of providing 100% power during the summer months. Following the philosophy of the Okuma Dream Sites, SQP also encourages customers to tackle production in an environmentally sustainable manner and is committed to providing services that meet this need for low-impact manufacturing.

SQP sees the importance of low-impact practices to achieve long-term sustainability in manufacturing, working closely with recyclers to ensure materials such as plastics, carbides and long-life breakdown compounds don’t end up in landfill. As industry seeks to reduce its environmental footprint, SQP is excited to lead this challenge, continuously looking to adopt new technologies and practices that allow for smarter, more sustainable manufacturing.

SQP is a company keeping up with a strong demand from a broad customer base in a demanding environment. With the WA economy becoming more buoyant and opening up exciting opportunities for expansion, there is an air of confidence going forward.

RMIT seeks industry judges for EnGenius 2018

EnGenius 2018, RMIT University’s flagship industry-sponsored engineering student exhibition, will take place on 17 October at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, showcasing the future of engineering design, and RMIT is looking for volunteers from industry to serve as judges.

EnGenius will present innovative projects of more than 1,300 senior students from RMIT’s School of Engineering. Working individually or in small groups, students from eleven engineering disciplines will develop a diverse range of projects, products and strategies to address real-world problems and scenarios. Projects will be judged on how well they address the problems they set out to solve, as well as the practicality of design, marketing and potential implementation.

EnGenius 2018 gives students the opportunity to display the technical skills they will need to be successful in industry, and to exhibit their leadership and interpersonal skills. EnGenius also provides RMIT industry partners with opportunities to engage directly with students and to increase the visibility of their firms as career destinations through project judging, sponsoring student prizes and presenting their business on the exhibition floor.

RMIT is seeking industry judges from all engineering disciplines to assess student projects on 17 October. Judges will be provided with a set of criteria to assess students’ technical knowledge and skills. All judges will be briefed in detail prior to the event. For more information about becoming a judge, visit:  

For more information on EnGenius 2018, please click HERE 

How the conceptual design stage can benefit engineering projects

Most manufacturing businesses are under continuous pressure to minimise costs. Production engineers and management usually have a few ideas on how to improve processes and equipment, but are always under time constraints when it comes to managing the daily flow of tasks. By Alexander Berdyshevski.

One quite common approach is to invite a potential supplier of the services required, explain an improvement idea, and ask for a quote. It usually works well for a simple straightforward application, but for complex cases this approach presents the number of issues. The main cause for all the issues listed below is the high level of uncertainty of project details on this stage.

Automation/integration engineering projects usually face a number of possible solutions – for example variable levels of automation require different capital spending. Attempts to lock in a single solution without investigating all the possible options carry a risk of going along the less efficient path. Adjustments during project implementations are always costly and very stressful for both customer and supplier. A single-option approach can also be a show-stopper if the capital cost is hard to justify for the current business needs.

High levels of uncertainty present a challenge for potential suppliers. To insure themselves from potential losses there has to be a large safety margin allocated in the estimation to cover the unknown variables. In some cases the resultant price estimates reach a level where project becomes unviable. But if a potential supplier reduces the safety margin to win the tender and runs out of the funds in the middle of the project it can cause a stalemate for the project.

In conclusion: if a quote is requested at the very start of the project, the high level of uncertainty can create multiple unfavourable scenarios, where a business misses the opportunity to implement the project, selects the less efficient option, or incurs funding issues during implementation stage.

A common practice to minimise the uncertainty during quotation stage is to develop a document outlining user requirements. This document is always very helpful during the project estimation stage, but it still does not provide the level of detail to significantly minimise design uncertainty. It also does not allow options to investigate multiple options for the most efficient solution.

Implementing a conceptual design stage before requesting a final quote provides a number of benefits to the business.

The purpose of the conceptual design stage is to generate a few possible conceptual solutions with sufficient level of details to allow evaluation and selection of the most efficient option in a specific business environment. The usual scope includes time studies, process details calculations, manufacturing lines layout, basic 3D modelling, simulations, preliminary capital spending estimations, expected saving and payback, and net present value (NPV) calculations.

Increased levels of detail after the conceptual design stage make it easier for potential suppliers to provide an estimate with reasonable accuracy. In some complex cases proposed engineering solutions may be associated with high implementation risk. It makes sense to include prototyping in the conceptual design stage to prove the proposed design solution.

One of the additional benefits of the conceptual design stage is an improved justification of the project to the management due to the high level of details. Our experience demonstrates that expenses associated with conceptual design stage have a quick payback.

