KAON Automation is one of Ireland’s leading automation specialists. We have just completed another high tech, customised machine for one of the world’s leading manufacturers. This automated palletising system stacks layers of boxes of customer product on pallets with options for 5, 6 or 7 layers per pallet. The machine:
Automatically loads 25kg pallets from a pallet stack (10 pallets) to a conveyor.
It then automatically loads 10 x 10.5kg boxes from the end of the production line to each layer of the pallet.
Automatically moves full pallets to an outfeed area
The machine uses a KUKA 6 axis robot with a 2.7m reach. KAON are experts in a range of robots and have extensive experience using ABB, FANUC, Mitsubishi and Staubli robots allowing full flexibility to meet customer needs. The system is fully integrated into the existing production line with a modular guard cell that can be expanded, if necessary, without any custom parts.
As part of a complimentary range of packaging systems including high speed case packing our standard palletising cells, can offer options for the following;
Box size & weight
Layer patterns & layer numbers
Slip sheet placement
Auto Pallet dispensing
Auto Pallet wrapping
Integration of labelling systems
Integration of serialisation
This machine was delivered ahead of schedule and performance exceeds the customer’s specification.
Aaron O’Hare, KAON Project Manager Lead commented: “It was great to work with the customer on this project and we are delighted to have exceeded their expectations. For our design team, it was quite but our experienced team evaluated options before selecting the most effective solution. As this machine will be fully operational at the customer’s site within weeks, I look forward to seeing it in-situ”.
For more details on how we can help improve efficiency in your manufacturing business, please contact us by calling Garreth at 071 911 8808 or emailing sales@KAONautomation.com.
Kristaps (Kris) Erglis is a Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at KAON. Kris who began his engineering career in his home country of Latvia before moving to Ireland, first worked for a company that made machines for the food processing and packaging industry before joining KAON in 2018. We asked him about life as a Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at KAON:
“The culture at KAON is different. The two co-founders, Garreth Finlay and Fergus Hynes, are hands-on engineers. It’s a very different dynamic to what I was used to before, and it makes for a very different work environment. The owners here actively participate in everything we do. Previously, I was used to a very clear management hierarchy – a management that you didn’t really interact with much. For me, this is definitely better because you see the direction that they want to go in and you see how hard they are working to make things progress. There is a connection between us, and you adopt the same mentality.”
“Work is never monotonous here. It’s not the same thing over and over again. I’ve designed machines for catheters, machines that make caps, syringes, ink cartridges and machines for consumer goods products and automotive products. I work with different types of circuits, with electromechanical solutions, with purely mechanical solutions, with different high-grade materials. We work with the latest technology in the market. The equipment that we used when I started five years ago would be considered completely obsolete today. You are constantly exposed to new technology. It is ever changing.”
Creating something new
“I really like making new things. The process of creating something new, at least in my eyes, is one of the most exciting things you can do at work. KAON provides me with these opportunities. It’s a great match. It just happens that I really enjoy doing the things that KAON are doing. I really like converting an idea into a physical thing. Pretty much what happens is Fergus and Garreth mastermind a concept of how a machine could work, and then they hand it over to me or to other senior engineers and we can work on that idea and suggest how best to convert it into a realised solution. There are currently five machines on our workshop floor, and I either was directly involved in the design or heavily involved in some other aspects of each of them.”
“I am currently working on a machine that will assemble microchips onto the ink cartridges for printers. This is our first big project for a new customer. With a new customer, it’s important to put our best foot forward, to show that we can deliver what they want, that we are easy to work with, that we are open to their suggestions, and that we want to fix their problems. Obviously, we want to showcase that we can do what they want because that promises further work in the future. We are hoping that this will grow into something bigger.
With this project, I’m taking a lead role, so I must coordinate work for other designers and work with project managers to make sure we are hitting the project milestones.”
“Roughly 20 per cent of my time involves directly providing support to my team. I would talk with them most days to see how they are getting on – if they are struggling with any issues, need assistance with a technical solution or with prioritising tasks. There would be management aspects, but there would also be technical aspects – correct methodologies. It’s not just telling them a solution but showing them the thought process – how you arrive at that solution. We both do it once or twice, and the third time they do it without my help.”
“It varies a lot from week to week, but Mondays are project days. We have 15-to-20-minute project meetings where we discuss open issues and targets that we want to hit during the week. If you have one project, you have one project meeting. If you have five projects, you have five project meetings. In most critical projects, we would also have morning design meetings for 15 minutes.”
“This week I also have four 1-to-1 meetings scheduled with my team. I have these once a month to talk about how they are getting on in general and help with any issues they may have. If there is anything they are struggling with I can then allocate time to work through it with them.
