Who put the “Cooper” in EAM’s Cooper Cardstock Feeder?
Those of you who are familiar with EAM’s automation projects over the years are used to having them name machines in very practical ways. The machines have often had descriptive names such as MINI-ST 300, a labeling machine that is small compared to others on the market, is used for Source Tagging anti-theft labels and can apply them up to 300 per minute; pretty clever huh! Then there is the venerable CD Packaging Machine for, you guessed it! Packaging CD’s.
This approach has worked well for many years and EAM will probably continue using this practical nomenclature. There is one case however that prompted the folks at EAM to use different standards when choosing a name. Here’s what happened:
Since its inception, EAM has been involved in projects that not only required them to design and build custom machinery if nothing was yet available for a purpose, but to also integrate various existing standard machines or machine modules into whole processes. In other words, if a project required various stages in, say, the assembly or packaging of their customer’s product and EAM could purchase specific portions of the process, that’s what they would do in order to save costs for their customer. Imagine, for instance, an item that required a label before EAM’s machine placed it in the final package, or a package that required, say, a mail back card. EAM would occasionally purchase machines for this if they were available.
Over the years, they built many systems that required cards, or pieces of paper, or similar flat items and they used existing “friction feeders”. In many cases, these friction feeders were fit for purpose, but as the years progressed and EAM’s projects became more and more complex and demanded more speed and precision, EAM found they needed feeders that were faster and more sophisticated. Steve Swinburne, EAM’s president decided they needed to design a feeder based on a completely different approach than what was currently in use.
George Cooper was assigned the task of designing a feed system “from the ground up”. George took it seriously and it became obvious over the years that George put a lot of himself, his time, his determination into producing a design that is fast, accurate, and versatile; hence, the “Cooper Cardstock Feed System”. Thanks to George taking point on this, EAM now supplies a feeder that uses sensors and encoders instead of switches, CPU’s instead of basic circuits and high speed motors. It can follow another machine’s speed. It can place items with accuracy within a millimeter. It can change from one size product to another within minutes (phone booth, optional!).
So you can see, EAM just had to call it the “Cooper”! They’re not saying (yet) that “Cooper” will end up in manufacturing history with names like Edison, or Ford, but George and the rest of the folks at EAM get a certain lift when they hear another “Cooper” is going across the country or to China, Hong Kong, Europe!
Although George can be a man of few words, I did manage to talk to him recently about this machine;
[ Roland Wyman ] George, it’s obvious you have reason to be proud of this latest offering from EAM. About how long have you been working on this?
[ George Cooper ] We started the development a few years ago. At the time we were purchasing quite a few “feeders” to incorporate into our automation. There were a lot of things we did not like about many of the standard offerings. Although it was a relatively short time to design the initial working prototype, we were interrupted by some large automation projects, and took a year or two to fine tune and enhance the original version.
[ Roland Wyman ] Even though you’ve been working on this for several years, EAM has been shipping units for quite some time now (I know because I’ve shot videos of several of them). Have you continued development because of new demands on the machine such as higher speeds, accuracy, etc?
[ George Cooper ] Actually, Yes. We have incorporated encoder feedback to make changing settings very easy and flexible. Also other software enhancements have been added such as batch counting, speed compensation (greatly improves accuracy for secondary operations such as labeling) and units conversion.
[ Roland Wyman ] What types of applications have your customers purchased these for? Any applications that you hadn’t imagined when you first started this?
[ George Cooper ] Most have been purchased for packaging card/insert feeding and labeling/printing. Some for un-erected box/carton labeling. But we have also had unexpected demand for plastic credit card type products and round plastic discs.
[ Roland Wyman ] You’ve seen a draft of the article I am writing about your machine. That is obviously just my interpretation of what happened and what the machine is about. Care to correct anything or elaborate?
[ George Cooper ] The only thing I would add is that this machine is not just a feeder. It is a feeder with many common essential features that end up going into a complete feed/apply/print/label/glue/inspect/work system. It is a feeder that can become a complete system very easily. We have a standard vacuum feeding conveyor that conveys your product securely and stably to your secondary work station(s) and there is built in intelligence to do it accurately.
[ Roland Wyman ] Can you give us an idea of the types of industries you’d like to see these sold into? In other words, this is your chance to tell the sales people at EAM where they should be introducing these!
[ George Cooper ] Any one that has a uniform thickness product that needs reliable singulating (sort of an industry term that usually means “getting one unit out of a stack”). The products we have run vary; Paper, card stock, carton stock, credit card, plastic discs, sleeved or enveloped items, folded booklets are some of the products we have successfully run. As I just mentioned, if there is a need for an integrated system, our feeder can also provide that without the pains of an integration project. The Cooper Feeder has the built in expansion capability to made into a complete system.
[ Roland Wyman ] Has Steve (Swinburne) told you yet that the development phase is pretty much over?
[ George Cooper ] Roland, we have a complete finished design ready to ship (several have, already), and that has been proven in the field. However we are always improving and adapting our equipment to our customers varied needs.
[ Roland Wyman ] So I assume that, in keeping with EAM’s philosophy, if a potential customer needs something like the Cooper Feeder but needs it to do something a bit differently, you’ll be back on it in order to meet their needs?
[ George Cooper ] Absolutely.
Follow this link for more information:
You’ve probably checked out Engineered Automation’s home page to find that they have just completed a new project and if you haven’t taken the time to see the new Custom Automation video, please do.
