Clip Installation FAQs
Clip attachments are a novel way to assemble removable parts together where you don’t need the higher strength or cost of threaded fasteners. Clips are used anywhere a light-duty, low-load panel, cover or fastening point is needed. Common applications span the automotive, medical equipment, consumer appliance, electronics and commercial machinery industries. In automotive manufacturing alone, clips are used to attach all types of trim panels, framed fabrics, bezels, light diffusers, wire harnesses, aesthetic accessories and much more. Similar applications outside of automotive include side panels for laundry appliances, screen bezels around TVs and bump guards on medical crash carts.
By their design, clips rely on friction, compression, tension or shear interference to make their connections. Given the forces and temperatures involved with automotive applications, typically only friction and edge shear connection styles made of metal or high-density plastic clip materials are acceptable. That leaves us with the most common types of clips used in automotive applications as arrowhead, fir tree, edge bite, pinch, ring, stud-mount and wire retainer clip types. Over the long history of the auto industry, vehicle OEMs have designed thousands of unique clip designs and hundreds of naming conventions, so don’t be surprised if any of these types don’t sound familiar: You might just know them by another name.
Automated clip installation machines mechanize the placement and insertion of clips. Instead of manual processes, clip machines use robotic fixtures and tooling to hold clips, orient them to their connection points on an assembly, move and press the clips into position, and confirm that the clips are properly attached upon completion. Advanced sensors and motion actuators align and press clips into place precisely to specification, and can print off quality control reports afterward that document that these specifications were fully achieved.
Modern automated clip attachment machines can complete hundreds of clip insertions each hour, around the clock and with limited human involvement. PLC-controlled clipping sequences and onboard sensors ensure that clips are inserted correctly, catching any rare mis-installations immediately to avoid downstream rework. Operators can load machines very quickly, allowing one operator to manage multiple machines concurrently. And as production requirements change, automated clip machines can be easily reconfigured to work with updated clip styles, part layouts, production rates and design complexities (such as adding ultrasonic staking capabilities).
Poka-yoke protections are extra steps added to a production process that seek to make errors impossible or near impossible. For automatic clip machines, there are a few key ways to automate out errors. Two-handed start buttons are used to assure that operators have both hands out of harm’s way before starting up a machine. Magnetic clip holders and clip position sensors make sure that all clips are loaded before starting insertion, as well as confirm clips are properly inserted upon completion. Lastly, motion interlocks are included to automatically halt the machine if any unexpected resistance, movement or other adverse conditions are detected.
Glue Dispensing FAQs
In general, any industrial glue that maintains flowability under controllable conditions can be automatically dispensed. Adhesives that start curing only once a specific parameter is met are the best candidates, such as through the introduction of air, moisture, UV light, a catalyzing compound or the removal of heat. Resins, epoxies, silicones and polyurethanes are common choices. Dispensing equipment can then be designed around the ability to restrict or introduce the condition that initiates curing. Less controllable adhesives that react randomly tend to plug up dispensing equipment and are better suited for manual application.
Adhesive dispensing systems typically consist of three main subsystems serving specific functions: melting, application and curing. Raw adhesive comes in either liquid or solid forms and is added into the melter to heat up into a consistent, flowable glue. This glue is then pumped to the dispenser which positions, meters and applies the glue onto the part. Once applied and the parts are joined, the curing fixture directs UV light at the glue locations to immediately bring them to full strength.
Absolutely! In fact, using an automated system to melt, store, distribute and apply hot melt glue is strongly preferred over manual handling in nearly all production-scale applications. Automatic hot melt systems are routinely incorporated into manufacturing lines with the specific goals of improving safety, dose volume, position and consistency. Automated machines can not only accurately dispense glue, but can also control precise details such as the volume, path, width, height and pattern of glue applied.
A very wide range of consumer and industrial products rely on adhesives during their assembly, and for more than just gluing parts together. In addition to joining separate pieces of an assembly, industrial glues are also used to fill void spaces, encapsulate sensitive parts, isolate electrical circuits, seal joints, form protective coatings and films, and even serve as flexible, absorptive cushions between components. Products that need any of these features while also minimizing weight, complexity and cost utilize glue at some point during assembly.