“The rest of the time is getting through design tasks – the most exciting part of my job. The breakdown is about20 per cent of the time dealing with the team, 20 per cent dealing with project managers or gathering information that might affect plans or targets, and 50 to 60 per cent on actual design work.”
“Another part of the senior engineer’s responsibilities would be to meet with clients and with other equipment suppliers. We design unique equipment ourselves, but we buy standard components from other suppliers – such as conveyance systems or feeding systems. You have to provide those suppliers with technical specifications and then supervise their design and build. It wouldn’t be uncommon to travel to their site to test equipment before it is accepted, sent to us and then we integrate it into our machines. As part of that process, I have been in Switzerland, the UK and China.”
There are very good machine building companies out there that specialise in certain sectors where all their clients might, for example, come from the pharmaceutical industry.
At KAON, we like specialisation too – like all engineers we value expertise – but we also like diversity.
And the fact that our clients come from across many sectors – including the pharmaceutical, automotive and consumer electronics worlds — means that no two projects are ever the same. When you are finished designing, programming, and building a fully-automated machine to make life-saving inhalers, for example, your next project will be something entirely different.
Different customers from different sectors means different requirements and different processes. In truth, it’s a Controls Engineer’s dream.
The spectrum of work is very broad, and there’s large variation in what we do. We have robots on our floor that are picking bags off conveyors and packing them into boxes at 60 parts per minute and then we have machines that make foam. In terms of the processes, there’s a huge amount of variation there.
We know controls engineers are used to programming cameras and robots but what the camera is looking at and what the robot is doing is wildly different from one project to the next at KAON – making foam is completely different from picking up a bag and putting it into a box. The learning never stops.
At any given time, there are 15 projects on the go at KAON. All different. All demanding. All stimulating. For one of our current projects, we have had to programme 40 unique processes!
Of course, it comes with stress. There’s a lot of customer expectation, but if you are a controls engineer, you would expect that. You know it’s worth it, because you’ve experienced the special rush of making a cutting-edge machine come to life. You know that delivering that to the customer is a huge source of satisfaction for an engineer.
KAON Automation specialises in not specialising. That’s what keeps us on our toes. That’s what makes us tick. All our builds have one thing in common though – they challenge you to be the best you can be every time you come to work.
If you like the sound of working with complete autonomy on complex and challenging projects, get in touch today. We have openings for senior controls engineers in Sligo and Cork. https://www.kaonautomation.com/careers/
As technological advances continue to push the boundaries of manufacturing engineering, modularity and more flexible systems are fast becoming the norm.
Technology is increasing the complexity of engineering challenges while simultaneously simplifying manufacturing operations.
This means that we are getting to build even more exciting machines using an array of cutting-edge technologies.
At KAON, we are currently in the final stages of a machine build that from a technology viewpoint is one of the biggest projects we’ve ever delivered and perfectly demonstrates the rapid changes in the sector.
Due to confidentiality, we cannot name the client we are working for, but we can say that we are doing full end-to-end automation on a production line for assembling a standard inhaler device.
However, it won’t be assembling standard inhaler devices for long. The machine must be able to handle different generations of products, including a new iteration of the inhaler which will be a smart device.
This has involved working with a broad mix of technologies, and our controls engineers have had to program for a remarkable 40 distinct process steps. By any standards, it is a significant piece of automation. As well as the smart device, the machine will be able to handle different generations of products. Building it has stretched our creativity, but it has been good to show that we have the capability.
The 40 process steps involved in this build include the following technologies:
Servo Pick & Place with vision guidance
3 x 6 axis robots
Multiple vision systems
Tray handling at pack out
2 colour pad printing with plasma treatment
Various feeding systems including vibrator feeders, spring feeders and strip feeders
Integrity testing using vision, flow and force checks
For any machine building engineer that is a mouth-watering array of technologies to work with.
The finished machine can assemble the inhaler (which involves fitting it with 10 parts), print the artwork and inspect the finished product at a rate of 30 parts per minute.
That is the beauty of working in manufacturing engineering at the moment, technology is driving the industry to ever more flexible manufacturing systems and challenging our engineering capabilities in the process.
For people who like a challenge, this is a gift that keeps on giving. We are creating solutions for our global clients that will enable them to deploy standardised, cost-effective solutions at all their locations around the world.
We are at a stage now where engineering theory becomes engineering reality in a heartbeat. Use cases are now starting to emerge for the machines we build to be linked directly into business intelligence systems as opposed to just manufacturing systems. This direct feed of better data will make for better business decisions.On a daily basis, we are creatively exploring new possibilities.
