Delivery, quality and price have been the key benchmark deliverables in the past. Today these three are joined by a fourth that is equally important - flexibility. In the past, it may have been permissible to pick one or two of these areas to focus on. But today all are essential to meet the growth of ever increasing customer requirements.

Fig. 1. Modular induction hardening equipment system

Outsourcing of many key items by automotive manufacturers has led to a highly competitive market for first-tier suppliers of automotive components. In the past, contracts may have remained with a given supplier for many years without much concern. Today a major contract may be shifted annually from supplier to supplier on the basis of competitive bids. When a bid is won, there is often the need to investigate, evaluate and purchase the required capital equipment in a matter of a few months in order to complete a PPAP and be in production when the current contract expires. This requires that equipment be delivered on time. And once the equipment has been delivered, the daily demands for production and ROI require that it be extremely reliable and easy to maintain in the event of any kind of failure.

Quality must be designed at the concept stage and implemented in the physical realm by using components that are state of the art in design concept but have stood the test of time in terms of repeated use without a high level of component failure, adjustment or maintenance required.

Fig. 2. Modular induction hardening equipment system

In the area of capital equipment purchases it is a well-known adage that "In the beginning there is price; in the end there is cost!" Or as one family matriarch once pronounced, "You buy cheap, you buy twice." In short, it is always possible to buy a cheaper piece of equipment, but in essence we get what we pay for. Early automotive pioneer Henry Ford is quoted as saying, "If you need a machine and don't buy it, then you will ultimately find you have paid for it but don't have it." Finally, the concern of having a particular contract one year and possibly losing it the next has given rise to the need for greater flexibility in capital equipment to allow easy retooling and reprogramming of the equipment if necessary to process different parts in the future.

For capital-equipment manufacturers, the consideration of these requirements has led to the development of a new generation of induction heating equipment that will meet and exceed the needs of a large variety of customers supplying parts to the transportation industry.

Fig. 3. Dual modular induction hardening equipment system

Concept Stage

To begin with, an analysis of traditional customer purchases for the last 25 years was undertaken to categorize the most common power output levels and frequencies that have been purchased. A further analysis was made as to what type of equipment had been purchased to process the particular parts. Of the thousands of equipment purchases through the years, an analysis was made as to whether there was a common ground where 80% of the requirements could be satisfied with a specific type of new equipment. Finally an evaluation was made as to whether the historical data was consistent with currently observable trends in customer purchasing preferences and the development of new technology in the induction equipment design arena.1

Fig. 4. HMI screen with equipment manual

Development Stage

requirements on a single equipment platform. The result was the development of a new modular equipment system (Figs. 1 & 2) designed to satisfy the customer's need to have a top-quality piece of equipment delivered promptly at a reasonable market price, and still provide the flexibility for the customer to pick and choose the options desired to customize the equipment to their individual needs at the present time. One of the major benefits of this system is that it provides the ability to easily retool and reuse the equipment on another project, possibly even in another plant in the future.

Fig. 5. HMI screen with PLC logic

System Flexibility and Capability

By using a modular approach, a relatively small number of modules can be used to provide hundreds of different machine designs in a tightly integrated package that can be easily picked up with a lift truck and delivered to the production site or easily moved from plant to plant as required. Components are designed with interchangeability from left to right in order to allow the use of the same components to build a single or a dual system (Fig. 3). This reduces the number of spare parts that the customer must stock. A single power and plant-water utility connection greatly simplifies equipment installation.2

The major modules of the system are a power supply, part-processing mechanism, machine control with HMI, quench tank and quench system, water recirculating system, utility panel, removable cover and a common mounting base. Each of the modules sports a number of variations that all mount in the same footprint with preplanned mounting and utility connections. All machine wire connections to sensors and switches are accomplished with simple plug-type connectors for easy installation or change.

The power supply module can be manufactured in a wide variety of power and frequency ratings, and common components are used for single or dual versions of the equipment. Typical standard ratings are available from 50 to 300 kW and frequencies from 3 kHz to 200 kHz. Other sizes and frequencies are also available upon request. Part-processing modules include a number of different scanning towers in vertical or horizontal orientation, clamp transfer mechanisms, rotary tables, lift rotate mechanisms, etc.3

Fig. 6. HMI screen with data acquisition system

The machine control utilizes a PC front end with PLC machine control to provide the versatility of the PC without sacrificing the time-proven reliability of the PLC hardware for control of the system. The control offers hundreds of advanced features possible only with a PC. Some of these include virtually unlimited program storage with easy access, an onboard hyper-linked equipment manual of more than 1200 pages (Fig. 4), equipment drawings and parts lists, PLC logic printout (Fig. 5), ability to view maintenance and training videos, optional integrated data acquisition system (Fig. 6), power supply meter readings with hold setting for any point in the cycle (Fig. 7), touch screen with mouse input, etc. Programming utilizes a simple matrix input with touch screen, which allows simply touching the item that is to be changed and inputting the new data through the pop-up keypad.

The part-processing modules or mechanisms can be easily mounted to common, pre-designed mounting points with complete access to all mechanical components by removing the bolt-on cover. Three standard scan towers are available with speeds from 2 to 24 inches per second and load capacity to 100 pounds per spindle in the standard package. X-Y adjustment is available through a standard manual base or an optional motorized tower base.

The cover is designed with a full 22-inch part load opening sufficient for side-by-side robot loading of axle shafts with 9.5" diameter flanges. The aluminum door with large viewing panel is available with an optional automatic operator, light curtain and safety lock. The intent with the machine and plumbing covers was to provide a new look, similar to a machining center, for a traditional type of induction equipment.

Fig. 7. HMI screen with power supply meters and hold circuit

Customer Satisfaction

A review of the product by customers who had been walking the floor at a recent trade show yielded the following comments: "You guys really did it right!" and "This looks more like a machining center than a piece of induction equipment." Based on these comments and other customer reactions, the goal of the project has been realized.

With a standardized modular approach and proactive inventory stocking, cost and delivery time decrease while quality and flexibility increase to meet all four benchmark deliverables and provide a win-win situation for our customers.

For more information:The equipment described in this article is the Inductoscan modular induction hardening system. Ray Cook is the Vice President for Product Development for Inductoheat, Inc., 32251 N. Avis Dr., Madison Heights, MI 48071; Ph: (800) 624-6297; Fax: (248) 589-1062;; web:.

Additional related information may be found by searching for these (and other) key words/terms via BNP Media LINX at induction, modular induction, HMI, PLC, power supply, frequency