A Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) R&D Project (1976/80)

The goals and objectives were to develop, design, manufacture and implement a network- computer controlled flexible manufacturing system for boxed shaped, milled parts within the 630 x 630 mm pallet size. This system was the first of its kind at that time in Europe and had many geatures that were novel on a worldwide basis.

My analytical / engineering challenge: As part of an R&D project team, in particular, I had to focus on integrated product/ process design issues, FMS networking and FMS/CNC programming, production control software development, tool management, modular fixture design and clamping and fixture management, part testing, FMS testing, part transportation system testing inside the FMS, the FMS database, ASRS, and several design, manufacture and implementation aspects of related machinery, or processes as well as engineering management issues.

The method/ model was validated by designing, and implementing a large scale networked computer controlled system in industry. Note, that this was the exiting period of the late 1970's, when NC changed for SNC (Storage NC) and then CNC, (Computer Numerical Control), and when computer networks and databases started to be applied in DNC systems; stills with minis rather than PCs, since PCs appeared only several years later.

The practical, industrial use: Designed and implemented FMS as well CNC machines and cells.

Major lessons learned included lots of integrated product/ process design and innovation, serious computer applications in industry, product and cell design, system integration, team management, dynamic production control in cells and FMSs and many others that had a major effect on my entire life as a professional engineer. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn something new every day in a variety of engineering and management disciplines, with stimulating team members... during normal working days that were 12-14 even 16 hour long before major stages of the R&D process!


The photographs below illustrate various stages of this large scale industrial R&D project that was performed by a large team of over 50 R&D engineers, including myself, as one of the four engineering project leaders in the company. Thanks to all! It was hard but great fun too... and I have learned a lot! .. as we all did.


The layout below illustrates four networked, computer controlled vertical and horizontal machine tools, with automated pallet and tool change and tool storage capabilities, an automated pallet transportation system, a computer controlled CMM (Co-ordinate Measuring Machine), a special computer controlled milling machine with a universal head for datum surfacing, a part setup station, where the parts were put and located on a pallet using a modular fixturing system, a automated part washing station for removing chips, and an ASRS (which was a manually controlled subsystem, with computer assisted schedules and part delivery).


The fully networked FMS computer room below with two minis and various peripherals. (Note, that this was in the late 1970's!)


The photos below show the FMS at various stages of development. Note, that this was in the late 1970's when we actually designed and manufactured most of the products, components and subsystems you see here, rather than bought them from different vendors and then integrated them as it would be the case today. Why? Because many of these modules weren't made by anybody at that time; we had to invent and develop them!

The photo below shows the datum surfacing machine with the special computer controlled universal head.


The photo below shows the DEA Co-ordinate Measuring Machine, under installation and test; the only major module we have purchased for the system from an outside vendor! (Note, that during building the foundation for the CMM we have found an unexploded WW II bomb at this site! What a shock and challenge that was! ... obviously it set back the project by several months...)


We have used very accurate laser testing methods for creating the error-image-map of the DEA Co-ordinate Measuring Machine and found lots of interesting results!


The photo below shows the DEA Co-ordinate Measuring Machine computer controller, under installation and test. (Note, that this was the first computer I actually saw on fire!... yes, smoking and burning! As it turned out it was broken during transportation, then fixed and then run very well for years without trouble).


The photo below shows the DEA Co-ordinate Measuring Machine, under installation and test integrated with a pallet docking system that we have designed. Note, that behing the pallet docking area at the front, the machine had another table too, for off-line testing of parts.


The photo below illustrates the pallet that we have designed for the system. (This included modular clamping and fixturing components and sub-assemblies too).


The photo below shows the hydraulically operated, electronically position controlled pallet changer manipulator tand pallet transportation system that run automatically on a rail. (It was one of the first railed carts for FMSs in the world!) One of the major challenges was heat dilatation (and the subsequent correction of such position errors) of the rails, since the system wasn't implemented in an air conditioned environment; an otherwise normal practice that part of Europe).


The photo below shows the system being built.


The Dialog CNC below, that we have developed as an R&D team, represented the first PLC/ computer controlled DNC/CNC in the world with a very simple dialog-, versus command-based user interface and CNC programming structure. (Keep in mind that there were no PCs in the late 1970's!) This was an amazing innovation that turned out to be one of the best side-products of our big project.


The photo below shows the top view of the system still under construction.


The photo below shows the system actually running!