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Author Archives: Angela Smith

  1. How to Conduct a Risk Assessment

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    Risk assessments are living documents that follow machinery from inception to decommission. This documentation and process helps owners implement and maintain a suitable and safe environment for their employees. It is important that risk assessments are not only thorough, but easy to create and follow. The process of designing and maintaining safety systems for automated equipment can be broken down into 5 simple steps.

    1. Identifying Hazards
    2. Assessing Initial Risk
    3. Risk Reduction
    4. Assessing Residual Risk
    5. Validating Solutions.

    Step 1: Identifying Hazards

    Risk Level Decision Matrix

    Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1: Initially
    risk is calculated by using
    the 3-2-3 rule to quantify hazards
    from RIA TR R15.306.

    Risk assessments can start out as technical lists created by machine designers prior to the equipment’s release to fabrication. A team of knowledgeable and qualified personnel should step through the process steps to identify all hazards that exist before safeguarding is implemented. They are not just considering operators; they are considering everyone who could be harmed from the hazard. For example, a UV cure light could pose risk to the immediate operator, but have the technicians who are walking by the equipment to lunch been considered? How about the maintenance personnel working on the equipment? It is important to consider all potential when conducting a risk assessment.


    Step 2: Assessing Initial Risk

    To understand the magnitude of risk for each hazard on the machine, the risk must be quantified. There are three qualities to quantify: Severity of Injury, Frequency of Exposure, and Probability of Avoidance. The 3-2-3 convention (Figure 1) may be used to calculate a risk value that represents the level of risk to personnel before safeguards are considered. This method is recognized in RIA TR R15.306 Table 2 as an accepted way to quantify risk.

    Step 3: Risk Reduction

    After all machine hazards have been appropriately identified and quantified, risk reduction measures should be taken. Not all risk reduction measures are made equal, however. The hierarchy of hazard mitigation, also called the hierarchy of controls, organizes mitigation principles by effectiveness. This cornerstone of risk reduction is seen in some capacity in both ISO 12100 and ANSI B11.0 standards.

    Now consider a pinch point that exists between a moving pallet and weldment in the initial design. If the designer systematically moves through their design and catches the pinch point before the machine is released, they may choose to move the weldment back several inches, eliminating the hazard all together. Consider a second example: If laser marking is an operation of the machine, the operator may be given a hood that protects him from harm, but what is in place to ensure they are wearing it? What about bystanders? Instead, it is safer for the PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) to not allow the laser to begin marking until the safety doors have been shut (interlock switches have been met).

    Hierarchy Of Controls

    Step 4: Assessing Residual Risk

    When all hazards have been recorded and the most effective risk reduction measures planned, they should be rated again to identify residual risk. All machines after safety controls have an element of “residual risk.” It is up to the risk assessors to determine if that residual risk is acceptable or not.

    Step 5: Validate Solutions

    After safety measures are in place, they must be proven effective. Recording proof or validating safety controls is the final step to completing a risk assessment. For example, the documentation of stop time measurements, ensuring light curtains are installed at the appropriate distance away from the closest hazard is validation. Maintaining certifications of light tight boxes is validation. It is not enough to implement safety controls: safety controls must be implemented correctly.

    If completed with thought, genuine effort, Risk Assessments are a valuable tool that help designers and end-users create and maintain safe automation equipment.

  2. How To Have A Successful Factory Acceptance Test (FAT)

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    When you purchase new equipment, it is critical to ensure it will perform as expected after it arrives at your facility. A factory acceptance test (FAT) is a way of verifying that newly manufactured factory equipment adheres to your purchase order specifications and other requirements before it is shipped to your site. This article will discuss the benefits of FAT testing and how to ensure your test is a success.

