Many cleaning systems are automated. There are a number of benefits that can be realized through automation –
- Reduced labor cost
- Increased throughput
- Improved process consistency
Reduced Labor Cost
The cleaning process is inherently labor intensive. Parts to be cleaned must be prepared and fixtured or put into suitable carriers. They must then be moved through the steps of the cleaning process following a prescribed program of times and temperatures. Features including such things as ultrasonics, sprays, rinses, etc. must be activated as required. Finally, parts must be removed from baskets or fixtures and moved on to the next process step. Granted, it is difficult to remove all labor from the cleaning process but automation can reduce the labor requirement significantly. Automation, for example, can move baskets or fixtures through the cleaning process leaving the operator free to perform other tasks. Automation can also be utilized to initiate process functions as necessary to assure proper processing.
Although automation can not increase the capacity of a cleaning machine already running at full capacity, it can assure that the ultimate capacity is met on a consistent basis. A manually operated machine, even with automatically timed process steps, is often not attended full time. Operators are distracted with other things, take breaks, etc. resulting in usable machine time being wasted. Parts, for example, staying in a tank for a time beyond that required by the process will detract from overall process efficiency. Automation can help minimize this inefficiency especially if provisions are made to queue parts prior to and after processing so that processing can continue even if the operator is absent or distracted for short periods of time.
Improved Process Consistency
Although often not considered as a major motivation for automation, when process consistency is important, automation is almost a necessity. Properly designed automation can assure that each part processed gets the proper treatment. This is especially true in cases where different parts processed through the same system require different treatment. In most cases, process times migrate toward the maximum of all process steps (time, temperature, etc.) in the interest of assuring that all parts receive sufficient treatment. In cases where over-treatment is a possibility, all parameters will migrate toward their minimums in a manually operated system to avoid the possible consequences of over-treatment.
Where to Start?
The exercise of defining an automation system can be a daunting one indeed. The decision making process is seldom well-defined nor is it intuitive. A good starting point is a full understanding of the process, the geometry and number of parts being processed and, finally, the “culture” of the manufacturing operation surrounding the cleaning system. By “culture” I mean things like what is the process flow, what is the lot size, can part lots be mixed or must they be kept separate, are the parts to be processed handled in baskets or individually, is cleaning continuous or intermittent, etc. The type and layout of an automation system will, in part, be a result of these and (often) other factors as well. In upcoming blogs I will attempt to better define various automation options and how one goes about the decision making process for automation.
– FJF –