Designing industrial glue dispensing machines works best when system integrators and clients collaborate very closely. AMS’s 17-step automation process walks our clients through all of the details needed to ensure success, starting with upfront data gathering, pilot testing and adhesive comparisons, through final commissioning and production runs. When setting out to acquire an automatic glue machine, we encourage clients to compile their project specifications and expectations, and then engage us in a discovery meeting where we can provide early feasibility feedback.
Yes. One great thing about industrial adhesives is that they are engineered materials with very consistent viscosity, density, temperature and pressure specifications. For this reason, we can provide advanced systems to pump, dispense and cure adhesives automatically. Robotic positioners can automatically move the dispensing fixture to precise locations, applying tiny dots or long beads of adhesives exactly where they’re needed. PLC controls and in-process instrumentation further enhance automated glue dispensing, verifying that the glue dispenses correctly and repeatably over long production runs.
While we use the term “glue” most often, this simple name hides the fact that industrial adhesives are engineered polymers designed to undergo specific chemical reactions in order to form a bond. When properly selected for the materials to be joined, UV-curable glues can be placed on the parts and no reaction will occur, providing flexibility and control to the joining process. Once ready, UV lights can be activated, which instantly catalyze the polymers and drive the chemical reaction to full strength. UV curing in this manner can be performed automatically when incorporated into an automated glue dispensing system.
Leak Testing FAQs
Vacuum leak testing is a highly accurate method of checking for liquid or gas leakage in manufactured products. Parts to be tested are placed in a sealed chamber, all air is evacuated out of the chamber and precision instruments monitor for any changes in the chamber’s vacuum level that would indicate a leak.
Many manufactured products must conform to a permissible leakage specification; that is, a defined acceptable amount of free-flowing material (such as water or compressed air) that may pass into or out of a product. A leak detection test is a technical procedure that exposes the product to pressure or vacuum conditions, checking to assure that the leakage specification is met.
A very large range of both consumer and industrial products require leak testing as part of final quality control inspections. Medical implants, automotive containers, microelectronics, emergency response equipment and all types of sterile packaging are just a few examples. In general, any product that would be contaminated or irreparably damaged by foreign objects making their way in or out is a perfect candidate for leak testing.
There are several primary methods for leak testing manufactured products, each offering a balance of resolution and time to complete. Among the various methods, air leak testing can be performed as quickly as a few seconds or take up to a few hours. The cycle time for air leak testing relies heavily on the size part that is being tested, the pressure requirements for the test, and the amount of time and allowable rate of leakage the part can see.
Absolutely! Leak testing can be performed in a semi-automated or fully automated manner, depending on the cost, speed, accuracy and test parameters desired. As an example, AMS’s LT-201 system offers a great entry point into benchtop leak testing using a highly accurate electronic test controller to run, record and verify test results. Our larger LT-401 system is a highly automated, PLC-controlled leak testing station complete with actuated fixtures, automatic port connections, poka-yoke verification and regulatory-compliant documentation output.
Nut Insertion FAQs
Thermoplastics, thermosets and other polymeric materials are great for light-duty applications, but do not perform well under compression or shear loads. That is to say, bolting or screwing plastics together using threaded fasteners often leads to damaging the plastics beyond repair. Many plastics in fact are too soft or too brittle to have threads tapped into them to begin with. To address these issues, threaded inserts are used to add threaded connection points to plastics as a means of gaining higher fastening strengths than could be achieved otherwise.
Installing threaded inserts into plastic parts starts with a cursory review of the materials involved. Different threaded inserts work best with various plastic types, and are further selected based on the temperature, load rating, life expectancy and operating conditions of the parts in question. Depending on the different criteria described above, the best threaded insert style can be chosen, ranging from press-in, mold-in, self-tapping, ultrasonic and heat insertion methods.
Certain plastics are not conducive to having threaded inserts molded into their bodies during forming. In these cases, inserts can be installed using a post-process procedure in order to protect the base plastic materials, though this can also be done as a cheaper alternative to cast-in insertion when high-strength fastening is not needed. In addition, common variances in the plastic-forming process can leave small dimensional differences between parts, and post-process thread insertion can adjust as needed around these variances.
