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“Work must be fun”, says Kieran Regan, KAON’s new Operations Manager

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

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.

Building machinery of the future today

Manufacturing is changing beyond recognition as technology pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved. In recent years, exceptional new products have revolutionised the sector, but not every product fits within a standard platform.

At KAON Automation we implement ground-breaking change by providing custom-designed automation solutions to leading manufacturing companies. We take standard components from the best suppliers on the market and build high-quality machines that integrate those components into manufacturing operations across the medical device, automotive and electronic sectors.

The work is complex, challenging and stimulating. Developing a use case for ACOPOStrak from B&R is a case in point. We recently integrated this flexible track system into the operations of a multinational healthcare company for the production of filled medical solution drip bags. The bags needed a connector attached and had to be filled with a solution to an accurate repeatable rate, then sealed and packaged at a rate of 80ppm.

The main requirement for the client was that the track system was completely flexible at every point in the process and suitable for use in a wet application. ACOPOStrak provides that flexibility, marking a seismic shift in a production process that had hitherto adhered to a fixed linear sequence. This scalable machinery allows manufacturing companies to merge and diverge product flows while providing the capacity for parallel processing and a reduced footprint.

As a result, our client has an agile and responsive manufacturing machine designed around their process rather than having to design their process around the limitations of machinery as was the case in the recent past.

When it goes live in December 2021, we will have worked with the client on transforming their operations from fully manual in 2018 to being fully automated and flexible. Essentially, we are building machinery of the future today, machinery that allows immense freedom in the manufacturing process.

We are now about to enter the build phase for a new green field manufacturing site where we will be using another new technology from B&R called ACOPOS6D in what is the first implementation of this transformative technology in Ireland. With ACOPOS6D, magnetic levitating shuttles move individual products through the machine, allowing swarm production and frequent changeover between products of varying designs and dimensions.

KAON will be showcasing ACOPOS6D at the National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Conference & Exhibition at the RDS in Dublin on November 23rd and 24th.

We currently have open positions 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.

Increased output and OEE > 90%

ATS is at the forefront of improving productivity and making efficiency savings for the medical device industry.

This was demonstrated by the recent design and installation of a new machine which significantly increased productivity for ATS’s customer while also automating an existing manual process. To do this we were first user in the UK or Ireland of a new transport platform – SuperTrak.

SuperTrak, is from leading equipment manufacturer B&R.

Garreth Finlay, Sales Director at ATS, said: “The machine was to replace a 24/7 manual process with a fully automated process. In addition, the specification required the output to increase from 45 parts per minute to 75 parts per minute.

“We explored multiple solutions including fixed transport systems and modular linear systems. The chosen solution, however, was a track system built using the SuperTrak platform.”

The end result exceeded the client’s requirements and achieved an Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) in excess of 90 percent at FAT (Factory Acceptance Test).

Innovations Day

ATS presented the successful implementation of the SuperTrak solution at the B&R Innovations Day which took place at the Williams F1 Conference Centre in Oxfordshire and was attended by around 150 professionals in the machine building industry.

If you would like to know more about this solution and how it could potentially improve your company’s productivity, please contact us.

ABB announce new generation of industrial robots

Swiss based robotic manufacturer and ATS supplier, ABB is to launch a new generation of industrial robots designed to provide users with more flexibility and a better return on investment.

The new machines, due to be released before 2021, will replace most of ABB’s existing portfolio, and will double the size of the company’s range.  At the recent Automatica exhibition in Germany, ABB announced the new portfolio as well as several other developments, including:

  • a new generation of robot controllers with footprints 50% smaller than existing models;
  • the world’s first common interface for collaborative robots, developed jointly with Kawasaki;
  • a condition monitoring and diagnostics application that uses machine learning to detect behavioural anomalies in robots and offers guidance on predictive maintenance and optimisation;
  • the world’s first digitally connected paint atomiser that will allow car-makers to optimise robotic painting in real time, while reducing waste by 75% and compressed air consumption by 25%;
  • a single-arm version of its YuMi two-armed collaborative robot (cobot); and
  • its SafeMove 2 software which, it claims, can turn any robot into a cobot.

Industrial robot sales up 29 %

Global sales of industrial robots reach new record high.

Initial findings of the World Robotics Report 2018, published by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), show global sales of industrial robots reached the new record of 380,550 units in 2017.

That is an increase of 29 percent compared to the previous year. China saw the largest growth in demand for industrial robots, up 58 percent. Sales in the USA increased by 6 percent and in Germany by 8 percent compared to the previous year.

Broken down by industry, the automotive industry continues to lead global demand for industrial robots: In 2017, around 125,200 units were sold in this segment – equivalent to growth of 21 percent. The strongest growth sectors in 2017 were the metal industry (+54 percent), the electrical/electronics industry (+27 percent) and the food industry (+19 percent).

In the course of digitalisation, real production is becoming increasingly connected with the virtual data world, opening up completely new possibilities for analysis – right through to machine learning. Robots will acquire new skills through learning processes. At the same time, the industry is working to simplify the handling of robots. In the future industrial robots should be easier and faster to program using intuitive procedures. Such a technology is not only attractive to established users, but also to small and medium-sized companies, for example, companies who can use it to introduce automation without the need for highly experienced or expert personnel. This development also paves the way for the third major robotics trend: collaboration between humans and robots without protective barriers offers new approaches to new flexible production processes. In the future human-robot collaboration will support the flexible production of small quantities with high complexity.

Launch of Atlantic MedTech Cluster

ATS is one of eight indigenous MedTech specialist companies that have formed an innovative business cluster to promote Ireland as a global centre of excellence for the industry.

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