Custom automated process provides optimum throughput, increased safety

In addition to providing high quality automation components, we also help manufacturers creatively automate their unique manual processes, often in conjunction with partner companies like Carol Stream, IL-based Chicago Electric.

One such case, according to Chicago Electric principal Wayne Marsh, was developing an innovative prototype solution for coating medical slides then helping the client scale up the process for commercial production.

According to Marsh, the medical company had created a temporary process to produce small test quantities of an innovative product: a glass slide with a proprietary coating that enables DNA visualization. Using a "turntable" spinning at 7000 rpm, an operator would pour a bit of coating material on a spinning glass slide to coat it.

"The process was adequate for the sample quantities they needed, but once the specialized slides were in high demand, they needed a permanent, reliable, consistent way to produce large quantities, with better throughput and optimum process safety," Marsh explained.

The solution Chicago Electric developed is a "three bay" configuration that lets the operator place a slide and set the machine in motion, and then move on to the next bay.

"By the time they place the third, the first one is completed, so it becomes a continuous process," Marsh said.

In addition to significantly increasing throughput, the system also includes a graphic HMI screen and interface, as well as diagnostics that allow the operator to monitor process quality to ensure slide-to-slide precision and consistency. The solution also optimizes safety and protects the integrity of the facility environment, with the spinning glass slides covered by a plastic shield that automatically seals over the moving parts.

"Omron sensors ensure that the spinning process cannot begin unless the shield is solidly in place," Marsh added

In addition to sensors and HMI components, a complete Omron automation solution was used, including a CJ1 programmable logic controller, power supplies and an Ethernet communications network that connects seamlessly with the facility's LAN, R7 series servo motion controls—even the buttons and switches.

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"Omron had everything we needed to automate this process. They are a single source of high quality supply—and that means that  everything works together and operates and communicates together flawlessly from day one," Marsh said. "There are very few automation suppliers that have anywhere near the breadth of products that Omron can supply. And components from those companies tend to be much larger and much more costly.”

“Omron does it right—they provide the same if not better functionality in a product size that's maybe 20 to 30 percent smaller, and at a less expensive cost. That's great value, and gives us a lot more flexibility in design," Marsh added.

With demand for the specialized slides growing, the medical company has reached out to Omron and Chicago Electric to discuss creating a second slide coating machine.

"Although this was a highly specialized, customized system, we maintain very detailed specifications, so we can create additional, identical units very easily," Marsh said. "And with the high quality of Omron components in the system, we're confident that future systems will work just as consistently and reliably as the first one."