In one recent case, initial quotations for the automation project were between $550k and $700k, which made the project unviable. After a conceptual design stage where three options were generated, the most suitable one was selected, with capital requirement of $350k and payback under two years. Provision was made to implement a certain design solution to undertake stage 2 of the project later on if business conditions are changed. The conceptual design stage cost was less than $8k, with payback estimated at under one month, and the additional benefit of making the project viable.

In another example, conceptual design demonstrated that the original user requirements were not providing the best possible solution. As a result, payback was reduced from four to 1.8 years.

Even if the result of the conceptual design stage is negative – for example, if the decision was made not to proceed with any options – it still produces an important piece of knowledge and protects the business from making the wrong decision, for a minor cost compared to the overall cost of the project. The resulting documentation will also be valuable in the future if business conditions change.

Alex Berdyshevski is the Owner and Principal Engineer at Manufacturing And Design Solutions

Bosch Australia

Many of us have experienced

Getting innovation and production to play nice together

The journey from drawing board to reality is a difficult one. There are a myriad of obstacles to overcome, so it’s vital that you have all of your ducks in a row from the beginning.

Integra Systems has seen the chaos that can arise from not having a well-integrated production process. Led by the Hughes family, the team believes that communication, trust and the right organisational alignment are among the key elements in ensuring innovation and production ‘play nice’ together.

“Innovation is not always about massive, inventive breakthroughs,” explains Integra’s Commercial Director, Erika Hughes. “Working together with the production team allows you to create new innovations on a smaller scale, not just on these grand, inventive scales.

“I think a lot of people make the mistake of trying to innovate with old technology and old mindsets and old machinery. I think that’s a really important factor – thinking more about advanced manufacturing in a high-tech manufacturing era. Innovation is working together with an innovative approach to production, as well as design.”

The innovation and design handshake

As Managing Director of Integra, Paul Hughes believes it’s impossible to innovate without having design and production teams that are closely aligned, geographically, physically and culturally.

“Culturally, it’s paramount your design and production teams are talking together, otherwise you can’t progress innovation,” Paul observes. “Designers really need direct access to the production machinery and the tools, and the production team members need to be able to directly feed back their knowledge to designers so that innovation and change can happen.”

Director of Innovation at Integra, Russell Hughes, expands on Paul’s philosophy, explaining how product design and manufacturing relies heavily on incremental advances in the development phase on the path to becoming reality.

“Once you set out the design, if you haven’t got the manufacturing involved, well, sometimes [the product] can’t be made,” Russell says. “So you’ve got to do a lot of little incremental steps all the way and that gets the product perfect. It won’t be perfect the first time you go at it but that’s what innovation’s about.”

Paul agrees: “The innovation is often not in the product itself – it’s in the process. It might be the way you apply a particular machine to do a job, more so than the actual product that’s being made.”

This is a philosophy that underscores everything Integra does. For example, the two key designers at Integra come from different points of view – one is a mechanical designer and the other comes from an industrial design background.

“They’re quite often in tradesman’s clothes, spending half their day at the computer on the CAD and then rest of the time in the factory putting together prototypes or that kind of thing,” laughs Paul.

Russell adds: “You wouldn’t know, really, whether they’re part of the production team or the design team, they’re so well integrated.”

Going offshore could mean off-kilter

With their decades of experience, the Hughes’ have numerous examples at hand of what can go wrong when cultural and physical aspects of the production process aren’t carefully aligned. Paul and Russell believe that, while the savings to your bottom-line might seem too good to pass up, going offshore to countries like China can cost more in the long run.

“We’ve come across a lot of manufacturers who’ve got their own product but they’ve decided to take it offshore and get it out of a low-cost country like China,” explains Paul. “But our theory is, as soon as the design stops, the innovation stops. You lose control of your product and it’ll just basically become commoditised. You remove your advantage.”

Paul and Russell recount the story of a local manufacturer who transferred his operations to China in pursuit of cost savings’. As Russell remarks, this decision was arguably a fatal one for the company in question.

“They were making barbecues in Australia and they transferred it all to China because it was cheap. But the end product was an absolute mess to put together. It was worse than trying to build the Ettamogah Pub!

“They couldn’t talk to one another,” Russell continues. “Screws didn’t fit, everything was a real mess. But, if they could have been together – the manufacturer working with the designers – they could have made a lovely job of it. Instead, they farmed it offshore too quickly and they struggled.”

It comes down to trust

The ability to trust the people you’re working with, and sharing their values, is vital.

“You can’t have open innovation without trust,” states Erika. “Anybody who’s got a really, really good idea needs to find a partner who’s able to make that real for them, so their values need to be aligned.

