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A company that manufactures products used in a variety of outdoor activities, including bullets that make up rounds of ammunition, wanted to expand its facility and upgrade the automation of the control systems. At the facility, an electroplating process has been developed and refined to electroplate copper onto lead cores to make jacketed bullets. The company plates a range of thicknesses of copper, from very thin layers of perhaps a few microns for inexpensive ammunition, to very dense layers to make the bullets used by the military, law enforcement, and other governmental agencies.

The company hired Trutegra to install its TruTime scheduling package to replace the existing obsolete system.  As part of this upgrade, a complete automation package including new hardware, programming, new electrical drawings, scheduling software, and system commissioning was provided by Trutegra’s engineers.  This effort allowed the company to add a new prep and copper plating line to the facility, expanding their production capacity while improving efficiency.

In electroplating processes, plating lines typically consist of a series of tanks containing aqueous solutions of chemicals that have specific purposes.  The cranes move the products that are to be plated from tank to tank.  The immersion time is controlled by the scheduling package and is critical, being stipulated in the recipe for the parts.  The scheduling package directs the cranes to move up and down the tanks to move parts, recognizing that removal of a part means that there must be a clear and available destination into which it is to be deposited.  There are strict ‘time in tank’ rules that cannot be violated, meaning that removing a part too early must be avoided, and a crane must be available precisely when needed.  Therefore, significant planning is involved inline operation – the time required for every movement must be scheduled and controlled.  The scheduling software must necessarily be a very complex piece of software.   

To facilitate the wholesale switch from the existing control system, the project was split into phases.  In the first phase, the tanks and cranes on one of their lines were converted to run on TruTime.  When completed. Trutegra continued to the next line, with planned iterations for each remaining line needing to be upgraded.   A new A-B 5069 Compact GuardLogix Safety PLC was installed for control of each line of the new system.  The PLC handed all the components on the two lines.  Existing crane cabinets were retrofitted to include new A-B Kinetix 5500 Ethernet Server Drives, A-B Ethernet Point I/O, Ethernet RFID Scanner, and an A-B Stratix Network Switch.  A new Ethernet backbone was created via four small cabinets with A-B Stratix 5700 Switches.  New Sick Ethernet Laser Distance Meters were included to provide more accurate position feedback.  New short-range lasers to detect flight bars were installed on the cranes and tanks and were wired back to the A-B Point I/O on the cranes.  Trutegra’s TruTime Scheduling package was deployed, running in the A-B GuardLogix PLC to provide the time in tank monitoring, sample scheduling, tank, and crane control.  A new Inductive Automation Ignition visualization package was deployed for all operator interface screens and weigh station controls.  This SQL-based software was seamlessly integrated with the TruTime Historian and SQL Server Reporting Services that are part of the TruTime scheduling software.  In addition, “Scoreboard” screens were created and deployed to thin client-powered displays around the area.  The backend computing was powered by a small VMWare vSphere redundant server pair, running Terminal Services for the clients in one image, SQL server for data collection in another image, as well as a separate VM for support purposes.

Trutegra developed the capability to obtain an accurately predicted timeline for the plating process from the PLC control system, something that has not been done before.  It required significant refinement as well as understanding the process, chemistry, and other parameters involved to correlate to other data points in the system.  The approach was based on electroplating processes in which there is a well-established relationship between the current flow and the amount of material deposited.  This proved to be a significant advantage to the company since the manpower to obtain samples was greatly reduced as were the samples lost in the weighing process.

A further advantage to the company was the improved data collection and reporting.  The previous software was designed to capture and archive the data in an Access database to allow quality problems to be tracked.  However, major gaps were left in the historical data making it unreliable.  The TruTime system, including a reporting package, is based on a load-centric system and a load-centric Historian.  It is therefore straightforward to return to the data at a later time, enter a lot number, and obtain the relevant data for that lot. 

Trutegra is continuing to add additional lines to the new system, upgrading the system to meet further demands for increased production.  The new system is modular, so it is the same design for every line.  This approach yields a great benefit to the customer in terms of reduced lead time for upgrading the system as well as reduced engineering time, saving their customer significant capital.

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