fabrication, shop, tuff, automation

Eighth grade students come to Tuff to learn about careers in material handling

Every year in May, we invite the eighth grade class at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic School to visit Tuff Automation to learn about the careers one can hold in an establishment like ours. Students come through our doors, clipboards in hand, ready to take notes, and we hope that they walk back out of them with a new understanding of material handling and a budding interest in the science and math behind it.

We started the day by introducing Tuff Automation and briefly explaining what material handling is. Then we showed a video that compiled footage of machinery we’ve made here at Tuff, so students could see some of our products in motion. Once that was finished, we began a tour of the facility.

eighth grade students assumption catholic
Learning all about controls engineering

The students learned all about the occupations of mechanical engineers, controls engineers, shop managers, welders, builders, and technical writers. They got to see some projects in progress, and learn all about the steps that go into taking a machine from paper to product. Perhaps the coolest thing the students got to see was the laser cutter, shear press, and brake press in motion. They were intrigued about how the laser cutter made such precise movements, and the sheer amount of weight the brake press wields to effortlessly bend steel into perfect angles.

laser cutter demonstration tuff automation
Checking out the laser cutter

After we finished the tour of our facility, we walked the students across the street to our neighbors at Savant Automation, where they received a comprehensive presentation of the company’s history and product line. Students got to see Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGV’s) as they looked in the ‘50s and even got to see some modern ones zipping around Savant’s shop floor. They learned about the different applications of AGV’s and toyed with the sensors of the ones on the floor to see them stop and go again.

savant automation agv automatic guided vehicle
Watching AGVs in motion at Savant

When the students had to leave to go to the next destination on their career exploration field trip, we hope they walked away from Tuff and Savant feeling the way many of us do at the end of a day at work: like we’ve just been in an episode of “How It’s Made” on the Discovery Channel. We hope that this feeling engendered in them an eagerness to learn more about the truly grandiose processes behind the products they interact with on a daily basis. We hope that they know that they can get a cool job without a college education, if that’s what suits them.

Most of all, we hope that they allow their experiences at Tuff and Savant to shape their aspirations for the future.

Photos by Elisabeth Sochacki

When old equipment just isn’t cutting it anymore

tuff automation cummins engine

Even the best equipment doesn’t last forever. Whether your process changes as your business grows, or you’ve simply used your equipment to the point of breaking down, eventually you’re going to need an upgrade. Tuff Automation can help with that.

Engine manufacturer Cummins found themselves in need of just such an upgrade. Their 20-year-old equipment was no longer meeting the task of moving their product.

“[Our equipment] was never upgraded to handle a heavier product,” said Cummins Mechanical Engineer Michael McLaughlin.

So they contacted Tuff, and we worked together over a long and changing schedule to design, build, and install brand new equipment

Our design

The sum of what we worked together to create included heavy-duty CDLR with 3.5″ diameter rollers, drip pans, custom frames, and guiding. These were much better equipped to move the heavier goods. We also mounted some new CDLR on a lift table the customer provided. In addition to the CDLR, Tuff also built a walkway and railing around the conveyor, mounted spring-loaded steps on the sides of the conveyor, and replaced the sensors on their equipment.

A long and challenging installation schedule

Over the course of four weekends in February, Cummins and Tuff worked together around an extremely demanding production schedule to put the new equipment in place. Tuff Mechanical Engineer Tony Truong traveled to the Cummins facility in New York to work with a team to facilitate the installation.

“Working with Tony Truong was the best part about using Tuff,” said McLaughlin. “Not only was he great on the engineering side, offering solutions to all of our requests, he was a one-man installation crew.”

Flexibility is the key

Even when brevity is out of the question, efficiency is of utmost importance. Though the circumstances made for a difficult schedule and an ultimately longer project process, Tuff and Cummins both exercised flexibility to ensure a satisfactory product.

A more durable alternative to scissor lifts.

tuff automation pneumatic lifts scissor lift alternative custom design material handling

High-cycle lift processes don’t have to mean short equipment lifespans. Pneumatic lifts are a long-lasting, cost-effective alternative to scissor lifts, and they’re a perfect high-cycle solution.