Threaded inserts should be selected through careful consideration of the material types involved and the fastening load ratings desired. In particular, threaded inserts are rated by their pull-out strength, torsional strength, shear strength and thermal expansion coefficient – all of which are technical details that govern how well (or poorly) the insert will perform while in use. The higher resilience expected, the larger the insert needed and the higher the cost. Beyond the insert itself, there are more considerations around how the insert will be installed as well, including details such as the density and deformation resistance of the base plastic, insertion force, insertion temperature (for hot-press and ultrasonic inserts) and insertion speed.
Adding threaded inserts to plastic parts is a great way to obtain high-strength fastening points in otherwise soft, pliable plastic materials. Brittle, dense plastics usually prefer self-tapping inserts installed after initial forming, whereas lower-density plastics prefer mold-in inserts that can be directly cast in place while the plastic part is being formed. Vacuum cast and 3D printed thermoplastic parts often prefer cold-press or hot-press inserts, including ultrasonic inserts.
Heat staking – or inserting threaded nuts into a plastic base material using heat – is an excellent way to add high-strength threaded connections to plastic assemblies. Knurled nut inserts are pressed into pre-drilled holes in the plastic base, with the press arm adding a small amount of heat to deform and melt the plastic into the insert’s knurled profile. This fuses the insert into the plastic base, offering great resistance to pull-out and torsional failure. In addition to knurled nuts, other common styles include groove nuts, O-ring sealing nuts, smooth wall nuts and expansion nuts.
Proper heat-staking relies on several key factors: uniform heat distribution, very precise temperature, smooth insertion speed, accurate surface alignment and tightly controlled cooling while maintaining insertion pressure. Though using a soldering iron may work to a degree, this method is not able to achieve and repeatably control all of these technical factors mentioned above. In order to attain high-quality, completely fused, consistent results, a proper heat-staking machine or station is strongly recommended.
Plastic Assembly FAQs
Depending on the plastic materials being welded, one of several plastic welding methods can be used. Ultrasonic welding, hot air welding, infrared welding, friction welding, spin welding and laser welding are popular methods in industrial manufacturing. Most of these methods can be performed manually or via automated systems.
Plastic welding is a category of fabrication techniques that joins two separate pieces of plastic by fusing them together at the molecular level. There are many different methods of welding plastics together, varying by the plastic materials and connection shapes at hand. In general, plastic welding uses heat, force or chemical reactions to soften and fuse separate objects together.
Ultrasonic welding is a joining method that utilizes high-frequency vibrations transmitted into specific plastic or metal components, fusing them together at the molecular level. These vibrations are emitted by a sonotrode at frequencies between 15kHz and 70kHz: high enough to induce localized melting of the separate materials together, but in a very precise and well-controlled manner. The vibrations induce friction between materials, which in turn create just enough heat to melt and intermingle the separate materials together. Once cooled, the weld joint is fully formed.
Due to the friction during the Ultrasonic welding process, debris can sometimes form around the welding areas. Materials that are less brittle and have lower melting points often produce little to no debris, whereas parts made of brittle materials with complex joint geometries can produce debris or flash.
While part of the answer depends on what component is in question, generally speaking, ultrasonic plastic welding is the ideal choice for joining two plastic components of the same materials. Plastic welding can form stronger, longer lasting bonds than adhesives, often at a lower cost per joint (since you’re not purchasing consumable glue materials). That said, some light-duty trim, cosmetic and fabric components will be better suited to gluing for simplicity and cost reasons. We suggest contacting us to review and advise on the best solution for your application.
A wide array of plastic and metal materials can be ultrasonically welded. Thermoplastics with a crystalline molecular structure are the most common choices, including acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polyphenylene oxide (PPO), polystyrene (GPPS) and polyethylene (PE). Metallic choices include soft metals such as aluminum, copper and brass.
Ultrasonic welding uses vibration to melt the molecular structures of separate materials together into a single piece. As such, the molecular structures of materials being fused together must be both very similar and structurally compatible, not to mention that they must melt and cool at approximately the same temperature range. While sonic welding of a metallic material into a separate plastic material is possible in some cases, this is usually not a commercially viable fabrication method.
