Some manufacturers quickly embrace automated assembly. Others require many years before they’re able to take the plunge. ITW Imagedata, a leading specialty manufacturer of film ribbons and consumables for the card-printer industry, fits in the latter category.
In 2014, after more than 20 years in business, ITW fully automated its D2T2 (dye diffusion thermal transfer) ribbon pairing and assembly process with a custom machine from GB Innomech Ltd. The machine requires only one operator and replaces a manual process involving six people.
“It fits perfectly into our existing workflow,” explains David Parmenter, operations manager for ITW Imagedata. “Plus, none of our upstream manufacturing processes had to be amended, and there is no need for work-in-progress trays, preloading of parts into special hoppers or double handling of any components. This reduces manufacturing costs.”
Initially, ITW hired Innomech to only automate the two most labor-intensive and repetitive manual assembly tasks: adding injection-molded drive gear and idle components to the ends of wound-film and takeup spools; and pairing the spools and attaching the start of the ribbon onto the takeup spool.
Both tasks required multiple operators and consistently high levels of manual dexterity. However, Innomech’s automation engineers soon realized they could just as easily automate the entire manufacturing process with a custom machine fed by a Toshiba robot equipped with a laser-guided 3D vision system.
The automated process begins with the robot scanning a box of wound-film spools to determine each spool’s location. Several spools are then lifted, oriented and loaded into the machine. A separate loading system feeds empty takeup spools from a hopper and locks them into place.
While end components are pressed into the wound film and takeup spool, an integrated labelling station prints an adhesive label with customer-specific information. The machine affixes one end of the label to the wound spool’s end flap and the other end to the takeup spool. The paired spool is then transported to a wrapping station.
Parmenter says the machine handles multiple spool sizes to further increase production flexibility. Operators quickly and easily change machine parameters on a touchscreen monitor.
ITW supplies D2T2 ribbons to card-printer manufacturers worldwide for various security and identity card applications. The most common are access control, licensing, travel passes and national ID cards.
Automation consultant GB Innomech works with major manufacturers in various industry sectors, including medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Founded in 1990, the company is based at The Innovation Centre in Witchford, UK. It received The Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2009 in recognition of its sustained growth in international markets.