Suppliers displayed a wide array of new technologies at this year’s Assembly and Automation Technology Expo.

Each Lean Factory session culminated in a demonstration of product assembly on an optimum lean line. Photo by Jim Camillo


As editor of ASSEMBLY magazine, I write about lots of interesting new technologies. However, I rarely get to see those technologies firsthand, except for once a year-at Assembly and Automation Technology Expo (AATExpo).

This year’s show was held Sept. 28-30 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL, immediately adjacent to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Sponsored by ASSEMBLY magazine and organized by UBM Canon, AATExpo was co-located with five other shows: Medical Design & Manufacturing Midwest, Green Manufacturing Expo, Design & Manufacturing Midwest, Electronics Midwest and Plastec Midwest.

With six shows in one building, there was no shortage of assembly-related equipment and materials to look at, including automated assembly systems, dispensing equipment, robots, conveyors, parts feeders, metal and plastic welding equipment, adhesives and sealants, fasteners, vision systems, power tools, presses, workstations, process monitoring systems, and test and inspection equipment.

The show also hosted several systems integrators and machine builders with experience in assembling everything from the tiniest consumer gadgets to high-end medical devices and mission-critical components for the automotive and aerospace industries.

“The Assembly Technology show continues to be an annual source for us to reconnect with existing customers, as well as link us with potential new customers across a variety of industries,” says Vasko Naumovski, product manager for plastics at Herrmann Ultrasonics Inc. “I was impressed that we had visitors from all over North America, and that it’s not just a regional show.”

“There was a fantastic turnout of decision-makers,” adds Nick Stamatoulakis, regional sales manager for Permabond Engineering Adhesives. “We had numerous opportunities for technical discussions with engineers to resolve their adhesive and sealant needs. The show produced leads for our entire product line, from...thread lockers and retaining compounds to...structural-bonding acrylics or epoxies. The common thread was engineers seeking answers to tough questions.”

This year’s AATExpo included a number of technology-specific areas, including a sensors and vision area, a wire processing area, and the “Lean Factory,” which presented complimentary educational sessions on lean manufacturing.

The latter was organized by the Lean Factory Group, an association of lean manufacturing product and service providers that included Bosch Rexroth Corp., CMA/Flodyne/Hydradne Inc., Leonardo Group Americas LLC, Orgatex Americas LLC, Schaeffer Systems International Inc., Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing Inc., Omron Scientific Technologies Inc., and Visual Workplace Inc.

The Lean Factory sessions showed how to take a data-driven approach to line design; how to create a visual factory; and how to set up a lean production environment. Each session culminated in a demonstration of product assembly on an optimum lean line. (To see video clips from one Lean Factory session, click “AssemblyTV” on our Web site, www.assemblymag.com.)

UBM Canon also created an Innovation Briefs Theater, a 50-seat amphitheater on the show floor complete with its own screen, where experts gave 30- to 40-minute seminars on various technologies.

Besides informal educational sessions on the show floor, AATExpo included a conference program that was co-produced by UBM Canon and the Institute for Operational Excellence. Day-long sessions covered such topics as “Creating Mixed-Model Value Streams” and “Building the Lean Supply Chain.”


The Novolas laser welding system precisely and repeatably joins thermoplastics and elastomers. Photo courtesy Leister Technologies LLC

Technology on Display

Suppliers from across the United States brought an assortment of new products to the show this year.

For example, ATEQ Corp. has long been known for its leak-testing technology. Lately, however, the company has added a variety of niche technologies to its portfolio, such as a system for testing and activating vehicular tire-pressure monitoring systems, and a system for testing altimeters, anemometers and other aeronautical instruments.

One of ATEQ’s new niche products is a benchtop system for testing batteries. The system can test lithium-ion, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride and lead-acid batteries. The system provides one to 12 channels for charging or discharging batteries at 42 volts, 60 amps. Engineers can set up multiple test cycles or sequences, and tests can stop at predefined settings, such as a minimum or maximum voltage, voltage change, or time. The system also includes a Type K thermocouple for monitoring battery temperature during tests.

Robots always draw a crowd at AATExpo, and this year was no exception. EPSON Robots displayed its new C3 compact, high-speed six-axis robot at the show.

