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Keeping it simple to meet requirements for flexibility
Industry has an increasing need and appetite for efficient, ergonomically designed workstations and assembly lines which are robust, safe to use and will last a lifetime, with a high degree of flexibility, as Gary Livingstone of Minitec UK explains.
Customisation has become an increasing trend in the specification of workstations and assembly lines, and it is a trend that shows no sign of decline. Sectors such as the packaging industry place ever more stringent demands for ‘made to measure’ systems at competitive prices.
It is this trend which has seen the rise of assembly lines, workstations, machine guards and more, flexibly constructed using aluminium profile systems. This gives the end user the opportunity to customise the solution at an affordable price. We can think of the aluminium profile business as being not dissimilar to industrial Meccano – it consists of basic lengths and shapes of profiles used
for framework construction fastened together in a particular way.
A further aspect of the customisation story is that many systems 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, placing additional requirements for workstations and assembly lines to be both sustainable and re-usable.
We can consider three different styles of aluminium profile suppliers. At the simplest end, there are the suppliers who provide off-the-shelf standard products – what you see is what you get, and no deviation from the specification is possible. At the opposite end of the spectrum are suppliers who will provide you with a purpose built, customised solution with no expense spared, either in terms of componentry and material or design considerations. If this provides the exact solution you’re looking for, it may be perfect, but you must be prepared to have fairly deep pockets as very often such solutions will come at a price.
Increasingly, though, the trend for customised, flexible and cost-effective profile-based solutions is being met by innovative, imaginative suppliers who recognise the need for customisation to meet individual needs yet can provide this from a platform of essentially standard products and components.
A key aspect of the realisation of customers’ requirements is sustainability – the ability adapt and reuse profile systems as end user requirements change. A barrier to this is profile solutions which use specialist fastening systems. Once fastened and locked in place, the profile systems are not so easy to dismantle and reuse.
This is a somewhat out-dated approach that harks back to a time when suppliers tried to lock customers in to their brands and prevent them from moving away. Today, this protectionist view is no longer so popular, with forward thinking suppliers taking the opposite view to create a much more positive benefit for the customer. The use of standard off-the-shelf fastening systems which require only a standard Allen key to lock the profile lengths together means that suppliers can justifiably offer customers a flexible system that can be re-used time and time again in different configurations, if required, without the need for a complete rebuild from scratch every time.
Another key aspect of the flexibility argument is the ease of design and specification of workstations and assembly lines. While the profile components themselves are not complex, the design requirements of end users are often limitless. Here, intuitive software support is a must, and end users are increasingly calling for access to design software which will allow them to design their systems, with the software selecting the optimum components to meet the design.
It is also the case that many end users nowadays do not have the internal resources to put together their design requirements and certainly not to carry out assembly of the line or workstation in situ. Some suppliers are able to offer this facility as well.
To meet all of these user requirements, the goal for companies such as Minitec is to combine flexibility with standardisation to provide the best engineered solutions for customers at the most competitive costs possible, and offer durable and sustainable products. The key lies in keeping the concept simple.
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