Cincinnati Automation: Driving Manufacturing Production Efficiency

Cincinnati Automation: Driving Manufacturing Production Efficiency

Phillip Smith, Owner and GM and Alex Smith, Sales Applications Engineer, Cincinnati AutomationPhillip Smith, Owner and GM and Alex Smith, Sales Applications Engineer As Cincinnati Automation, Ltd. celebrates the 25th anniversary of the business this year, Phillip Smith, owner and GM of the company attributes the milestone to their loyal yet demanding customers in the machine vision landscape. It is the drive to align with the evolving needs of the clients that drove CA to transform itself from a machine vision integrator, providing basic inspection solutions with CCD cameras, into a turnkey automated inspection technology company, delivering a wide range of online and offline inspection systems.

Started as a vision camera integrator in 1993, the founders of CA developed an interesting PC-based vision product in which the point-and-click icons seemed ahead of their time. In the following years, the company completed the EZVision product development, created a marketing program and signed on several Midwest distributors under the new leadership of Phillip. He mentions, “As the sales grew quickly, we realized that every customer wanted an inspection solution, not just an inspection product that they had to program and integrate. We also learned that our customers didn’t seem to care what brand of cameras were used for their projects as long as CA’s inspection systems met their requirements.” During the early 2000s, the company evolved from an inspection product company to an inspection solution provider. “The evolution continued as we added laser measurement sensors, more material handling devices, and ultimately robots for the highest level of inspection flexibility,” states Phillip. Today, CA offers turnkey inspection and gaging systems along with robotic automation and test machines. These systems utilize off the shelf PLC-based controls, data collection, machine vision cameras, laser measuring sensors, bar code and RFID scanners, robots, conveyors, feeders bowls, and a host of other components required to meet customers’ ever-increasing demands.

Focus on Being Flexible and Adaptable

“In a way, every new customer idea actually improves CA’s inspection systems for the next customer,” says Phillip. For example, several years ago a customer specified that CA display good, bad and total parts processed on the HMI of the machine. Since then, every CA inspection system displays this information along with good part yield, ppm, and full box counter to assist packing. CA values customer feedback about any shortcomings they might have come across during a project. According to Phillip, CA’s ultimate goal is to make every customer happy such that they collaborate with CA again for their next project and maybe even recommend CA to others that may need similar inspection equipment.

The company offers four core inspection products—standard bench top and pass through inspection systems along with turnkey automated inspection machines, and customized robotic inspection or automation cells. CA puts particular emphasis on understanding the needs of the customer first. CA’s engineers discuss the project with the customer’s engineers to drill down into the RFQ until they can determine what the customer is really trying to accomplish. From here, CA provides concepts and budgetary estimates to meet the intent of the documents. “We provide formal vision evaluations that show a range of good and bad vision camera images of the customer’s parts.

This hands-on interaction and breadth of information allows our customers to consider more options toward an inspection solution,” states Alex Smith, sales applications engineer, CA.

We provide formal vision evaluations that show a range of good and bad vision camera images of the customer’s parts. This hands-on interaction and breadth of information allows our customers to consider more options toward an inspection solution

The Solution Portfolio
The first two of the four main products offered by CA are the bench top and pass through inspection systems. Bench top inspection cabinets could be used in every factory to replace manual inspection operations on most parts or assemblies. CA’s cameras can be programmed to save inspection results data along with good or bad images for future reference. Pass through inspection systems are designed for higher volume applications where parts are manually or automatically placed on an infeed conveyor for inspection. Good parts are typically blown/pushed off the conveyor down a chute to customer’s bin/box. Bad parts fall off the end of the conveyor into a reject bin contained inside CA’s cabinet. Many CA customers implement these entry level systems for more accurate record keeping and process validation.

Along with the basic features of the bench top and pass through inspection systems, CA’s custom turnkey automated inspection systems incorporate material handling components to transfer parts or assemblies though each step required for the specified inspections. Just as the name implies, these custom systems are normally one-off design-build-programmed machines tailored for the exact needs of each customer. Phillip describes these projects as building a house. He explains, “Every house has a foundation, walls, roof, plumbing and electrical components. Every turnkey CA inspection system has a heavy-duty frame, extrusion cabinet, cover panels, access doors, PLC-based controls, pneumatic or servo devices and vision cameras. They are simply organized or used a little differently on each project.”

Finally, robotic inspection and automation cells provide the highest level of flexibility of any CA machine. Robots are programmed to either move smaller parts around a fixed camera(s) or to move a camera(s) around a stationary larger part or assembly. These inspection systems can be re-programmed for a wide range of part shapes and sizes according to the changing customer requirements. CA’s robots can also be used for simple assembly tasks, machine tending and packing. Phillip states, “While the initial investment cost is typically higher, the ROI can be much more attractive on our robotic systems.”

Inspection systems delivered by CA not only verify good product quality, they are aimed at creating efficient production processes that ultimately save time and money.

“Whether these systems are general purpose or custom, every system provided to CA’s customers is a tailored, integrated, turnkey inspection solution,” states Alex.

CA’s business model doesn’t stop here. Sales and engineering associates continue to work with repeat customers to make improvements with each new project. For instance, one of the company’s clients, a large rubber molding company was not satisfied with their old inspection system for a part they molded. The client initially implemented one of CA’s custom-designed machines that outpaced their previous systems in data collection, performance, and throughput. Impressed with the outcome, the client engaged CA to craft a second system that integrated a transfer conveyor out of their injection molding press to bring the parts to a feeder bowl before positioning them for inspection. The client and CA collaborated on a third version of this cell that nearly redoubled the processing rate, added inspection features while incorporating packaging options.

Vision for the Future

Another factor that differentiates CA from other vendors is that all its associates are self-motivated engineers and technicians, who truly want to do an excellent job for their customers. Phillip informs, “Just like any group, CA has a mix of big personalities, jokers, and nose-to-the-grindstone hard workers. Many of our repeat customers ask for one person or the other by name because they have come to trust and appreciate the level of support provided. CA has a great team of engineers!”

Phillip further strikes a balance in the work culture by providing general directions and suggestions to his team during projects. He compares his management style to a game of golf. “Similar to the game, when there is a mistake, I focus on my swing and aim to hit a better shot next time,” he says. “When CA’s engineers make 99 good, correct decisions, I am happy for them, the project, and our customer. I think it is wrong to get upset if one of them makes a single bad or less than a perfect decision. We talk through what happened and determine how to avoid the same mistake in the future.My goal is to help make them better engineers which in turn will definitely make CA a better supplier partner for our customers.”

"Every system provided to the customers is a tailored, integrated, turnkey, and automated inspection solution"

The Midwest region where CA operates presents a general manufacturing base, along with hundreds of automotive and medical device manufacturers. Phillip declares that their business will continue to support companies in these areas with CA’s four core products. He also states that they plan to increase focus on robotic inspection and automation systems to keep up with customer demands in these areas. CA expanded into a larger space in 2014 and with their sales growth, the company is nearing the limits of the shop and office space available to them in this building. “We hope to be in our new space before the end of this year and we are already considering additional engineering staff to support our customers,” informs Phillip. “As we continue to deliver our proven solutions, this year, I’m on a mission to visit all of our current and previous customers to thank them for these 25 years of success.” As far as new products and other enhancements go, CA will continue to listen to its customer’s needs and will strive to keep outperforming its previous milestones.

- Russel Thomas
    August 31, 2018