This piece was written and provided by FTMA Silver Sponsor, Vekta Automation.

In business today it is necessary to be agile and responsive to change. But, to have that real edge- the ability to truly set yourself apart- you need to be unique- Your solutions need to define INNOVATION.

As a company, Vekta defines innovation.

If we review how the Vekta PackFeeder V2 has evolved into the V3- we’re sure you’ll agree.

To be truly innovative, it all starts with lIsteNiNg. Suggestions, ideas, improvements can come from anywhere- the manufacturing team, engineering design team, service engineers interacting on site with the product. The most important suggestions, the crucial ideas come directly from our customers- the people using our machinery day in, day out.

The PackFeeder V2- market proven and tested but still young in the design evolution cycle of the machine. Vekta was actively listening and understanding what our customers were reporting. That feedback centered upon picking reliability and system resilience to non-ideal operating conditions, allowed Vekta the opportunity to re-evaluate our vacuum system, with special emphasis on the use of compressed air and off-the-shelf gripper units.

Compressed air supply

The PFV2 requires a high flow compressed air supply to drive the vacuum system that is used to grip the timber and pick up the boards. The issues included –

  • Customers were having to upgrade their factory air compressor to get the flow required for adequate performance,
  • If the flow was too low, the gripping performance was compromised,
  • The venturi items that generated the vacuum were susceptible to clogging, making them less efficient with time.
  • The cost of machine downtime to replace a vacuum module was high.

Vacuum Grippers

Feedback for the vacuum grippers was fielded from sites and engineering. The issues included-

  • The off-the-shelf vacuum modules had extremely long lead times (6 months) and limited serviceability,
  • They required the high flow of compressed air to operate,
  • To pick single boards or two boards at a time, the grippers needed to rotate across the two boards using a linear actuator and multiple linkages. These items were prone to misalignment after being knocked. They were also labor intensive to design, fabricate and assemble .
  • The gripper rotation across two boards also reduced the vacuum gripping surface area due to leakage through the gap between two adjacent boards

To address all of the above issues, it was important to set the ObjectiVes for the design change. For the PFV2 to evolve into the V3 the objectives were to-

  • Maximise performance,
  • Maximise manufacturability,
  • Minimise lead times and
  • Minimise costs

The lead design Engineer for the project, Alex George was looking for ‘simplicity without compromising functionality’.

So, when an off-the-shelf product is not fit for use, you turn to creAtivity! Vekta took on the challenge to design and build our own vacuum grippers. By doing so we could address the compressed air flow issues and the vacuum gripper issues. 

 There is a reason it is called research and developmenT. And that is exactly what the Vekta team did. Our Engineering and Production Teams designed, manufactured, tested and then iterated , until the best solutions were identified. So how did we solve these issues? 

Compressed air supply

  • An onboard vacuum pump which has completely eliminated the need for a compressed air supply at all, making the PackFeeder V3 easier than ever to integrate into existing plants.

Vacuum Grippers

The design of the Vacuum Grippers presented the biggest challenge in the entire project. A solution was found in optimising the design of the vacuum gripper plate orifices to best meet Vektas stringent performance and reliability requirements. By separating the single vacuum gripper into two isolated vacuum chambers and controlling a series of valves we can now actuate these vacuum chambers individually or in combination to either single or double pick timber boards on either the forward and/or aft vacuum pads.

In other words- Vekta was able to produce fit-for-purpose, high performance vacuum grippers, while retaining  the flexibility to single or double pick boards on demand. What does this mean for Vekta customers and the market? A PackFeeder that has less moving parts and is better suited to picking the less-than-ideal timber we unfortunately see in our industry far too often.

When you have a tight production schedule, outside influences (shipping, suppliers and COVID) it all comes down to plannIng. Research and development is at the core of Vekta and an entire company focus.  From building prototypes and running tests, the whole team from Engineering, Manufacturing, Support and Admin were involved in ensuring the PFV3 research and development was prioritised.

Once all of the hard work on the drawing board is complete, it is absolutely critical to run new designs through their paces in a prOduction environment.  Once again, this is where Vekta’s partnership with industry and new and existing customers comes into play.  We first test our products in the field by aligning ourselves with other Innovative customers.  Customers that recognise the advantages of innovation and are willing to work with us to bring new technologies to our industry.  In the case of the PFV3, we were lucky enough to find such a customer in the Perth area – allowing us to monitor and adjust the new version thoroughly and efficiently.

Finally, one of the most important characteristics of innovation- iNgenuity. The quality of being clever, original and creative. Our design processes and resulting products have been tailored to the very specific requirements of the Truss and Frame environment. Finally,as with all of Vekta’s design improvements and upgrades, the new vacuum grippers and air supply is backwards compatible with the PFV2 system and can be retrofitted to existing machines with minimal downtime.

There is definitely a sense of achievement when you realise that by listening and responding; your effort, time and investment has resulted in improvements for your customers and the industry. When you realise that your research and development has allowed a product to evolve and take a step in the design cycle- that is worth celebrating.

Vekta’s PackFeeder V3- another example of Vekta defining INNOVATION for the timber Frame and Truss industry.

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