Flex Base 18

Engineering School to Receive Donated Automation Platforms With Safety Switches

Oct. 5, 2023
Automationnth and Pilz partner in donating modular automation cells to Middle Tennessee State University for new mechatronics engineering laboratory.

What does the customer that manufactures medical devices do with 10 FLEXBASE modular automation platforms that it no longer needs? They teamed up with Automationnth to help donate them to Middle Tennessee State University. Assisting with the project by supplying safety switches was Pilz Automation Safety L.P. in Canton, Michigan.

Located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, MTSU uses one of the platforms, called the atrium cell. It is currently housed in the Voorhies Engineering Technology Building but will eventually be in the atrium of the new Applied Engineering Building. The other nine will be installed in the new Applied Engineering Building once completed. The university celebrated the groundbreaking ceremony for the new building in late June.

Chris Secrest, project manager for LaVergne, Tennessee-based AutomationNTH, said the atrium cell is a “show machine” for MTSU that is portable, enabling the university to take it to various events, such as student seminars and job fairs. “We installed an Epson SCARA robot on it, and it picks some marbles as fast as it can to spell out MTSU and then unloads them back into a magazine and starts over.”

MTSU plans to use nine bases to create three closed-loop assembly lines in the new building’s automation laboratory for use in a variety of applications, including student research, senior projects, and PLC classes, Secrest explained. The company received architectural drawings of the new building to help lay out the automation laboratory. “The new building is going to be a big step up for them, bringing them to modern industry standards. It’s a big accomplishment for the university,” Secrest added.

The atrium cell features a four-foot-long FLEXBASE while the assembly lines will have both four-foot-long and six-foot-long bases, with conveyors connecting the bases together. At the end of each assembly line will be an elevator system to enable the vehicles that travel on the conveyors to run in a clockwise pattern, Secrest said. “They will go across the tabletop, enter the elevator, go down, go back, go up and enter the elevator, go up, and make one continuous loop.”

Each base will have one or two workstations, where the vehicle stops and a robot performs work on the vehicle before it continues along the conveyor, he added.

In addition to robots, conveyors, and other automation equipment, safety switches are needed for the FLEXBASE automation platforms and Automationnth turned to Pilz Automation Safety, its long-time source for the PSENcode safety switch, said Joseph Redden, Territory Manager for Pilz. “This has been the key product that they purchase from us. The safety switch has a slim line design and provides a magnetic latching force of 30 N to keep a door closed”, Redden noted. “They don’t have to have another latch on their doors. It’s an all-in-one, nice, neat little package.”

The safety switch does not lock a door, he explained but indicates if a door is open or shut. “If the door is shut, the equipment runs, and if you open the door, it shuts off.” In other words, the automation equipment will come to a complete stop when someone opens a door with a safety switch.

In total, the FLEXBASE systems for MTSU require about thirty-eight PSENcode safety switches, Secrest said. Because Automationnth regularly purchases the safety switches from Pilz, it only needed to purchase a few additional switches for the project.

The FLEXBASE systems have been delivered to MTSU and are mostly in storage until the AEB is completed. In the meantime, AutomationNTH recently provided some hands-on training for some of MTSU’s faculty, Secrest said. Once the new building is ready and the university moves the bases into the automation laboratory, Automationnth will level them, tie the conveyors together, and power them up too. “We will certainly be playing a big part in that, providing some on-site overview, training, and documentation.”

On a personal note, Secrest added that he graduated from the mechatronics engineering program at MTSU when it was relatively new, and at least a dozen engineers at Automationnth graduated from the program as well. “I’m happy to be part of the project as MTSU is my alma mater. It’s a good way of putting our name out there and giving back to the university.”

Redden stated, “This shows that Pilz is a leader in safety automation, and we also realize that we are a part of the communities in which we serve. We were pleased to be able to be part of this project and share our safety automation technology and knowledge.”

For 75 years Pilz has been a supplier of products, systems, and services for automation technology. Today the Pilz Group employs around 2,500 staff in 42 subsidiaries and branches globally. As the pioneer of safe automation, Pilz creates safety worldwide for man, machine,  and environment with its complete automation solutions. The portfolio of the technology leader includes sensor, control, and drive technology, as well as systems for industrial communication, diagnostics, and visualization. An international range of services with consultancy, engineering, and training completes the offer. Safety and security solutions are used in many industries beyond mechanical engineering, such as intralogistics, railway technology, or the robotics sector, for example. Pilz US is headquartered in Canton, Michigan.

Founded in 1999, Automationnthis an award-winning company with a mission to make manufacturers globally competitive through world-class automation systems. The company develops automation solutions, delivers high-performing turnkey custom automation equipment, and drives continuous improvement after equipment is installed. Its partnership with manufacturers through its full automation lifecycle generates a superior return on investment in automation. Automationnth is headquartered in Nashville, TN with an office in San Diego, CA.