kuka robot arm

Systems Engineering and Automation

Why Systems Engineering is important in Automation Development

Automating systems or processes provides many benefits: increased productivity, improved quality and consistency, reduced costs, and increased throughput. Automation projects can be complex with an associated long list of requirements from the client, regulatory, and industry standards. Systems Engineers provide a holistic perspective, ensuring that every component and sub-component contributes to and fits within the product requirements and system architecture of any product. Systems Engineers at SIGMADESIGN assist in defining product requirements, building the system architecture, and coordinating with other engineering disciplines during the design phase to verify that the holistic project intent is maintained.

How does automation benefit our clients?

BIB loader
Bib Loader

At SIGMADESIGN, we see many advantages when clients decide to automate their various systems or processes. Whether it is a simple machine or a complex automation project, automation can:

  • Replace human-performed tasks done in dangerous environments.
  • Reduce occupational injuries by eliminating hard physical or monotonous work for human operators.
  • Perform tasks that are beyond human capabilities of size, weight, speed, endurance, etc.
  • Complete high-accuracy tasks.
  • Increase consistency and quality of process and product.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Reduce direct labor costs and expenses.
  • Reduce cycle time in operation.
  • Provide higher-level jobs in the development, deployment, maintenance, and running of the automated processes.

Why Use a Systems Engineer?

Vision System designed by SIGMADESIGN for High-Precision Automation
Vision System designed by SIGMADESIGN for High-Precision Automation

As mentioned above, automation projects can be complex, with a long list of requirements to handle from both the client and according to industry standards. Automation projects typically involve mechanical, electrical, controls programming, motion controls, vision systems and/or sensors, and a Human Machine Interface (HMI). At SIGMADESIGN, Systems Engineers focus on how individual subsystems interconnect with other subsystems and affect the automation equipment as a whole. They ensure the individual engineers are working in adherence to the product requirements and the defined systems architecture as they design and select components for the various subsystems.

Throughout a project, Systems Engineers verify that the design and function conform to the client’s product requirements and the subsystems will work in partnership. They help answer important questions at each project stage and collaborate with others to develop cohesive solutions.

Here is an overview of the typical process employed at SIGMADESIGN for our automation projects:

Systems Architecture Phase

  • What are all the system’s major functional outputs? What is it making or assembling or inspecting (or all three), what are the major functional subsystems, how will they interface, and do they meet the system requirements?
    • Work with the client to collect and understand system functional requirements.
    • Perform a feasibility study to mitigate high-risk areas.
    • Define and document system’s operation and function via “System Functional Diagram”.
    • Architect and document system hardware controls, safety and safe operation interlocks via “System Block Diagram(s)”.

Design Phase

Systems Engineers collaborate with the team to consider the various elements of an automation project.

kuka robot arm
Kuka Robot
  • Motion, actuation, and robot design considerations:
    • X/Y/Z gantry
    • SCARA
    • Delta / Spider
    • Traditional 6-axis
    • Collaborative
    • Linear Actuators
  • Vision and sensing considerations:
    • 2D and 3D Cameras
    • High Speed Defect Detection
    • Optical Alignment Systems
    • Laser Scanning
    • Line Scanning
    • Advanced Barcode Scanning
  • Software design considerations:
    • Automation, SCADA, simple or coordinated motion, and safety.
    • Human Machine Interface (HMI) or User Interface (UI) interface.
    • Data collection for engineering evaluation and/or SPC systems.
  • Type of programming considerations:
    • Laddder Logic (PLC)
    • Structured Text
    • C / C++
    • Python
    • LabVIEW
    • MatLab
  • Mechanical considerations: What mechanisms are necessary to meet the project requirements?
    • Fixturing
    • Pneumatics / hydraulics
    • Conveyors
    • Motor / actuator selection
    • Safety systems / interlocks
    • System time studies
    • Fabrication of parts
    • Peripheral components (dispense laser filters, part feeders)
    • Axis drivetrain
    • Encoders, LTVs and sensors
  • Electrical considerations: What electronics are required to meet the project requirements?
    • Electrical controls design; selection of components, controls platform, and safety equipment.
    • Fusing, disconnects, circuit breakers, relays & contacts.
    • Electrical load and heat / cooling.
    • Device Inputs / Outputs
    • Motors: induction, rotary and linear servo, and stepper AC/DC
    • Controllers: PLC, PC, safety PLC, drives, motion, vision, micro controllers.

Commission and Testing Phase

Systems Engineers work with cross functional teams as they test, debug, and start-up an automation project, ensuring the system complies with the functional requirements defined earlier with the client. This phase includes:

  • Commission various controller and software components
  • Mechanical, electrical, hardware integration and testing
  • System device Inputs / Output (I/O) and software testing
  • Safety systems and safe interlock testing
  • Drive / Motor tuning and motion testing
  • System functional testing
  • Throughput and cycle verification
  • Verify certification requirements
  • Etc.

At the end of the test phase, the Systems Engineer and client will perform a Factory Acceptance Test (FAT).

Production Phase

  • Factory integration
  • Full system test runs
  • Operation manual and training
  • Maintenance plans and schedules

Conclusion

The SIGMADESIGN Systems team has extensive experience in automation across a wide range of industries. Our breadth of knowledge gives us the expertise to evaluate production process to identify key value-add automation opportunities. Systems Engineers develop the project in collaboration with our team of Mechanical, Electrical and Software engineers to design and build the automated systems needed to successfully deliver the maximum return on investment.

Let SIGMADESIGN help you be more productive! Contact us for your next automation project.


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