Every product we use or consume — from a pencil to a computer to a bowl of corn chips and dip — makes a journey on a conveyor system. Many times, that journey from raw materials to finished product involves numerous stages of processing requiring highly productive and efficient conveyor systems. Conveyors move raw materials through the manufacturing process. They then move finished products to be packaged, boxed, placed in cartons and put in cases. Finally, conveyors move those cases to pallets, so products are finally ready to be shipped. The mechanisms allowing all of these intricate maneuvers to happen require strategic planning and the efficient and effective integration of multiple system components.
The mission of NCC Automated Systems is to make certain that all of these systems integrations work as they should for its customers. “NCC excels at providing bundled products and services,” says Kevin Mauger, systems sales manager for the Telford, Pa.-based company. “NCC is recognized as a leader in systems integration, offering a broad range of capabilities, including concept design, mechanical equipment, electrical control panels, mechanical and electrical engineering, installation, programmable-logic-controller and robotics programming, start-up support, training and maintenance services.” NCC’s customers include companies in meat and poultry, beverage and brewery, bakery and snack, candy and confectionery, pharmaceutical and health-care, dairy, packaging, automotive and battery, warehouse and distribution, light-duty manufacturing and electronics industries.
As a complete solutions provider and value-added integrator of equipment, NCC understands the importance of developing and maintaining good relationships with the premier suppliers in the materials-handling industry. “We have strong partnerships with ABB, FlexLink, Ermanco, Arrowhead and QC Modular Conveyor Systems in order to continue to meet the precise requirements of our customers’ applications” Mauger continues.
While NCC is a systems integrator of other suppliers’ equipment, the company also manufacturers some of its own systems, particularly raw-product conveyors. “Our quality is impeccable,” Mauger says. NCC also manufactures custom equipment such as product-orientation devices to complement pre-engineered components from its partner-manufacturers. “We also make custom end-of-arm tooling for robots’ arms, which has to be manufactured to the specific requirements of a particular application,” he adds.
NCC’s conveyors for unpackaged products are made from flat-top plastic, stainless steel and hybrid belting. These conveyors are different from other systems because unpackaged products rest right on the conveyor. Therefore, the conveyors must comply with the stringent standards mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Baking Industry Sanitation Standards Committee (BISCC) and the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). They must also be manufactured to withstand continued and frequent wash-downs and sanitization procedures.
Doing It All
Among NCC’s distinctions is its diverse range of capabilities. “Materials-handling capability comes right down to being able to handle a wide range of products,” says Mauger. “Take, for example, waffle manufacturing. We can handle that product from start to finish. First, when it’s just flour; then, downstream, we can handle it when it’s an unpackaged waffle; and then again when it’s wrapped, cartoned and cased; and then when it’s palletized.”
Mauger points out that product handling is critical in the materials-handling industry. “There are companies that just do case handling or carton handling or pallet handling,” he continues. “What makes NCC special is our ability to do all of that — in addition to our experience in dealing with a wide array of different products from batteries in an automotive plant to pharmaceutical products to meat and poultry facilities.”
By listening carefully to its customers’ needs and using its team approach to product development, NCC continues to deliver custom-designed and engineered systems that offer efficient solutions. As an example, one of its customers wanted to shrink-wrap its yogurt and sour cream containers in a “spot-pack” configuration, rather than putting them into the traditional corrugated case. “Normally, with palletizing you use vacuum suction cups to pick up the products and move and place them. But because of the plastic, we knew that a vacuum gripper would not work,” explains Mauger. So NCC developed a custom end-of-arm gripper that simultaneously and gently squeezes the shrink-wrapped pack of containers from the side and from the top as well. The top gripper prevents “shingling” of the lids as they are squeezed together.
NCC is able to offer customers many advantages in that it has a diverse array of in-house manufacturing capabilities. “We control our own destiny in this way,” says Mauger. The facilities include a machine shop, a sheet-metal shop, a welding shop and custom tooling and assembly areas. NCC also offers clean-room-rated equipment for use in sensitive environments, such as in the manufacture of electronics, pharmaceuticals and explosives. “There are many conveyor manufacturers out there manufacturing, in great volume, painted steel conveyors,” Mauger says. “But there aren’t many volume-based manufacturers of stainless steel conveyors, and that’s something we do very well.”
The Leading Edge
Robotics will offer the most growth opportunities for NCC. “Robotics usage is increasing because the software controlling robotics is much easier to understand and use,” says Mauger. “We excel in the area of robotic palletizing. We integrate case conveyors and pallet conveyors. Since palletizing is right in the middle of those two processes, it offers a seamless link.” NCC’s Robotic Technology Center and its own robots offer live demonstrations at its facility to prove their functionality prior to shipment. NCC will also launch a robotics risk-assessment- analysis program to help all robotics users to comply with the new ANSI/RIA R15.06-1999 safety requirements.
NCC will maintain its leadership role in the industry by developing stronger strategic partnerships so that it can continue to meet customers’ needs. “We will continue to focus on using new technologies to provide our customers greater system flexibility, increasing and streamlining production as we reduce costs and improve safety,” says Mauger. “Ethernet, bus networking and PC-based controls will provide a solid foundation for our continued growth.”
The company has its eye on future expansions in its electronic controls group and its robotics group. “The growth will be there for us because it’s easier and more cost-effective to manage systems and production requirements from a PC,” Mauger says. “On the controls side of our business, the ability to network and integrate various portions of the line and consolidate them on one network will allow production operators quicker access to gather and manipulate real-time information.”