Joining plastic components together using ultrasonic welding is a very reliable, cost-effective fabrication technique used widely in industrial manufacturing. Sonic welding is the preferred joining method for countless medical, automotive, consumer goods, electronics and packaging applications.
Compatible, non-structural plastic materials can be optimally joined using ultrasonic welding. This fabrication method uses a vibrating horn (or sonotrode) to transmit physical, mechanical oscillations into plastic materials, melting them together until they form a solid bond.
Ultrasonic welding thermoplastics can be highly successful when welding two materials of the same plastic material. However, in some cases, ultrasonic welding can also be viable for welding two different materials together. These dissimilar plastics must have compatible molecular structures and melting temperatures, determined through testing to ensure their weldability. Ultrasonic frequencies and clamp pressures must also be determined for each application. When in doubt, contact us to confirm compatibility of your different plastic materials.
We will work closely with you from product concept stages through production. Along the way, we’ll refine your process to achieve the best plastic assembly results. Our services include concept sketches, prototypes, testing, formal CAD drawings, production tooling and complete systems installation and startup support. Count on us to help you select the best plastic materials and develop the optimum welding joint design, too. We test every solution in our on-site application development lab.
Trust AMS and our proven 17-step process to deliver your project on time and within budget. You won’t be kept in the dark: As a true partner, we update you every step of the way with frequent and consistent communication. Make AMS your first-choice plastic assembly partner today.
Automated plastic assembly machines we design and build for clients include:
- Heat staking machines
- Ultrasonic sealing machines
- Continuous ultrasonic welding
Clients use their AMS machines for:
- Ultrasonic spot welding
- Ultrasonic plastic welding
- Textile welding
- Welding plastic
- Ultrasonic welding polyurethane
- Ultrasonic welding horn design
- Ultrasonic welding temperature
If you’re searching for plastic joining processes such as spot welders, spin welders, or other welding plastic technologies, contact us for a complimentary application review.
Precision Fastening FAQs
Short of welding, the precise fastening of separate metal or plastic plates can best be achieved by threaded fasteners. Using semi-automated or fully automated precision fastening systems to install threaded screws, bolts, nuts and similar fasteners, metal plates can be securely fastened together. Not only can these systems attain extremely accurate torque and depth values, but they can also speed up overall production immensely thanks to robotic positioning, integral quality control instrumentation, automatic record document creation and many more options.
Sure can! Automated screwdriving comes in two flavors: semi-automated and fully automated. Both solutions utilize motorized screwdriver spindles that drive fasteners to precise torque and depth specifications. Semi-automated screwdrivers are typically hand-guided by a human operator, whereas fully automated screwdrivers are positioned by multi-axis or linear robotics. You can even automate fastener feeding, bit change-out, quality control documentation and other support functions.
In the same way that an automated screwdriver installs threaded male fasteners using a driver bit, an automated nutrunner installs threaded female fasteners such as hex nuts using socket fittings. Most commonly, nut runners are used to place and torque down nuts over protruding screws, bolts and threaded studs during the assembly of manufactured parts. Nutrunners grip their fasteners around the outside head perimeter (by physical grippers or by vacuum), making them able to install capped screws by grabbing their heads as well. A fully automated nutrunner uses logic and motor controllers, robotic positioning, quality control instruments and safety protection devices to fasten nuts by machine. You might also know a nutrunner by another name: automatic torque wrench.
Both an impact wrench and a nutrunner are motorized rotary tools used to thread hardware fasteners with minimal human effort. A nutrunner delivers smooth, high-speed rotation. It is used to install threaded nuts quickly up to a target torque value. An impact wrench is used to forcefully uninstall threaded nuts, using an internal hammer mechanism to repeatedly strike the drive end as it rotates in order to loosen torqued nuts from their studs. Said another way, a nutrunner looks to achieve a high torque value, and an impact wrench looks to overcome a high torque load.
