Accelerate innovation in transport equipment: from idea to prototype
In this project, Engineering Solutions supported their customer to accelerate their innovation for transport equipment: from a rough idea to a working prototype. Engineering Solutions supported in all pre-development phases, from initial experimental tests, to developing design models and simulation frameworks. They also partnered with their customer to build a functional model and a prototype to integrate and test with their existing equipment.
Figure 1: typical can transport in a can making factory
Engineering Solutions was approached by a customer in the intralogistics industry to help accelerate their innovation program. One of their ideas was aimed on improvements in the transport of beverage cans in the aluminum can-making industry. To bring their idea from concept to prototype, they needed subject matter expertise outside their field of intralogistics equipment development.
During the production of aluminum beverage cans, transport of cans between the various processing steps takes place with conveyors as shown in Fig 1. Some transitions – e.g. due to merges and changes of direction – during the transport come with violent interactions, which may lead to can scratches, dents (see Fig 2) and tipped cans. Ultimately, this can lead to higher costs of goods, due to higher can spoilage, production downtime and related labor.
The idea that needed further exploration is based on a novel transport system. This allows better control of the can motion especially during transitions, reducing violent interactions and can damage. The can motion also becomes less dependent of can pressure, limiting the risk of tipped cans.
Figure 2: can damage that may be observed during can handling
Fast feasibility study
Given the highly innovative nature of the customers’ idea, the path to a successful prototype is far from straightforward. Engineering Solutions offered a feasibility study with an approach in phases. Such an approach allows to effectively manage the inevitable scope changes on both business and technical level. See Fig 3 for an example of this approach.
Figure 3: Phased approach towards a successful prototype test
In the first phase, the labs at Engineering Solutions facilitated a short experimental investigation of the transport concept by using existing components, equipment and materials. This quickly showed the feasibility of the concept which led to insights in effective operating points, opportunities, and limitations of the technology.
Supported by these results and using some fundamental insights, a concept design phase was initiated with a strong emphasis on modeling. The dynamics of a can transport application was simulated, to show the potential added value of the concept and to derive system requirements. In addition, a design model was set up to optimize the electromagnetic system design and to estimate performance at operating conditions.
From functional model to demonstrator
The design phase led to the development of a Functional Model (FuMo) setup, which allowed to test and evaluate the main function: control of can motion. The FuMo results were used to define a list of top technical risk items that should be addressed in the next phase in order to successfully develop the transport system. These technical issues were handled in several independent activities to allow a step-by-step mitigation of risks.
During evaluation of the functional model, the envisioned customer application scope changed. Based on the results of the previous phases and technical insights, and using the existing design and simulation models, a new design was proposed that would fit the requirements for the new application. This new design was directly used in the next phase: the development of a demonstrator for internal and external showcase purposes. In our lab facilities, a small section of the customer’s conventional can conveyance was combined with the novel conveyance system, allowing to demonstrate and analyze its performance within a short timeline.
Figure 4: typical can transport in a can filling factory
Conclusions and summary
The approach taken in the fast feasibility study allowed for a step-by-step de-risking and thereby increasing the confidence level in the technology. The competences and skills were complementary to those of the customer, and during each development phase, responsibilities were agreed upon at the start. The customer appreciated that the study was offered in phases, allowing to discontinue or change the scope at every milestone. In this project, Engineering Solutions was able to successfully support the innovation from concept to prototype, providing concept analysis and experimental analysis, proof of concept, prototyping, and competence support.
Examples of Fast Feasibility Studies
Online self-calibration of a multi-probe system leading to an error profile that is virtually free of integration errors, allowing for on-the-fly in-line calibration.
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