From automotive transmissions and transfer cases to fracking pumps, electronic controllers, hydraulic actuators, and the compressors used in refrigeration units, the modern world depends on highly complex electromechanical systems, all of them containing dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands, of precision components that must fit together perfectly.

The lion’s share of these devices are assembled by robots, dedicated machinery, or a combination of the two. And, because fit and function are crucial to both product longevity and performance, in-process as well as end-of-line testing and inspection have become an integral part of any automated assembly system, ensuring that the finished device performs as designed and will not fail unexpectedly weeks, months or years after leaving the factory. 

Titan Systems has played a big role in the development of these and many other automated assembly and test systems. For nearly six decades, our team of engineers, machinists, and software developers have delivered hundreds of such systems to manufacturing companies around the world, all designed to increase customer throughput and quality while addressing their unique challenges. 


Automate, Yes, But Smartly

The automation bar is getting higher. Access to skilled labor continues to be a challenge as manufacturers look to reshore, and this trend isn’t about to change. For instance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 600,000 manufacturing jobs waiting to be filled nationwide.

Robots and automated assembly equipment can help address this shortage while making companies more profitable and efficient. However, not all automation systems are the same, nor do they deliver the same level of success. 

Given our vast experience in testing systems, we’ve long recognized the importance of integrating sensor and measurement technology into assembly systems. We have learned that data is most useful when it is used to close the loop on the assembly process, providing engineers with the real-time information needed to make intelligent, proactive decisions.

One example comes from a recent project with a well-known provider of hydraulic equipment to the agriculture and construction equipment industries. To meet an OEM demand for a local supplier, the company was working to reshore a valve that was being produced in China. To do that, however, the company needed to reduce manufacturing costs to remain competitive. Previously, the valve was assembled manually, an operation that required a human touch to properly match the spool to the valve body bore, minimizing leakage and ensuring that the spool did not bind in the bore.

Titan Systems attacked the problem by integrating an inline measurement station within a robotic assembly line. Using automated gauging and data analysis, we were able to proactively fit-match the components prior to insertion of the spool into the valve body. This guaranteed that spools on the lower end of the tolerance band would not be used with bores on the upper end, solving the quality fitment challenge without human labor. By integrating process data acquisition and measurement with robotics, the customer removed most of the labor from the assembly process, allowing it to remain competitive while improving product quality.

Success stories like these represent another trend in the industry—this particular OEM and many others have begun looking for a single source for their automated assembly and testing lines. Because it takes time to understand the customer’s product, corporate goals and requirements, it’s easier to work with one supplier that can deliver an end-to-end assembly and test system. Project management becomes easier, there’s no need to educate multiple suppliers, and overall costs drop. 


Conquering the Data Mountain

Automation has always been a good option for manufacturing, but many of the products coming to North American shores require the dexterity of a person to perform final assembly. This is why Titan delivers “intelligent automation” with embedded sensors and software that allows the machine to compete with the “human touch.”

Achieving this sophistication requires that assembly and test systems have the ability to gather and analyze significant amounts of data at each step of the manufacturing process. Because of this, Titan Systems leverages PCs in practically all of its automated assembly and test systems. Large streams of data are easy to manage on a PC. Programming software is readily available, including free or low-cost open-source software. PCs also allow for fast data manipulation to help operators better visualize complex results. Our transition began many years ago, and we have since developed a robust software platform that leverages more than four decades of product testing.

To illustrate this, here’s another success story. We recently deployed an assembly and test system equipped with more than 500 sensors, 100 pressure transducers, and numerous force sensors, flow meters, and thermocouples, all of which feed data into a PC-resident database. Here, it can be analyzed for trends, potential quality problems, and, most importantly, improvement opportunities, providing insights that would otherwise be unavailable. 

In summary, manufacturers must continue their quest to improve product reliability, increase flexibility, and cut costs. The most expedient way to do this is through intelligent automation—automation that applies higher levels of instrumentation and data acquisition, force and torque measurement, pre- and in-process part inspection systems, and above all, robust process validation during product assembly, not simply checking it afterward and then reacting to the results. 

It’s crucial to develop a feedback loop. If at any point during manufacturing deviation or failures are detected, artificial intelligence and data mining can be leveraged to optimize the assembly process. The assembly line gets smarter as a result of this feedback loop and will, over time, become predictive. It will acquire human-like intelligence, further reducing dependence on the workers who are in increasingly short supply. At Titan Systems, this is exactly our mission, while always keeping the customer first! 



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