Automated screw driving entails a few key steps: bit setting, fastener feeding, positioning, screw driving, torque checking and tool retraction. Once a bit is installed into the driver, it can drive multiple similar fasteners sequentially, or it can change bits and switch to driving a different style fastener, all automatically. Additional steps can be added to the process including precision multi-axis alignment using optical sensors, photo inspection and validation, and more.
Handheld screwdrivers require manual positioning, whereas a spindle screwdriver can be automatically positioned using robotic or actuated fixturing. So, the answer comes down to production requirements such as how often the driver is used, how difficult the part is to work with, required torque accuracy and how ergonomic the application is overall. Handheld powered screwdrivers are great for low-volume, bench-top work with nominal torque accuracy requirements, whereas automatic spindle screwdrivers are preferred for production-level manufacturing with tight-tolerance torque and positioning requirements.
We do! AMS is a premier manufacturer of automated precision fastening systems, serving the automotive, plastics, medical device, consumer goods, electronics and related industries. OEMs from all of these markets and more trust AMS to design, build, deploy and commission automated screwdriving and nutrunning assembly systems such as our PF-201 (semi-automated) and PF-401 (fully automated) platforms.
Automated nutrunning machines are industrial manufacturing systems that install threaded nuts over stud fasteners with minimal human effort. Nutrunner machines can position, screw down and torque nuts during the production of manufactured assemblies. A wide array of manufactured products depends on nutrunner machines, spanning medical device, automotive, electronic and many more applications. Human operators only need to load and unload the machine, and the automatic precision fastening system does the rest.
Automated fastening can be described as the installation of threaded fasteners using motorized screwdrivers and nutrunners, coupled with some level of electronic control over the position, torque, travel depth and RPM of the drivers. Single or multiple drivers can be operated within a single system, all of which can contour to different fastener locations, angles and positions around assemblies with complex shapes. Automated fastening also provides tangible safety, quality control and data acquisition features alongside the fastening process. Where semi-automated fastening involves a human operator to work the powered drivers, fully automated fastening needs no human operator as robotics handle the drivers directly.
In traditional manual screwdriving, torque wrenches with driver bit adaptors were used to tighten fasteners to a desired torque. Modern automatic screwdriving takes this same concept and puts the torque limiting function of the torque wrench directly into a powered screwdriver, allowing the screwdriver’s spindle to approach and brake within a very tight tolerance of the target torque rating. Several different technologies can achieve this type of torque control, all dependent on the screwdriver and level of automation selected. Simplistic screwdrivers may utilize a mechanical limiting clutch, and more advanced screwdrivers may use a DC electric controller powering a motor encoder.
Selecting tools for an automated fastening system requires two main decisions: Is semi-automated or fully automated operation desired, and are bit-driven or grip-driven fasteners to be used? Semi-automated systems use human-operated drivers, so you’ll need that tool set plus fixture mounting, an electric drive controller and a tool suspension arm. Fully automated operation turns over driving to robotic positioners, calling for a more expansive equipment platform with multiple toolsets, automated bit change-out and fastener feeding, and multiple safety components. As for the fastener decision, screws that can be driven by a bit (Phillips, flat or Torx heads, for example) can use an automatic screwdriver tool. Nuts, hex cap bolts and other headed studs that must be contacted around their perimeter by grippers or by vacuum suction will instead call for a nutrunner tool.
Press Machines FAQs
The main difference between pneumatic and hydraulic press machines is in their power (or force, to be technical). A hydraulic press can produce substantially more force than a pneumatic press, but the pneumatic variant makes up for this by being faster, cleaner, simpler, easier to work on and lower priced. In industrial manufacturing, pneumatic presses are preferred for component assembly and fabrication tasks where human safety is paramount, and hydraulic presses only where huge forces are required.
Friction-fit assemblies are very popular in medical device manufacturing, for a few key reasons: When compared to other joining technologies, such as ultrasonic welding and adhesive bonding, press fitting shines where low cost, no added material and minimal structural integrity are called for. Of special note will be to make sure that the device does not need a hermetic, hygienic seal, which would call for a leak-free joint instead of a press-fit joint.
