Systems in Extreme Environments
The condition of a production facility often contains hidden challenges for automation and needs to be considered in the beginning stages of design. Sometimes this is as evident as an uneven floor or older concrete that does not meet today’s construction standards for heavy equipment. There can be utility concerns with the air and electrical needs for automation that need to be considered in planning both the hardware content and auxiliary components needed to supply equipment.
One of the more difficult parts to assess may be the general structural layout and its ability to house large scale automation in a functional way. When buildings are not designed with these types of systems in mind there can be unique layout challenges for fit and function of robotic and other automation.
Ambient temperature, humidity and potential temperature fluctuations are just a few of the many environmental factors that can affect automated equipment performing palletizing and depalletizing processes. Extreme conditions require a careful selection process for all hardware design considerations. Different components will be suited to conditions in a forging operation compared with a refrigeration area where food products are handled.
There may be added protective equipment and modified preventative maintenance plans that need to be considered as well. Conditions are often harsh for both operators and equipment in these types of plants and design challenges abound.
In a recent project, AMT designed several automation systems to handle boxed frozen meat product for a meat distribution company. Most of these systems focused on palletizing operations of product cases, but there were also systems to handle freezing stack manipulation, empty box transport, and general material conveyance. Hardware selection was an important part of the design process to work within the temperature condition and the facility structural design that is required to control those conditions. There were also unique challenges of designing automation into a production area that still houses many manual operations and to comply with food grade equipment standards in these areas.