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blog | Smaller Servos Can Be the Key to the Adaptive Mass Customization Machine |
2 minute read

Industry and Market Trends

With a few clicks and a push of a button, consumers can now order custom glasses, tailored blazers from a 3D knitting machine and shoes created from a model based on a camera app. This is mass customization, and it’s not only changing the way consumers shop but also how goods are made. But for manufacturers looking to offer personalization capabilities, true mass customization to batch size of one will require more than purchasing the latest 3D printer or equipment. It’s important to understand the entire supply chain involved, from product ideation and design to manufacturing and logistics.

New Technology Boosting an Old Concept

Auto mass customization Mass customization isn’t a new concept. Toyota toyed with the idea in the late 1980s and Nike went to market with it in the late ’90s. But new technologies are shifting and accelerating consumer behaviors toward more interactive, personalized and build-to-order experiences. What used to be customizing with a few options on a sales sheet has turned into an experience that is more engaging and personalized, whether that is food and beverage, pharmaceutical, auto or clothing.

The driver for this has been an evolution in consumer and manufacturing technologies. Consumers are using mobile technologies to individualize purchasing experiences and changing traditionally supply chains (and the conversation around sustainability as well). OEMs in turn are creating more advanced machines capable of more precise and complex movements that tailor individual products and shipments to consumers’ needs. However, at this point, consumers are out front pulling OEMs and manufacturers into mass customization. It’s been a boon for consumers, hurting OEE for manufacturers, and if they plan ahead, can be a windfall for OEMs.

OEMs Playing Catch Up to Consumers

The pressure is now on OEMs to react. But it isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. Historically, manufacturers would set up to optimize for long-run production cycles, generating a large batch output. Changeovers require powering down the line, cleaning it, and switching everything over. It’s time intensive, expensive and slows time to market. In the printing, packaging, filling and palletizing world, companies are now more frequently tasked with achieving mass customization individually to meet the needs of other companies in the supply chain. Being able to make changes on the fly without having to shut down a line would drastically improve OEE and allow for faster market reactions.

For example, a manufacturer is in the middle of producing 20,000 bottles with its standard packaging. But a retailer wants to capitalize on a current event and order 5,000 bottles with custom packaging delivered to select locations. From the printing to the shipping, all manufacturers throughout the supply chain would need to produce on demand. Ideally, manufacturers would be able to pause their current runs, directly connect to a customer management system and make the changes on the fly. By not having to stop production, the manufacturers will see a direct boost in OEE while meeting all of its orders.

OEM: The Next Generation

Implementing a mass customization to batch size of one product line can introduce flexibility and consumer responsiveness to the manufacturing process, but it also puts an enormous amount of stress on the production cycle in terms of availability, performance and quality. This measurement of availability, performance and quality is the foundation of OEE:

  • Machines need to diminish the lost time experienced in planned production hours when a new production batch is required.
  • OEMs need to be cognizant of the actual machine and throughput speed and ensure it performs as designed.
  • With the shift between batches, it is crucial that the number of goods produced achieves the required quota and that those goods produced align with the intended quality.

A new generation of machine—an adaptive machine—is needed to adapt to products instead of the rigidly sequential process of products adapting to machines. Machines need to be in line with critical digital business models such as built-to-order, e-commerce and direct-to-consumer while being cost effective at producing a batch size of one. The adaptive machine is based on independently controlled, synchronized motion of each product or kit on a production line. This requires pivoting from the traditional notion of machines and start thinking of them as mechatronic applications that blend mechanical, electrical, electronics and software into ready-to-use modules.

It Starts with (Big) Data

Consumers are driving the movement toward mass customization and that movement is based on the vast amount of data being produced. The fundamental idea behind Industry 4.0 and the adaptive machine is to standardize data and the way it is exchanged across a system (even across the supply chain). This not only includes data coming from outside production (i.e., consumers) but also data created during production. Analyzing data at the edge allows manufacturers to evaluate and adjust machine performance either as an internal process or from another machine in real time. Edge analytics can process data without having to send it to the cloud, allowing it to integrate into a resource planning system for better planning and flexibility.