More powerful than a scissor lift

Ordinary scissor lifts are rated for a lifetime of approximately 200,000 cycles. The vertically mounted cylinders on our pneumatic lifts make possible a lifetime of several million cycles. If your application exceeds a cycle time of 45 cycles per hour or 500 cycles per day, you’ll see the return on investment on a pneumatic lift in no time.

Robust, custom design from Tuff

Tuff’s pneumatic lift design is simple. It’s a direct lift design that significantly reduces side loading forces. They are easier to precisely position than a scissor lift—which makes them an excellent fit for automatic loading or unloading applications. Our lifts require minimal maintenance and are made in Grand Rapids, Michigan with off-the-shelf components, so replacing parts is quick and inexpensive. Tuff lifts are typically designed to handle between 500 and 3,000 pounds, and we have the capacity to customize lifts to handle heavier weights. We also offer a model that is powered by an electric motor to facilitate longer strokes, multiple precise positions, and specific applications.

Made to fit your application

Don’t settle for mediocre equipment when your process warrants something more. If you have an application that you think would benefit from using a pneumatic lift, Tuff Automation can build one to suit your needs exactly.

Tuff Automation does robots

robotics integration robots

The long and short of what we want to communicate in this post is succinctly contained within its title. We work with robots. We’ve programmed them, we’ve built their supporting components, and we’ve created end-of-arm tooling for them. Is your interest piqued? If so, read on.

Automation begets efficiency

Robotics is a growing field in automation that’s been making complex and delicate processes more efficient and precise. Robots are widely becoming more popular in material handling processes, but many hesitate to incorporate them into their processes due to the investment they require upfront. We’re here to tell you that in the face of rising costs and liabilities incurred by using personnel, the investment pays off.

Robotics implemented

One project we completed was built and programmed for an automobile seat assembly line. Our client is always looking to make their assembly process leaner, so they opted to automate the off-load process of seats from the build line. Implementing a robot in their assembly process enabled our client to use the employees who would otherwise be doing the heavy lifting to do work on other parts of the assembly process.

Tuff builds, wires, and programs

Our client ordered the Fanuc robot, and we at Tuff Automation designed and built the axis it rides on and its end of arm tooling. We also did all the wiring, installation, and robot and PLC programming. The final product operates at the end of the line and matches completed seats with their ship pallets using Internal Build Numbers (IBNs), and it looks something like this:

Building a Slat Conveyor

slat conveyor bastian solutions axels material handling

We frequently work with Bastian Solutions to engineer top-quality solutions to whatever they throw at us. One of our recent projects was a slat conveyor that carries hefty axles.

The project

The conveyor is part of an assembly line. It moves multiple axles, the heaviest of which can weigh 1600 pounds, down the line as operators gradually add components. This rugged conveyor is equipped to carry massively heavy loads in an industrial environment. It also comes with a touch screen interface to customize conveyor operation, track units through each production cell, and identify any conveyor faults.

What we did to ensure the best product

As with many of the projects we encounter, Bastian Solutions needed this solution to be of the highest quality and completed under a compressed timeline. During the processes of engineering and construction, we were able to assist Bastian Solutions in making performance-enhancing recommendations. We also facilitated a complete run-off/buy-off on our shop floor. All of this was to make sure Bastian Solutions knew we made them a product they could be confident in to do the work they needed it to do.

The final result

In the end, Bastian Solutions received a top-quality conveyor complete with integrated controls. Want a closer look at the process of construction and see the final product in motion? Check out our video below. Be sure to watch it in high quality!

Product Spotlight: The Ultra-Quiet Electronic Pusher

ultra quiet electronic pusher tuff automation sortation low decibel equipment quiet warehouse

We always enjoy coming up with cutting edge solutions for our integration partner Cisco-Eagle. This time around, we created a pusher that runs so quietly you can barely hear it.

How it works

The unit was intended to push small product in RSC cases, sized 4.5” x 7.75” x 3”, into a Gaylord dunnage basket from a Hytrol E24 conveyor. Mounted to the side of the conveyor, the unit would push a max of 20 half-pound to one pound parts per minute. The customer requested that the pusher be no louder than 63 decibels. The Tuff Automation standard pneumatic pusher is not much louder than that as is, but we decided to take this opportunity to develop a “rotational pusher assembly” that operates much more quietly.