While you’re watching the system in action, I’ve taken the opportunity to explain just how the folks at EAM go about doing this. As most of you will know, a machine such as this is usually many weeks in the making.
I was informed early on, that they were about to take this project, and they kept me informed of progress at various stages. When they first began working with the client, they didn’t even have a contract. It was just a good faith effort on the part of both EAM and the client to “buckle down” and study the requirements and to fully understand even such fundamental questions as, why did they feel they needed this? What sort of schedule or urgency were they facing? Was their new product even finalized and stable as a design or was there a possibility of changes along the way?
After exploring the possible answers to all the questions both parties could imagine at the time, they proceeded to try to visualize the type of machine that needed to be built. This started with many sketches, both paper and white board. The next stage; preliminary drawings that help define the steps in the automated process, size of machine, features, etc.
It’s an amazing process folks. Meetings, phone calls, meetings, emails, changes, re-drafts, and finally! The folks at EAM know just what needs to be built, and the customer (more of a partner by now), knows what they are committing to and what to expect when it’s all done.
I had the opportunity to check in from time to time to see frames in place, people building sub-assemblies, wire bundles, controls enclosures (basically a fortified case to house the computers), and finally, the functional tests of the machine.
By the time I got there with a camera, they made it look easy; I set up the lights and they pushed the Start Button. So what you are seeing in those three minutes of video is the product of many weeks of work by both EAM and their customer, oh, and, a few hours of work on my part!
As I mentioned earlier, I visited EAM to get some video of their latest project and I realized I was looking at a system that was being controlled by a very intelligent and super-fast computer. Peter Robbins, Manager of EAM’s Controls Department, was kind enough to spend some time explaining to me just exactly what he had done here. Please be sure to let me know if you find this as interesting as I did.
The following is from my conversation with Peter;
Roland Wyman: “Good morning Peter. I’ve just spent a few minutes watching this machine and, even for me, it didn’t take long to see that this machine is controlled by something pretty clever. What is the actual controller you used for this machine?”
Peter Robbins: “The controller I used in this project is Schneider Electric’s LMC058 Motion Controller. It is marketed as a motion controller with logic capabilities as opposed to a PLC with motion capabilities.”
Roland Wyman: “Was this the first time you incorporated this controller in a project?”
Peter Robbins: “This was EAM’s first project using this controller. I knew we were going to need a controller that would tightly integrate the machine logic with the servo motion required to operate a machine at the rate we were looking to achieve and fit into a budget that the customer could accept. The LMC058 boasts a scan time of under 3 milliseconds for up to eight axes of motion. We’re running 4 axes of motion and we are just over 2 milliseconds for the servo process control. The main control for the rest of the machine is running under 10 milliseconds.”
Roland Wyman: “Pretty impressive specs! How did the design and integration go in comparison to earlier projects?”
Peter Robbins: “There was a slight learning curve to deal with but the controller is designed around the I.E.C. 61132 specification which made most of the programming structure very similar to the controllers I have been using.”
Roland Wyman: “You’ve already established that you needed to move to this controller in order to achieve the scan times while controlling all those servos. Are there also added capabilities this offers as opposed to earlier controllers you used?”
Peter Robbins: “As I mentioned, the motion functions in this controller are tightly integrated into the rest of the controller functions and are very fast. The unit also offers built in CANOpen Bus and CANMotion bus so attaching the servo amplifiers and remote I/O was very simple.”
Roland Wyman: “I’m told that a technology that is also available with your systems allows you to log onto the machine, no matter where it is installed. If that’s so, then this means you are providing some form of ongoing service or support to your client. Can you tell me a bit about that?”
Peter Robbins: “E.A.M. has been encouraging customers to opt for our ‘Remote Administration’ package for some time now. With the advances in the complication of machine function and controls structure it is very helpful for E.A.M. to have access to the controller of the machine to aid the customer in troubleshooting the machine. This ability more times than not allows E.A.M. personnel to ‘log onto’ the machine and see firsthand what the machine is doing. This saves both the customer and E.A.M. time and money.”
Roland Wyman: “I would guess your clients see this as an ongoing value to them. That’s very impressive. You’re obviously incorporating all the latest technologies into these projects and it would seem that you find the right technologies for the specific project requirements both in functions, budgets, etc. What do you, as a pro in your field do to keep up with all this? You’re obviously self motivated to know what’s out there in order to offer it to your clients. After all these years, what’s your secret? How do you maintain your enthusiasm?”
Peter Robbins: “The way I explain my position at E.A.M. is that I go into the office each day and play with my toys. In order to be able to supply control systems that meet the customer’s needs it has always been my first priority to listen to what the customer is looking for in the equipment we are trying to build for them. Being able to boil down what the customer is looking for and then deliver it is an art. To accomplish this I stay current on my suppliers offerings, there are many trade shows, webinars, and distributor tech sessions that lend access the this information. I read the current trade publications for controls as well as other industry aspects of machinery, and foremost, I don’t accept “you can’t do that” from anyone.”
Roland Wyman: “Thanks Peter for your time, your information, and your insights. After reading this, I’d be very surprised if some folks might not want to ask follow-up questions or start a thread. Is it okay if they post in the comments section below?”
Peter Robbins: “I would welcome pertinent questions to our product line.”