If you are excited by the sound of all that, we currently have open positions in Cork and Sligo for engineers who like a challenge.
At KAON, we know we are hiring at a difficult time – there are far more vacancies for engineers than there are engineers to fill them.
When candidates have such choice, they can hone in on what really matters to them for their careers. The salary, the culture, the career advancement opportunities, continuous learning opportunities, the working environment – all of these must be right to attract the right person.
At KAON, we firmly believe we have got them right. We pride ourselves on our culture, our working environment, and the way we reward our employees, but so do some other companies.
So, how do we differentiate ourselves among companies that offer good conditions, stimulating projects and a good working environment?
We believe a key differentiator is the range of exciting, innovative projects our engineers get to work on, and the fact that they sometimes get to adapt cutting-edge machinery in ways that even their manufacturers did not foresee.
We are using advanced technologies to solve complex engineering challenges.
What makes our work more challenging, and therefore more rewarding, is that no two KAON projects are the same because no two KAON clients are the same.
We work for clients across multiple sectors including pharmaceutical, consumer electronics and automotive. The range of industries we draw our clients from, and the distinct sector-related requirements they have of the machines we build, is directly linked to the exciting challenges our engineers get to tackle.
For that reason, we would love to be able to describe some of the transformative work we have done for our clients using incredible technology on projects that require the best of our creative minds.
Unfortunately, we can’t name names! These projects are so transformative for the business operations of our clients that they, quite rightly, don’t want their competitors to know about them, so we must sign non-disclosure agreements.
However, over the next few weeks and months, we plan to showcase – through blogs and videos – some of the projects that we are working on without breaking confidentiality but giving you a glimpse into the great work we are doing here at KAON.
In the meantime, if you want a peak behind the scenes and to get to actually work on these exciting projects, then get in touch and advance your engineering career in a company that specialises in exploring the art of the possible.
As teams are made of individuals with personalities, habits and points of view that don’t always align, the process of building one can be a challenge.
As one of the country’s fastest-growing engineering firms, we at KAON know all about building a team and ensuring that we work as individuals – and a cohesive unit.
We place fun at the centre of our team-building approach by hosting walks, tag rugby events, barbecues, parties, and other gatherings that keep employees connected, healthy and engaged.
In recent years KAON has doubled its workforce across two bases in both Cork and Sligo where we produce machines for the medical device, automotive, electronics and consumer goods industries – no easy feat given recent disruptions to the supply chain and widespread issues with the recruitment and retention of staff.
KAON believes engineering is the perfect metaphor for team building.
Many of the company’s projects focus on taking an array of disparate elements and making them work in harmony to achieve a goal. Teams are no different, with engineers offering insights informed by their own skills and unique backgrounds. Difference is their strength. This is what makes taking a project from concept to completion so exciting and rewarding for KAON.
When KAON staff aren’t fostering team spirit, they’re putting the benefits to good use on complex project work. Building machinery draws on all the essential elements that make up engineering expertise, including creativity and problem solving, a professional challenge that underpins the company’s high levels of job satisfaction.
One staff member recently revealed that the most rewarding aspects of their role included being involved with projects, peer-to-peer learning, and seeing feedback influence the actions of their superiors. This reinforces the key message for KAON staff: every staff member has a purpose and is valued.
KAON is always looking for new engineers to join its passionate team.
KAON was buzzing with excitement a few weeks ago as we welcomed more than 30 students from ATU Sligo to our facility at Collooney.
The Open Day for third and four-year engineering students, which took place on Friday October 21st, was the university’s first visit to our Sligo facility since the formation of Atlantic Technological University (ATU).
When they arrived on site, the students were given an overview of KAON by Aaron O’Hare, one of our Project Engineers, and Ihno Fehrendt, who is a Graduate Mechanical Design Engineer. They explained KAON’s processes and high standards, as well as procurement and the various post-pandemic challenges.
Students were given an insight into the machines KAON produce and how what we create helps people – another rewarding aspect of life at KAON.
Our team delivered an informative presentation that took the students through the product life cycle, from concept to delivery, while also touching on the importance of post-purchase customer feedback stages.
The students had a range of questions in the follow-up Q&A segment which kept Aaron and Ihno on their toes. The questions varied from topics like roles at KAON and career paths to product materials, procurement, and project turnaround times.
Afterwards, the discussion was followed up with a tour of the workshop, highlighting and demonstrating our various MedTech machines. On the tour, ATU’s students were given demonstrations of each machine as well as breakdowns of product design specifics.
It was a pleasure to see so many budding engineers at our facilities and we hope that someday they will be working their way through the ranks at KAON as we strive to deliver innovative and scalable automation solutions for leading manufacturing companies globally.
