Contemplate, Fabricate, Automate. The CRG Difference
Unique among fabrication shops, CRG Automation, as its name implies, specializes in the automation of material handling and assembly processes. Our prime focus is in the packaging, material handling and manufacturing industries and related sectors. We are a dedicated team of engineers, fabricators, machinists & electrical controls specialists that can handle a wide variety of automation processes including robotic integration. One of our strongest attributes is that once we take on a job, we assign a team that stays with that job all the way through to factory set-up and commissioning of the end product at the CRG facility. We can do this in part because we have a dedicated controls and fabrication shop, and the floor space required to set up and perform testing for complete packaging and processing lines. Plus having a dedicated team ensures continuity and efficiency in executing the client’s vision.
The automation solution starts with a simple conversation about the goals and the constraints of the customer. This is done in conjunction with an assessment of the current process. Part of this initial assessment is to determine if there are aspects of the existing process that are just fine as is and which areas are especially problematic. This evaluation often takes place at the customer’s site. Setting expectations with a knowledgeable team of automation and fabrication specialists is a key part to starting the project off on the right foot. Often the CRG talent will bring some fresh thinking to the customer’s objectives, creating possibilities that were not originally on the table. Generally, customers have a bias toward action and it is normal human nature to feel that unless physical hardware is being fabricated, time is being wasted. At the same time, it’s an axiom of design that you have your highest leverage at the earliest stages of design. It’s a balancing act to trade off design conversations against beginning the fabrication process. As soon as you start committing specific hardware, you start to limit your options moving forward. That’s where the experienced CRG team with a variety of skill sets can help keep a project design as flexible as possible in the early stages, which creates opportunities for serendipitous design ideas to emerge down the line.
This is the stage where ideas start becoming reality. It’s very typical that custom fixtures and tooling will need to be fabricated. Packaging may require case erector stations, or case sealing sections. These designs need to contemplate, to the extent possible, future needs and potentially different set-ups. If it is an automated assembly operation, or a material handling situation, flexible fixturing may be part of the thinking to allow the functionality to evolve over time. This may include integration of robotics with a variety of end effectors for different tasks. Sometimes the best course is to prototype a potential solution and then refine it as you go. We maintain a 40,000 square foot area for developing automation stations and developing prototypes of sub-systems. The best of the go-forward plans are also subject to a cost benefit analysis as well. This is where the CRG team really shines. Our years of experience can inform our discussion of these options based on the combined background and history with other, similar projects. In essence each new customer receives the benefit of the CRG experience garnered from the customers that came before.
This is that exciting moment when all of the various states of the automation process get tested as a complete unit. Since CRG has a large enough facility to set-up and test the production line in-house, we can troubleshoot directly any areas that will need adjustment. As material moves along the automated line we will be looking to answer a variety of questions, such as:
- Are the conveyor speeds appropriate and adjustable based on the material being run?
- Do the inspection steps work to identify non-conforming material?
- Can the tooling handle the variety of material contemplated to be run on this equipment?
- Are safety interlocks working properly?
- What are failure modes and response actions?
- Is there easy access to areas of the equipment that may require periodic maintenance?
Along with these there may be dozens more questions depending on the specifics of the installation. This is known as the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT). Once the customer has approved the review and results from the testing, adjusting and modifying where necessary, they are ready for on site commissioning. This consists of partial disassembly of the automated production line (enough disassembly required for transport) and delivery to the customer site. The typical customer will hire a local machine assembly company. The CRG team can consult at this on-site commissioning phase advising the personnel that will be responsible for operation of the equipment. We will train the on-site personnel on the proper operation as well as the maintenance steps and intervals. At this time, we will also provide whatever paperwork, drawings or instructions that were part of the agreed contract and the ownership will be transferred to the customer.
Just like our customers, we have a vested interest in the long-term viability of solutions that we provide. If there is a need, down the road, for changes, or help with maintenance, then give us a call. We’re interested in your success. We recognize that an investment in automation is an investment in the future. It creates higher level jobs, improves safety, and creates new opportunities to grow. We are also happy to discuss having CRG handle pre-planned maintenance plans and warehousing of spares as part of our on-going support.