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Investment made in the automated machinery can be easily recovered

Automated machinery and industrial assembly lines can deliver major production benefits when implemented wisely. Scott Flower, product strategy manager, Harwin PLC, talks to Nidhi Arora and Paromik Chakraborty, Electronics For You, about automation of their manufacturing setup and their quality control processes.

Q. Tell us about Harwin’s market offerings and manufacturing setup.
A. We provide solutions majorly for industrial and defence & aerospace segment. These verticals are our focus area in India as well.

In defence, our offerings are used in radars, missile systems, optoelectronic equipment, gunshots, communication devices, vehicles and more. In industrial applications, we cater to metering, telecom power supplies, communication projects and so on. Some of our customers in India include ABB, Schneider among others. We have started venturing into cable assemblies as our latest offering.

In Harwin, we develop most of our machines in-house – we design them, manufacture them, and maintain them in-house. A new floor in our factory has been completely dedicated to R&D, and these developments are taken up from there.

Q. Give us a picture of the level of automation implemented in your manufacturing unit.
A. In Harwin’s factory, almost everything is automated. Major processes like design, moulding, stamping as well as plating – all of these go through automated setups. A major driver behind shifting to automation was the high manual labour cost in the UK. Moreover, it is an initiative to let machines take up the tedious and strenuous jobs.

For instance, the task of plating itself is very tedious and many companies do not allot much for this task. In comparison, Harwin has two main in-house facilities in the plating area – one is for line-plating and another for barrel-plating to address loose contacts. All of these are done through robots and automated processes.

Here is an interesting example. For one of our smallest connectors, we have one of the longest automated assembly line. It is about 6 metres long to produce something that small!

Q. Are you expanding your in-house infrastructure any further?
A. One of our recent improvements has been in our moulding area. Earlier, the material drying units used to be present just beside the moulding machines, blocking a lot of space. Now, we have installed a mezzanine floor. So the drying is taken care of upstairs using machines from above. As a result, we have installed 3 or 4 more machines on the floor, and consequently, have upped our output.

We are looking into every inch of the factory floor and trying to optimise the space utilisation. We have also made upgradations and introduced overnight machine activities, connected to a central monitoring systems. In case there is any incident while the floor is empty, we will be notified immediately.

Q. What procedures do you follow for quality control of your products?
A. We operate on an Statical Process Control (SPC) procedure, continuously monitoring dimensions and verifying all the steps in the production run. The stamping of our products is done after thorough scrutiny on batch-by-batch basis. Through automation, we have assembled over 13 million contacts using 4-6 machines. Throughout the process, each one of those 13 million contacts are visually examined using a camera-system. It checks for any kind of malfunctioning contacts – missing components, loose contacts or missed clipping. The machine instantly rejects these parts and filters them out. We also follow a four-stage checking for quality control.

Q. How do you evaluate quality of the material that you are using for your products?
A. We have a strict rationale and selection process for picking our key suppliers. We do internal assessment of the material we receive. For instance, if it’s a stamping material, we check for factors like level of hardness, finish of the material and so on.

Q. What kind of benefits do you guarantee to your customers?
A. Our products are less expensive by almost 25% than most of our competitors. Our contact systems are completely insulated, unlike many competitors, who provide exposed contacts. This ensures no chance of damaging the contacts during the assembly process.

There is also a cost-saving in terms of the assembly speed. Where in a standard SMA type connector, each contact is assembled individually, our product gives the edge of a much quicker assembly and the benefits can be well felt when one is assembling at a bulk. We also provide a ‘pairisation’ feature that enhances accuracy and saves time and effort wasted in rework. For instant, in a single standard SMA connector, there is a possibility that one may mistakenly attach contact number 8 to contact position one. Our pairisation feature nullifies that risk.

For ensured security, we provide stainless steel to stainless steel fixings, which will remain throughout the life of the product. These can resist shock, vibrations, high temperature and so on. All these setup are followed to deliver defence-grade products.

We provide hardware solutions that can be used in automation setups. These solutions can expedite a manufacturing process by up to 30%..

Q. Do you think Indian manufacturers are ready for investing in factory automation?
A. It is more about the education and awareness. While adding automated machinery becomes an additional element with a cost in the bill of material, the improved productivity can easily recover the investment made into it. For instance, an automated SMT line may require a larger upfront cost compared to a manual one. However, all the expenses that become associated in the long run need to be considered, including time of production, volume of yield, accuracy, investment in manual labour, training and so on. Keeping that view in mind, the excess investment made in the automated machinery can be easily recovered since the production and operational savings are much higher.

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