“They also need to understand the whole process, not just the idea. They need to know the whole product development process then partner up with a company who is like-minded and can make that a reality for them.”

So what would be the most important piece of advice for someone with a great idea looking to take the next step?

“That’s a hard one,” muses Paul. “We see a lot of people with a good idea go to a company that might be a pure industrial design company, and the industrial design companies who haven’t got manufacturing associated directly with their company can tend to get people in a constant loop of design without really getting them a full outcome. Or they might hand over a design prematurely for manufacture, when it’s not really ready. I think it is important for people who are looking for an idea to be made to look at someone who can completely see that product through.”

“What we’ve always said is, not one person knows everything,” admits Erika. “So working with clients, we use the terminology ‘open innovation’. It’s about staff having an intimate knowledge of the clients. All that knowledge combined with our innovative thinking is what creates something extraordinary.”

Industry 4.0 would not be possible without intelligent sensors

The Information Age for industry is getting off the ground. This world of enhanced efficiency depends largely on intelligent sensors. By Christoph Müller.

Sensors provide the senses for machines. They provide the feedback that makes intelligent machines possible in the first place. Sensor intelligence focuses on one aspect of sensor technology: equipping machines with the ability to see, recognise and communicate intelligently. Intelligent sensors contribute the ability to classify and interpret information. This is characterised by intelligent signal processing, which derives the truly relevant information from large quantities of data.

This is why – in addition to the primary control system for machines and systems – information is provided for monitoring production systems and making it possible to detect faults. Transparency of processes and material flow produces additional potential for optimisation. Processes are becoming more efficient and cost-effective, increasing competitiveness.

As a driver of technology in Industry 4.0, SICK is already capable of presenting and implementing solutions to the four key challenges throughout the production levels: Quality Control at the sensor-and-drive level; Flexible Automation, at the machine level; Safety at the production level, and Track & Trace, at the corporate level.

Flexible automation: customising goods in the packaging process

Maximum productivity with product variation down to a batch size of one is a central goal of the Industry 4.0 concept. Manufacturing plants have to be flexible and adapt to what the individual customer wants. Due to high product diversity even as the batch sizes continue to decrease, intelligent components (smart sensors) have to be capable of adjusting and controlling themselves.

One example involves the final packaging of prepackaged batches with bottle sizes of 0.5 litres and 1.5 litres capable of being packaged in a system using detection of smart sensors with automatic format changeover. The sensors detect the product changeover and tell the control system that the system has to readjust so the right box can be set up, the bottles can be fed in, and the box can be labelled and shipped.

The changeover steps are listed on a monitor while the machine adjusts. The system keeps running automatically and does not have to be put back into operation manually. If the sensors detect an incorrect placement when measuring the length of the product, they notify the control system. The product is sorted out without the system coming to a stop. Also, the sensors provide data for maintenance, such as monitoring for fine particles to automatically implement measures that safeguard the packaging process.

Smart sensor solutions – using state-of-the-art sensor technologies in combination with complete integration into the control level – focus heavily on decentralising certain automation functions to the sensor. This takes some of the load off of the control system and increases the machines’ productivity.

Safety: Robot protection using laser scanners

Sensor intelligence is a prerequisite for safe interaction between people and machines in the era of Industry 4.0. Safe laser scanners reliably monitor the hazardous area of stationary or mobile machines and systems, such as welding robots or automated guided systems. Protection of people is the top priority. If a person enters the area, the dangerous movement must be stopped safely. On established systems, people are protected, but production is stopped.

In the future, smart sensors will be used not only to ensure the safety of people, but also to implement ever-increasing production specifications. Today SICK is already providing up to four simultaneous protective fields, thereby considerably increasing the ergonomics and efficiency of complex machines such as tire heating presses.

The digitally switching protective fields currently in use are being replaced with flexible ones. Flexible protective fields are automatically calculated during highly dynamic movements and adjusted corresponding to the hazardous areas of the robot. Commissioning is also made considerably simpler and faster thanks to smart sensors.

The optimum interaction of smart sensors and state-of-the-art machine designs increases the productivity of the machine and always guarantees the safety of the employees. The compact systems use an integrated swivel mirror as an optical radar to scan their surroundings in two dimensions and measure distances according to the time-of-flight measurement principle. This results in freely definable safety zones.

Track & trace: production and logistics chains grow together

In an example from the automotive industry, comprehensive data acquisition performed directly at the vehicle makes it possible to identify a customised dream car throughout the production process up until delivery. Using this track & trace process, it becomes clear how increasing product customisation can be implemented in the Industry 4.0 context. Right at the car body, the sensors detect which assembly steps have to be introduced, making mix-ups impossible. As a result, they ensure comprehensive transparency up until delivery.