Building the Adaptive Machine

The end-user is the driver when OEMs plan out their machines and what added value they are going to give. To be able to mass customize down to a batch size of one, the machine needs to tailor a product by fill, print, packaging or palletizing. Even though current setups can make customization on the fly difficult, OEMs can design their machines with advanced motion to keep up with the increasing number of SKUs required as a byproduct of mass customization. They can increase production flexibility while still meeting their OEE goals.

Servo Goes Small

When it comes to motors, the trend is toward smaller servos. Fifteen years ago, the average servo case packer might have had four servo axes. Today, a case packer could have 16 to 20 axes, enabling functions like flap tuckers, squaring, compression and format changes to be servo-driven. Smaller servo drives are adding new capabilities, automating the process even more and allowing OEMs to differentiate their products.

With so many permutations of feedback, features, power requirements and control schemes, a one-size-fits-all servo drive solution doesn’t exist. OEMs might look to mix and match feedback devices, communication protocols and motor capabilities. For example, a frameless motor can embed motion directly at the point of articulation, eliminating excess bulk and weight along with unnecessary components, such as gearboxes, belts and pulleys. However, to truly guarantee high-quality production, real-time synchronization is needed between servo axes, CNC and robotic systems.

Advancing Control

Beyond the mechanical aspects of a differentiated motion system, the ability to achieve mass customization lies within the connectivity. A connected system ensures all devices can interconnect. For example, as the system’s controller collects data, it can use it to control the system and share the data as needed with upstream devices.

Machines have traditionally used programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to process discrete information and output signals followed by sequential programs. A separate motion controller connected to the PLC via fieldbus controlled the servo drives. This setup worked for long-batch runs. However, agile digital manufacturing requires a machine controller that can execute much more complex tasks in parallel. This led to the development of programmable automation controllers (PACs), which allows OEMs to prepare production equipment for Industry 4.0. A single closed-loop hardware platform that incorporates logic and process control, motion control, visualization, high-level programming languages and software development tools can eliminate interface issues and facilitate modular design principles, including mass customization to batch size of one. When selecting a next-generation control platform, mitigate risk by looking for compliance withindustry standards like IEC61131-3 and PLCopen and for controls that can communicate with, and act as a gateway to, Ethernet TCP/IP (HTTP API), Profinet, EtherNet/IP, and EtherCAT.

For manufacturers, this open connectivity across the system allows for their enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to communicate directly to the motion system and adjust production on demand either on an individual machine level or the production system as a whole. There’s less chance of error because data is transmitted automatically by the system as opposed to writing it down or typing it. There’s no chance of writing a number incorrectly or ‘fat fingering’ on a keyboard. It’s a stable, connected process that produces higher quality, fewer errors, higher throughput, and therefore, better OEE.

Don’t Sacrifice Quality for Speed

The challenge of customized manufacturing is maintaining quality throughout the product cycle. Being fast and flexible is great, but not if that means sacrificing quality. High product variability requires advanced inspection and tracking systems that are flexible and integrated. For example, advanced vision systems, serialization and tracking can be used to optimize printing, filling, packaging and palletizing processes as they become more complex. Using big data, advanced servo motors and open communication protocols can create a consistency throughout production with high repeatability and the system communicating if there is an error somewhere along the line.

Going from Batch Size Large to Batch Size 1

This might seem daunting, but manufacturers can remain competitive without having to go through a costly factory overhaul. They can work with OEM partners to start to move their operations toward mass customization and eventually batch size of one.

  • Identify which areas of production would benefit from moving to a more automated system
  • Strategically plan around end-of-life equipment and upgrade and add as needed
  • Work with a motion supplier, such as Kollmorgen, to identify how to optimally customize quickly and efficiently to help design differentiated motion systems.

For OEMs, they are faced with growing customization requests from manufacturers (and by extension consumers), but are finding that commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) motion products are insufficient. This is where partnering with an engineering leader can help. OEMs can leverage Kollmorgen’s co-engineering experts to help achieve simple, powerful motion and automation. Backed by advanced tools, training and support, Kollmorgen is uniquely equipped to assist the strain mass customization and batch size one puts on the entire supply chain.

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