“The robot’s slim body and compact wrist give it a greater range of motion and fewer mechanical restrictions,” says Michael Ferrara, director of EPSON Robots. “The robot can easily reach into confined and restricted work spaces from many angles with smooth motion.”

Available in a Class 10 clean room version, the robot can be mounted to a tabletop, ceiling or wall. It can even be mounted at an angle. It can carry a maximum payload of 3 kilograms, and it has a repeatability of ±0.02 millimeter. With a 1-kilogram payload, it can perform a standard pick-and-place move in 0.37 second. The robot has a maximum horizontal reach of 665 millimeters and a maximum vertical reach of 885 millimeters.

Where there are robots, there are vision systems, and one of the more unique systems was on display at the PPT Vision booth. The company’s new Impact M-Series embedded vision system enables engineers to perform up to four unique inspections that can be initiated independently-at different times or simultaneously-using a single vision processor. This saves money by reducing setup time and eliminating the need to purchase multiple systems for each inspection program.

A PC is not required to configure or operate the system. The system’s embedded M40 processor allows engineers to program and operate the system directly from the processor.

The system is ideal for inspecting dimensions, coplanarity, positioning, and identification markings. The system supports “power over Ethernet,” eliminating the need to install power cables for the cameras. It also supports GigE cameras, which can be positioned as far as 100 meters away from the processor using standard Cat6a cables.

Although AATExpo had plenty of exhibitors showing products ready to be tooled up and used on the assembly line right away, many other exhibitors offered flexible, modular components that could be turned into everything from ergonomic workstations to fully automated assembly systems.

One of the latter was Bosch Rexroth Corp. Among the wares at its booth was the camoLINE system of modular automation components. The system includes pneumatic, ballscrew and belt-drive actuators that offer high positioning accuracy or fast travel speeds depending on system demands. Engineers can also choose among servomotors, side drives with timing belts, or planetary gears to complement a variety of design requirements. Using a building-block approach, engineers can create custom multiaxis motion systems for material handling, pick-and-place, palletizing, inspection and related applications.

Engineers can locate holes as needed, work within broad configuration parameters, select from three types of actuators, and change the configuration quickly and easily. The system’s simple bolt-together connections streamline assembly, while offering all of the benefits of T-slotted aluminum framing. Likewise, brackets and cable management are standardized, which further simplifies design and construction tasks.

AATExpo never fails to produce at least one technology that I’ve never seen before, and one such moment came at SPEARIT’s booth. The company manufactures an auger valve that mixes and dispenses two-part epoxies simultaneously. The resin and hardener remain separate until just before they’re deposited onto the substrate.

The system enables assemblers to use less expensive two-part epoxies that cure rapidly at room temperature, rather than prepackaged, premixed frozen epoxies that must be cured in an oven. The system also saves money because it wastes less epoxy than a conventional static mixer, according to Scott Breidenthal, president of SPEARIT.

An array of joining technologies were also on display at AATExpo, ranging from automatic screwdriving equipment to ultrasonic welders. One unique technology was the Novolas laser welding system for plastics on display at the Leister Technologies booth. The system precisely and repeatably welds thermoplastics and elastomers. No vibration or surface marring occurs and no particulate is produced. During the welding process, laser light passes through the top, transparent layer and is absorbed in the bottom layer, melting both components and creating a hermetically sealed joint.

Wire harness assemblers also found technology to interest them at AATExpo. One example was the PowerStrip 9550 automatic cutting and stripping machine on display at Schleuniger Inc.’s booth.

Equipped with an indexing cutter head and powerful servo drives, the machine can process wires as thick as 2/0 AWG. Function modules, such as the cutter head and the belt feed, can be changed to enable the machine to process stranded wire, multiconductor cable and coaxial cable. The machine’s SmartBlade system is an exchangeable cartridge that holds all the blades and tools required to process a specific application.

Batch count, wire length, strip length and other parameters are set through a 10.5-inch color touch-screen with an intuitive menu structure and self-explanatory icons.

Next year’s show, which will also include Quality Expo, will be again be held in Rosemont, Sept. 20-22, 2011. For more information, visit any of the show web sites: www.aatexpo.com, www.dm-midwest.com, www.electronicsmidwest.com, www.mdmmidwest.com, www.greenmfgexpo.com, www.quality-expo.com, and www.plastecmidwest.com.