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Industrial Vacuum System

Solar Setback

The Challenge

Manual processing of polymer solar thermal heating headers was labor-intensive and inefficient.

Our client, the largest U.S. manufacturer of low- and intermediate-temperature polymer solar thermal heating systems, faced significant inefficiencies in their production process.

To provide some context for the application: each solar heating panel assembly consists of a flat, extruded plastic panel with numerous small tubes for water circulation. These panels are terminated by headers that supply cool water and return heated water.

For years, the client manually fed these headers into an operator-tended lathe to chamfer and groove each end. The lathe required the operator to flip the header and reconfigure it for different lengths, adding to the complexity and time consumption. The client needed an automated solution to streamline this process, taking extruded material directly from the extrusion line, grooving, chamfering, and trimming parts into completed headers for the next assembly stage.

The end of a machined header for a solar thermal heating system.

Getting Into the Groove

The Solution

Advanced automation meets seamless integration for enhanced production efficiency.

Zaic Design engineered a fully automated grooving machine to address the client’s challenges. The machine boasts a range of features designed for precision, safety, and efficiency:

Pick and Place Grippers: These grippers handle headers for precise chucking.

Conveyor Systems: Incoming and outgoing conveyors handle parts seamlessly, integrating with the existing extrusion line.

Length Inspection: Photo eye sensors ensure each header meets length tolerances before processing.

User Interface: Operators can select pre-set recipes via an HMI screen, accommodating 16 varieties of headers.

Safety Enclosure: Enclosed with vertical polycarbonate panels, the machine features sliding doors with interlocks for safe access.

Pneumatic Chucks: Automatically engage with headers using expanding collets for a secure grip. Automatically engage with headers using expanding collets for a secure grip.

Grooving, Chamfering, and Trimming: Dual servo-controlled cross slides manage the machining process, breaking long chips and preventing tangles.

Process Control Sensors: A sensor array monitors the process, ensuring smooth operation and compliance with specifications.

Chip Evacuation: Integrated tubes connect to an industrial vacuum system to remove chips as they form.

The Zaic Design system accepts header tubes of 1’, 2’, 3’ and 4’ in both 1.5” diameter and 2.0” diameters.

The system automatically detects the header size. Integrated conveyors and a pick and place system then move the header into place for machining operations.

After machining, a second gripper is ready to pick up the finished header and move it to an outgoing conveyor.

Solar Satisfaction

The Outcome

Radiant Results: 30,000 Headers and Counting.

The automated grooving machine has dramatically improved the client’s production efficiency. It maintains the processing speed required to keep up with the extrusion machine, having grooved over 30,000 headers since installation.

The client praised the quality and consistency of the headers, stating, “I have to say I am very impressed. These headers are beautiful!”

The servo controlled cross-slide machining location and the headstock chuck ‘waiting’ for a new header.

A new header after being dropped into position by the gripper. An auto tail stock mechanism has positioned it to be secured for machining.

Pneumatic chucks mounted to the headstock and tailstock spindles have automatically engaged with a header. They are gripping the internal diameter with expanding collets.

A header has completed its machining operations. After the chuck disengages it will be lifted by a gripper mounted to the pick and place and will be placed onto the outgoing conveyor.

Smoothing the Path
to Solar Efficiency

Client Testimonial

Enhancing the process for an even brighter future.

While the automated grooving machine has brought substantial improvements, there is still room for enhancement. The extrusion line feeding the grooving machine currently incorporates a chopping saw that leaves large burrs on the header sections. These burrs can occasionally disrupt the smooth operation of the grooving machine. To address this, we are designing an update to the chopping saw to improve the cut quality, ensuring even smoother and more efficient operation. This next step aims to further optimize the manufacturing process, reducing downtime and increasing overall reliability.

Our dedication to innovation and excellence makes Zaic Design a strategic partner for companies aiming to transform their manufacturing capabilities and gain a competitive edge in the global market.

Optimize your manufacturing processes with custom automation solutions tailored to meet the unique challenges of your industry.

Schedule your free consultation today and take the first step towards transforming your production capabilities.

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