One downside of the track everything, Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) world is the cost of generating mountains of process data. Cameras are inexpensive but require light and visual access to components, while laser-based systems are fast but expensive.

SMAC Moving Coil Actuators’ approach is simpler – pull the process data from the machines already doing the work. President Ed Neff says capping applications, in which the company’s LBR40 linear-rotary actuators place caps on threaded bottles, shows how performing a task and measuring it can take place simultaneously.

Linear Rotary Cylinder

“Initially, we rotate counter-clockwise, so the cap rotates up,” Neff explains. “That tells us that we have threads. Eventually, the cap threads and bottle threads will match, and the cap will drop down a little bit. So we know the cap threads and bottle threads match. That eliminates cross-threading. Then we rotate the cap and apply a set amount of torque. We’re measuring the entire time – the number of turns on the rotary side, the linear distance from that portion of the drive, the torque applied to the cap. We feed that back, immediately in real-time to any systems tracking the machine.”

Electronic origins

The capping example is one of SMAC’s latest projects, but Neff says the capabilities to precisely locate positions, apply linear and/or rotary movement with sub-micron precision, and track data for every step came from the electronics industry. Manufacturers use other SMAC linear/rotary models to pick-and-place components for circuit boards, where missing position by 10µm can mean missing a critical electrical connection. “We track bad parts and reject them, and we can qualify that a lot of different ways. People can use our data to find problems upstream,” Neff says. “Nothing bad gets beyond that point, and it tells you that you have a problem, and you can track down the source.”

Early applications include welding wires in automotive airbags, metering doses in insulin injectors, tracking seals on foil-topped pill bottles, and measuring screw threads.

Steve Curtiss, Eastern Territory Sales Manager for SMAC, says the ability to track multiple criteria with a company device that also performs critical tasks makes the LBR40 suitable for many advanced manufacturing processes.

LBR 40

“You inspect everything at least three different ways,” Curtiss says. “We track torque applied, the rotary distance, and the linear distance. You’ve qualified it and verified it, and that can save the customer money on a costly camera-based system.”

Compact design

Many LBR40 uses stack multiple units to create simultaneous work systems, such as stations that place caps on dozens of bottles at the same time. Neff says SMAC’s vertical integration gives it the flexibility to build units to match customers’ needs instead of focusing on the limitations of off-the-shelf motors and actuator components. “We make all of our encoders in New Hampshire. We make all of our drives in New Hampshire. We make our actuators in San Diego, California. Everything we do, we do ourselves,” Neff concludes.

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Capping demonstration