How is it so quiet?

Because it works without a valve, and because there’s no impact, much of the noise of a standard pneumatic pusher is completely eliminated in this electronic pusher. Simple VFD motor controls are actuated to get the pusher moving, and once it’s going it completes one cam-actuated divert per every motor rotation. The design is robust and very simple to control. A unit like this could be easily incorporated into any small item sortation application.

Going above and beyond

For this project, in addition to the pusher, Tuff also provided turnkey controls, drawings, and programming for the installation of the entire system scope. You can check out a video of the unit quietly in motion here.

Interested in a product like this or want to learn more about custom solutions from Tuff? Contact us.

At the last minute, Cisco-Eagle finds quick, reliable service to finish off their multi-million dollar project

Material handling equipment provider Cisco-Eagle was in the final stages of installing a massive addition to their original equipment for Cargill Meat Solutions, a leading meat processing facility located in Friona, TX, when they realized they needed a blade stop at the last minute. Their deadline was approaching; Cisco-Eagle knew they needed quality equipment and needed it quickly.

Pressed for time, Cisco-Eagle needed to be efficient in as many ways as possible. Production, delivery, and integration with the existing Hytrol equipment all had to move quickly. Knowing Hytrol has a tendency for longer lead times, Cisco-Eagle’s Director of Project Management Darrell Griffin contacted Tuff Automation’s sales engineer, Mark Zauel.

“Mark said he could provide equipment in a week, and it would hook up to the existing Hytrol equipment, which would save us considerable time in the field trying to make it fit,” said Griffin.

blade stop Tuff Automation material handling conveyor component custom Cisco-Eagle Cargill Meat Solutions
Example of a Tuff Automation Blade Stop

This wasn’t the first time Griffin worked with Tuff Automation, so he was confident in his decision to use Tuff Automation. Cisco-Eagle began working with Tuff when they were quoting another integration partner on a different project. While they looked through the pictures the integration partner provided with the quote, they noticed Tuff Automation stickers on some of the equipment in the photographs. After scrutinizing the photographs and hunting down Tuff Automation, Cisco-Eagle was ultimately won over by Tuff’s lower prices and completely custom solutions.

“Tuff doesn’t sell canned solutions,” said Griffin. “Everything is engineered to some extent—everything [Tuff] provides is rated to handle the load of the application.”

That initial impression was followed by years of solutions completely customized to fit their applications, which continually proved Tuff’s reliably fast turnaround and durable product construction. These experiences informed Griffin’s decision to go with Tuff for the blade stop solution.

“We have a lot of faith in [Tuff],” said Griffin.

Tuff Automation delivered the blade stop to Cargill Meat Solutions within a week’s time. The equipment integrated easily with the existing Hytrol conveyors and was durable enough for 110-pound cases of beef it needed to handle.

Quick turnaround, affordable prices, and reliable equipment are of paramount importance for those in the material handling industry, especially at the last minute. For Cisco-Eagle, Tuff Automation was able to provide all of the above, leaving all parties satisfied.

What you didn’t know about the history of conveyors [Infographic]

Conveyors have been such a significant part of our culture for so long, it’s easy to ignore their roles in our daily lives. Chances are, you probably didn’t wonder how long the conveyor has been around when one appeared in the famous chocolate factory episode of I Love Lucy:

I Love Lucy Chocolate Factory Conveyor material handling automation Image via Breaking Soup

Or think about how accurate its inclusion was in the mine where Indiana Jones fought off a thuggish guard while headed straight towards a rock crusher:

Indiana Jones Temple of Doom conveyor belt Harrison Ford material handling automationImage via Central Conveyors

Or think anything of any of the handful of times conveyors have appeared in film and television. But the truth is that conveyors have been used for a number of different applications for over 200 years. Check out the infographic below for a detailed visual history of where conveyors started and where they are today, with information and data courtesy MHEDA.

The History of the Conveyor Tuff Automation material handling