We hope to see some more aspiring engineers move through the ranks at KAON Automation in the future. If you’d like to learn more about KAON careers, visit our careers portal.
For some time now, we have been aware that KAON Automation had reached a stage of growth where we required an Operations Manager to help us to streamline our operations. We also knew that person had to be a fit with the positive, challenging work environment at KAON. So, in order to build our future, we reached out to our past.
Kieran Regan became Operations Manager at KAON in February 2022, having previously worked with KAON co-founders Garreth Finlay and Fergus Hynes in an automation company at the outset of all their careers.
Indeed, when they parted company it was for Garreth and Fergus to set up Automation Technology Services, which has since evolved into KAON, and for Kieran to join automotive manufacturing company MCI in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, where he gave Garreth and Fergus their first commission in their new company.
Kieran soon became Engineering Manager with MCI and stayed with them for 20 years, before KAON came calling. “MCI was a super company to work for, and I had a great relationship with everyone there,” he says. “But I was in a role I knew very well and felt that I was missing a challenge, even though I loved the company.”
Essentially, Kieran wanted to get into a pure engineering role rather than a manufacturing engineering role. “I wanted an operations engineering role with a lot more detail within the engineering process from design right through to completion and across the organisation,” he says. “I wanted to feel what that was like again and to be part of a company that was really growing. The excitement of the challenge was clearly there.”
While Kieran says that leaving MCI was one of the most difficult decisions he ever made, he is clear that it was the right decision for him. “The environment at KAON is exciting and challenging every day. I’ve had to relearn a language that I knew in the past. The language we use in largescale manufacturing is different than the language that is used in bespoke engineering production. This job is probably more challenging on a technical level, but that’s what I knew I was looking for,” he says.
“There was a level of creativity in my previous job from a continuous improvement perspective, but there is an essential requirement for creativity in the KAON process. It’s an engineering company at its core, so it’s creative by nature within the organisation. That’s what I love. It’s a positive, challenging atmosphere, and you see the process from birth, from creativity in design right through to the build coming to life and meeting customer expectations with success.”
Six months into his new role, Kieran is in the process of streamlining KAON operations. “The challenges I face would be around trying to streamline from a project management point of view the interactions between significant departments like electrical and mechanical design, and then when the design is complete, into the procurement phase, and then timing the procurement of components to the build phase of a project. The challenge of sequencing that with the constraints within material supply due to global supply chain issues is really significant but must be managed if we are to bring the business to the next level,” he says.
“It’s challenging, but it’s enjoyable. Above all else, work must be fun. It needs to be a supportive yet challenging environment. It’s got to be enjoyable, and it is at KAON.”
We currently have open positions across all disciplines for talented, motivated engineers in Sligo and Cork, so get in touch today if you are interested in working on the frontiers of what is possible in automation.
Creative thinking is helping us manage global supply chain issues
There are always challenges in complex engineering projects, but the challenge of not being able to acquire the components you need to build a manufacturing machine due to global supply chain issues is relatively new. At KAON, it has required us to think creatively about how we manage sourcing quality components while delivering our projects to the standards expected by our clients.
One thing we are doing is accepting a different level of inventory for key, sometimes high-value, components. We now hold items in stock that we didn’t like to see sitting on a shelf before, even if they have a six-month or a year-long lead time before being needed.
There is a risk involved in this, but where we know we are likely to use them in future projects, we need to know that we have them in stock. So, we’ve had to review what we considered commodities and consumable parts, and we’ve had to grow that list.
We’re also working very closely with our stakeholders – our customers and our suppliers – and being open with them about our situation. We have to be honest with them about exactly what the constraints are, and sometimes we can come up with creative solutions where they accept different types of components, alternative components, even ones that they might have availability on that we don’t have.
The point is we all have the same plight. We all want to execute the project effectively, and they know as well as we do that material supply is both a global challenge and a critical factor in the process. Working together on the solution is always the smart thing to do.
As a result of these changes, we’re also trying to get more streamlined in our procurement and stores area. We have hired a stores manager who is able to operate at a high level, and his organisation within the stores is going to have a significant impact on the way we receive and manage goods. It will ensure that our increased stock does not lead to us having obsolescence issues or damaged components, and that we have visibility on every part – that nothing gets lost in our organisation.
We know that global supply chain issues could be with us for some time. We still have some significant challenges to meet, but our customers have really come on board with us. They have the same supply chain issues that we have, so they know there are real issues, and they are working effectively with us.
It’s a challenging and frustrating environment, but it’s also an opportunity to think creatively and focus closely on how you manage such issues. We are seeing signs of success from that close focus and starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of the day, we are engineers, so we like challenges.