Press machines are categorized in a few different ways. When described by motive force, press machines are available in hydraulic, pneumatic, electric or hand-operated styles. When describing their level of automatic functionality, presses can be configured to be fully automated, semi-automated or manual. Lastly, when describing their overall design, most presses are made to be vertical presses (with the actuating cylinder pressing down onto a fixed work deck), but sometimes custom horizontal, angled, mobile or multi-axis presses are produced as well.
The easiest answer is to contact a qualified press system manufacturer or engineer to get assistance. It is imperative that press machines are sized appropriately so as not to risk injury to operators or damage to components. Multiple technical factors all compile into a total force value, including material selection, surface friction, interference resistance, temperature, machining tolerances and even the speed of the press. In addition, part of a proper press force calculation relies on experience, such as with surface galling, thermal expansion and stress/strain impacts on the overall part.
Robotic Systems FAQs
Yes and no, but in an overall positive way long-term. Inevitably, businesses do turn to automated solutions to replace human workers at both ends of the complexity spectrum (meaning for both mundane and extremely specialized tasks), when the economics of the exchange present unignorable payback. That said, a major proportion of manufacturing work calls for judgment, instinct and creativity, which are domains where robotics just can’t compete. Over time, automation and robotics will help us alleviate the burden of undesirable jobs from humans, all while creating new opportunities for those humans in adjacent roles. A good way to visualize this goal is to picture robots as “co-bots,” serving alongside and augmenting humans in manufacturing so that their human partners can enjoy overall safer, easier, more engaging work.
Manufacturing robots are broadly used to automate all types of motion, movement, articulating, positioning, manipulating or force-inducing actions. Robots can stack heavy boxes, rotate barrels, transport pallets, pick up components moving along a conveyor, connect fasteners, weld steel, paint vehicles, clean up areas and even freely drive goods around a plant. Robots can take the form of miniature tool arms that place tiny capacitors on circuit boards, as well as massive crane-sized robots used to pick up major equipment.
Robots help remove humans from unergonomic, unsafe, repetitive and downright dangerous environments, which is the primary advantage we find in using robots in manufacturing applications. Beyond safety, robots offer continuous, zero-downtime, consistent, repeatable, high-speed, high-precision production capabilities to virtually all manufacturing industries and product types. Robotics do come at a cost, of course, but when selected and sized for the appropriate application, their return on investment justifies the expense. We consider this an advantage in itself – that robotics are widely able to provide a payback given just how much they can improve operations.
Robotic systems provide fantastic benefits when deployed as standalone solutions, but shine even brighter when integrated into wider workflows. Robotic integration is the process of implementing a robot in conjunction with separate machines, human workflows, data and control systems, and plantwide operations. Tuning and optimizing control schemes across the robot and adjacent systems strives to achieve the highest possible efficiency and throughput, which is only possible when fully integrating these machines.
There is nothing better in manufacturing than a day when all employees make it home safely, which is of course the goal for every day, for every manufacturer. Manufacturing robots are primarily deployed to support this goal, and countless workers are afforded the benefit of safe work every day thanks to these robots. In this way, safety is the largest advantage of implementing robots in manufacturing, followed by higher production throughput, fewer quality issues, higher employee engagement (by alleviating mundane tasks) and lower long-term costs.
Especially in today’s market, manufacturers need all the help they can get in boosting capacity, lowering operating costs and attracting new talent. Robotic automation provides a direct route to these goals, allowing manufacturers to reallocate staff away from repetitive tasks while improving overall plant efficiency. Even more importantly, robots remove humans from physically taxing work, eliminating sources of injuries and promoting safe work environments.
Many manufacturing, fabrication, assembly, inspection and test functions can be easily achieved with automated robots. Generally speaking, robots are used to either handle objects directly or to use tooling attached to their arms to perform specific actions on those objects. Multi-axis robots can invert, position and manipulate their tooling or objects with extreme fidelity and speed, such as when picking moving objects off of a high-speed conveyor to place into packaging or to perform spot welds on irregular surfaces. Cartesian robots produce more limited movements, typically involving stacking or layering objects such as when placing cartons on pallets. Many other custom tasks can be tackled by robots, too. In essence, anywhere a directed motion needs to be computed based on real-time input, a robot can help.