Processing steps on the object are updated by rewritable RFID tags. Reading reliability is vital because any read errors could cause misdirection, mix-ups or production downtime. This is where RFID data cards – which can be attached to components or even integrated out of sight within them – are coming into play more and more. In practice, they have the highest possible availability. For example, they can withstand high temperatures on a painting line and can be reliably identified even once covered in paint.

Aspects such as transparency and traceability are playing an ever more important role for manufacturers because the variability in the production lines of large automobile plants is constantly increasing and assembly lines are seeing more and more variants built in parallel. Vertical integration is the keyword for track & trace. Traceability of products during complex manufacturing and logistics processes is a priority for this integration. Production and logistics require transparent material flow so that production decisions can be made faster.

Transparency of the material flow based on RFID also plays a critical role in delivery. Until the completed cars are ready to be transported to the dealership, they are kept in a large parking lot. But how do you find the car that still needs to go on the truck? Every single car is made-to-order. No two are alike. Thanks to information stored on a RFID tag, the customer’s dream car can be located and loaded up for transport quickly.

Quality control: reliable data acquisition and tracking

The future holds continued increases in the speed that packages are transported. Distances between the packages are becoming smaller. This means the quality of products is even more important. To accomplish this, the package data is scanned on the conveyor belt and read into the software. The packages are identified and compared. Is the package damaged? Is the code complete? Are the weight and volume the same? Is there a pileup of packages, or could a package even be missing?

Automatic fault detection is made possible by comprehensive product and production data. The data is completely synchronised in seconds. Defects can be tracked by all centres, and it is possible to trace the weak point. Also, quality defects can be identified and resolved in the process. Since the speeds on the conveyor belts are further increased, maximum productivity is ensured – not just within a location, but globally.

This example of an intralogistics process shows how increasing quality requirements and the desire for resource efficiency can be implemented in the context of Industry 4.0. Sensors detect changes to the object and enable seamless data acquisition. The software solution analyses the process data and implements actions. The combination of a variety of data and the analysis software is an important prerequisite for Industry 4.0 and the issue of sustainability. Goods in the production process and supply chain must be reliably, uniquely identified to support efficient automated control. From individual packages on a conveyor belt to a complete overview of millions of packages transported every day, there must be a convenient way to call up and analyse the status of all acquired data.

Smart sensors acquire and communicate this data. However, users do not experience true added value until this data can be used as a basis for improving business processes. This data offers extensive opportunities but also presents the significant challenge of preparing it in a way that allows companies to make the right decisions. This is the cornerstone of Industry 4.0: the seamless flow of data and information from the sensor to the control system and back.

From sensor to sensor intelligence

SICK has always developed and built intelligent sensors. The company’s founder Erwin Sick worked out his vision of sensors with optical and mechanical precision. Starting in the 1950s, he used his vision to create intelligent solutions that had never before existed, such as for safeguarding machines and monitoring emissions. Before long, advances in electronics allowed for miniaturisation of the devices and provided the essential driving force behind technology in automation engineering.

The triumph of microelectronics continues even today. An eloquent example of this is seen in the powerful application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that SICK developed and uses in devices such as optical and inductive sensors. The increasing speed in the computing power of state-of-the-art chips enables remote processing of substantially larger amounts of data and capabilities like the associated use of complex mathematical methods. This is resulting in completely new dimensions for the scope, accuracy and ruggedness of measurements. Sensor solutions measuring in multiple dimensions, such as camera systems and laser scanners, would also be impossible without this development due to their high data volume.

Increased computing power enables even more intelligent sensors, but this does not result in sensor intelligence until equipped with the right software and application knowledge. The intelligent linking of application knowledge with the flexibility of state-of-the-art software architectures enables the next development stage for sensors. This is characterised by the possibility of sensors that can perform more extensive analysis, automatically adapt to changes, communicate in the network, and remotely solve complex tasks within a larger manufacturing network. In other words, the sensor links to the machine, the system, the factory and the entire value-creation chain, and provides for transparency in production. As a result, it provides the entry point into the world of Industry 4.0.

For all virtual worlds, however, sensor intelligence remains one thing above all – part of a sensor. Even the cloud and apps need to have a physical basis in the real industrial environment, namely, a rugged and reliable piece of hardware. And building this hardware requires one thing above all: decades of experience.

Christoph Müller is the Manager – Global Marketing & Communication at SICK.