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Customised assembly lines for smart factories

Customised assembly lines for smart factories

The evolution of smart factories has seen a growing trend in the demand for customised workstations and assembly lines. Modular aluminium profiles hold the key, as Gary Livingstone of Minitec UK explains.

Industry 4.0 and smart factories are very much the topics of the moment, with plant operators looking to get the maximum flexibility from their shop floor systems – whether automated machinery or manually operated workstations. This creates a need for a high level of customisation in the likes of workstations, assembly lines and machine guards to name but a few. At the same time though, many of these applications can be cost-sensitive. But with modular aluminium profiles at the heart of these systems, there doesn’t have to be a trade-off between cost and customisation.

Many industries today are populated with three kinds of supplier/manufacturer designing and producing the infrastructures that are required: “Supplier A provides off the shelf standard products – what you see is what you get; no deviation from the spec is possible,” says Minitec UK managing director Gary Livingstone. “Then there is, at the other end of the scale supplier B who will provide you with a purpose built, customised solution with no expense spared, neither in terms of componentry and material or design considerations – perfect if this is what you are looking for but be prepared to have fairly deep pockets as very often such solutions will come at a price.”

Then there is that innovative, imaginative supplier who recognises the need for customisation to meet individual needs yet can provide this from a platform of basically standard products and components. This is where Minitec sits, with its modular aluminium profile system.

“We also notice an increasing need and appetite for efficient, ergonomically designed workstations and assembly lines which are robust, safe to use and will last a lifetime,” says Livingstone. “Many of the products that we build to a customer’s specific design will not necessarily remain in the same position or configuration on the shop floor that they were originally designed for. Operations expand and contract and requirements change so it is also important that we can provide customers with sustainable and re-usable products.

“Imagine if you will that the aluminium profile business is not dissimilar to industrial meccano – it consists of basic lengths and shapes of profiles used for framework construction fastened together in a way.”

Many systems on the market use specialist fastening systems which, once fastened and locked in place, are not so easy to dismantle and re-use. They also lock the customer into one particular brand. This is a somewhat protectionist approach, and Minitec counters it with the use of standard off the shelf fastening systems which require only a standard Allen key to lock the profile lengths together.

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