Behind the innovations: SMARTPM
AMM – What was the motivation to start developing METAFLEX?
José Castellanos, SMARTPM General Manager –
In the framework of our relationship with customers and partners, we detected an uncovered niche opportunity: the need to increase the capacity of certain equipment to work in an “unattended” way.
Many production managers feel that their machines are under-utilised, either because of problems in attracting and retaining talent, or because of the need to increase the available capacity of existing equipment. Add to this the existing constraints on investment in new machines, some with their own “palletising” system, and it was clear that there was a need in the market that we could fill with our process optimisation expertise.
And from that came the idea for METAFLEX that we have brought to the market: a smart pick & place and storage solution that can work flexibly with parts and tools, as well as different types of machines and controls at the same time that are already on the production floor, without the need to change them.
AMM – Can you tell us about the product development process, any anecdotes or stumbling blocks that got in the way?
SMARTPM – The development of the METAFLEX solution was carried out in collaboration with machine tool manufacturers and distributors in order to respond to specific needs and in turn maximise the customer’s ROI.
The truth is that the development has been very targeted and fast, so we have not encountered any “stones” along the way.
As an anecdote, we could tell you that the process of selecting the brand for this family of products was not easy, because we were clear that the name had to “tell” something and also convey the concept of flexibility-autonomy that the product provides. In the end, based on an internal competition, several ideas came up and we chose the tandem META-FLEX: META because it is a word that in Basque means “heap” or “pile” and FLEX for flexibility.
AMM- What is the technology behind this innovation?
SMARTPM – METAFLEX is driven by two innovation levers:
(a) On the one hand MIC, our own software platform for automation (Manufacturing Intelligence Core). This open automation system has been developed from SMARTPM’s process and metrology know-how and is key to the autonomy and flexibility of the solution. It allows integrating different equipment, designing, executing and controlling workflows autonomously, improving the capacity for unattended operation and thus productivity.
b) And on the other hand, a need-driven design: it stems from the experience of both the workshop and the implementations carried out by machine tool manufacturers and distributors with other solutions. This has allowed us to approach the design with perspective and oriented towards robustness, flexibility and, very importantly, ease of implementation.
AMM – What are the main advantages of this innovative product, what needs does it cover and how can it improve the life of companies?
SMARTPM – As I mentioned earlier, the focus is on increasing the unattended operation of manufacturing and inspection equipment, managing the input-output of parts and references, process planning, traceability and programme management without the need for a continuous operator at the machine.
Thus, depending on the cycle times of the references, the size of the warehouse and the life cycle of the tools, the METAFLEX solution can provide up to 48 hours of autonomous operation.
It was clear to us that customers needed a pragmatic and fast solution that would bring clear improvements to common machining problems. That’s why it has been developed to deliver even more benefits:
- Ease of use with intuitive operation and user-friendly user interface.
- Start-up with minimal impact on the customer.
- It is a scalable solution, capable of accompanying companies in their growth process. It has 3 combinable models: METAFLEX150 to work with parts up to 150 kg, METAFLEX300 for loads up to 300 kg and METAFLEX1500 for higher loads up to 1,500 kg.
- Flexibility: it allows not only to work with equipment from different suppliers and with different controls, but also to manage flows of multiple references and series up to single parts.
AMM – Which industries is the innovation mainly aimed at?
SMARTPM – The METAFLEX intelligent storage system is mainly aimed at improving the productivity of machining processes, and therefore has a direct impact on sectors such as automotive, aeronautics, machine tools, etc.
Another advantage is that it is a valid solution both for workshops that already have a certain degree of automation in their processes and for those that do not. Thanks to its compact design, METAFLEX is perfect for taking the first step towards industrial automation, easily manageable and in a limited form.
AMM – What are the main obstacles faced by a company that wants to develop an innovative product?
SMARTPM – The key is to have time and an internal culture of innovation. Being able to get out of the day-to-day to “design” a solution that responds to what customers tell us and to dedicate resources, time and money is the most complex thing.
Launching a new product is complex and requires a lot of investment and also a bit of luck to achieve the desired objectives. It is also very important to adapt to the evolution of companies, adapting the proposal to what they need today, but in such a way that it will also contribute in the future.
In this sense, in 2021 we launched FACTORY Lab, a real manufacturing infrastructure where we test the solutions we develop, with real parts and real levels of demand. It is an innovative and collaborative facility that houses automated cells in which we have implemented different manufacturing, control and robotics equipment from partner companies.
We have recently renewed our website and in it we offer resources on automation and industry, all the information about METAFLEX and the rest of our solutions and services. We also offer the possibility of requesting personalised demonstrations.
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