During NPE2012, auxiliary equipment maker Conair Group displayed new products, offered interactive modules and showed attendees ways to cut waste, save energy and improve yield.
Its NPE exhibit theme, “Pathways to Profitability,” set the tone.
Among its new products, Conair incorporates applied vision and robotic technologies in a material vision proofing system and an automated resin manager selection station. Typically, vision and robotic systems are familiar to manufacturers, but their use in auxiliary solutions is unusual, the company said.
“Customers have a need to be more efficient and productive” and reduce mistakes, said Conair President Christopher Keller.
“We are driving more efficiency to the plant floor and providing solutions to eliminate mistakes,” Keller said.
The patent-pending material visual proofing system functions in conjunction with Conair's resin selection station and prevents operators from making incorrect or improper manual connections.
MVP software programming automatically provides 100 percent validation that the right material goes to the right destination, said Conair mechanical engineer Matthew Baker.
The system's motorized camera is installed on a track behind a standard Conair tabletop manifold.
Through flexible hoses, the manifold can supply up to six different source materials for vacuum conveyance to up to 36 machine, blender, dryer or other destinations.
In setting up a job, an operator designates the source and destination in the material-handling system control and, via a push-fit connector, manually connects the appropriate flexible hose to the proper outlet ports. The control indicates to an operator exactly where a hose connection needs to be made.
Before conveying anything, the camera moves behind the selector table and positions itself between the appropriate rows of ports, confirming to the material-handling system control that the correct connections have been made. The process takes just seconds to complete, Conair said.
Conair's large-scale ELS system and smaller, flexible FLX control are compatible and connect via Ethernet to the material visual proofing system.
Conair claims the MVP system will give users a return on invested capital in months rather than years.
The patent-pending automated resin manager selection station uses robotic actuators to route plastic material from one place to another by digital instructions entered in any of Conair's central material-conveying system controls. Operators use the ARM control interface to identify source and destination.
The new material-selection station has a bottom manifold with inlet ports for 32 different sources of material and an outlet manifold with 16 ports corresponding to various destinations. The ARM system includes two pneumatically driven actuators and one flexible tube.
Baker said ARM is simple and comparatively inexpensive, unlike some automatic material distribution systems with multiple mechanical motions and numerous flexible hoses.
The economic slowdown drove Conair to tighten operations, sharpen its focus, expand customer service and push promising technical innovations. “We were not immune from what every Western business experienced,” Keller said.
As for 2012, he is “cautiously optimistic” about sales. “We've got to be sure we are hitting on all cylinders across the whole portfolio,” he noted.
Currently, the firm's main business challenge — managing growth — requires finding enough people with the right talents and applying those resources globally, Keller said in a telephone interview. “The other challenge is to assure consistency [of value] … everywhere we are,” he said.
Conair has “seen strong double-digit growth everywhere [with] more and more greenfield opportunities from customers” than three or four years ago, he said. “We can provide a total solution to a person putting in a greenfield plant and that gives us an advantage.”
While providing all of the auxiliaries for a greenfield operation is rare, Conair's wide-ranging functional capabilities — blend, cool, convey, feed, grind, dry, extrude, store — position it to compete for multiple equipment orders.
The company is touting innovations in each of its product lines, said Larry Doyle, vice president of global sales and marketing. He underscored how Conair's customer-driven focus had led to technology advances such as complete PET preform molding cells, the EnergySmart drying system and TrueWeigh hoppers for film and sheet processing.
“We know what specific end markets [customers] are looking for, and these don't just apply to U.S. but to global customers,” Doyle said.
Conair, based in the Pittsburgh suburb of Cranberry Township, Pa., expanded its operations in Michigan and India last year.
The company acquired a 50,000-square-foot facility in Pinconning, Mich., and, in September, moved manufacturing, laboratory, and conference and training operations for its downstream extrusion business from an 18,000-square-foot location in Bay City, Mich.
In March 2011, Conair joint venture Nu-Vu Conair Pvt. Ltd. relocated its Ahmedabad, India, operations to a newly constructed 35,000-square-foot building from a 15,000-square-foot site. For the region's market, the operation makes Nu-Vu lines and Conair-designed equipment like desiccant-wheel dryers and EarthSmart portable chillers.
Conair offers more than 450 individual products. Worldwide the company employs more than 300, with manufacturing and sales operations in North America and Asia, as well as sales offices in Europe and South America.