    Benefits of Factory Acceptance Testing

    FAT ensures all factory equipment will perform correctly and safely by identifying any potential problems before the equipment is put into operation. Performing FAT delivers many benefits, including:

    • Ensure standards compliance: FAT can check that your equipment complies with ISO, CE, and any other relevant industry standards.
    • Verify safety systems: Testing procedures review the equipment’s safety systems to verify they function properly and meet requirements.
    • Decreased downtime and delays in production: By identifying any potential problems before your new equipment goes to your facility, you can avoid the production delays and costly downtime that would occur if a problem is discovered after installation.
    • Test communication tools: FAT enables the testing of all communication protocols to ensure your equipment can properly communicate with your facility’s existing equipment.
    • Ensure equipment meets performance requirements: FAT offers a way to make sure the equipment adheres to all performance specifications prior to installation at your facility.
    • Identify and correct issues before delivery: FAT allows you to prevent costly delays and rework by providing a way to identify and correct issues prior to delivery.
    • Improve communication: FAT processes help to enhance communication between the client and supplier.

    FAT allows you to feel confident that your equipment will perform as expected and prevents any problems from being discovered post-delivery.

    How to Ensure Factory Acceptance (FAT) Success

    A successful factory acceptance test is one that is efficient and verifies that all equipment requirements are met. Developing FAT testing protocols requires careful planning and documentation. During the planning stage of a FAT, manufacturers must outline the scope of the test, including all of the customer’s specifications and the standards their equipment must adhere to. The next step is to gather any documentation, including drawings, calibrations, datasheets, etc., that can be used to confirm that the equipment meets all design requirements prior to the FAT.

    To ensure a FAT protocol is as effective as possible, the tips below can help you put an effective plan in place.

    • Define all performance criteria including cycle time, scrap rates, uptime, and efficiency. ATC defines this clearly in our proposals so that customers can easily review it before the project begins.
    • Include an allocation for sample parts in your project for the equipment builder to use for debug and runoff. ATC provides this information very early in the project and includes the needed dates so that customers can plan their production schedules easily.
    • Include a pre-FAT status check to ensure the FAT will not have to be performed twice. ATC executes a pre-FAT verification run and sends this data to our customers. This ensures schedules do not slip and the customer does not experience excessive travel and sample part expenses to cover multiple FAT efforts.
    • Include everyone on your team that has a stake in the project. This should include engineering, production, production support, and purchasing. ATC can host an FAT protocol meeting at our facility early in the project to ensure all parties are in agreement.
    • If your automation system produces multiple product variants, it is important to define which variants will be included in the FAT. ATC’s proposals include a clear runoff duration and define which variants will be produced. We often work with customers who through concurrent engineering design their product and purchase automation systems at the same time. We have developed creative approaches to be able to complete the FAT when production parts are not available.
    • Define the proper safety standards for the automation supplier to follow and test the safety systems at FAT. ATC understands all the current safety standards and performs a risk assessment during the design phase of the project to identify potential machine safety issues. This approach ensures that operator safety is a priority and not an after thought.

    Work With ATC Automation Today

    Factory acceptance test protocols ensure your equipment is designed according to your specifications and will perform as expected. When you partner with ATC Automation, our experienced Design and Build team can perform FATs to ensure your equipment meets your particular needs. At ATC, we create highly engineered automation systems for a number of demanding industries. Whether you need a solution for assembly, material handling, or dispensing, we can create an effective solution.

    To learn more about our capabilities or FAT testing protocol, contact our team today.

  3. ATC Automation Builds Modular Automated Assembly System for Drug Delivery Device

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    COOKEVILLE, TN—ATC Automation has delivered a state-of-the-art, modular automated assembly system for a global leader in drug manufacturing and drug delivery medical devices to. The system was designed and built at ATC’s campus in Cookeville, TN, and installed at the customer’s assembly plant on the East Coast.

    The system assembles a drug dispensing device made from clear polycarbonate. The device is used in an OEM’s point-of-care patient chemistry management system. The market for this product is currently valued at $1.7 billion and is projected to grow at a rate of 4 percent annually through 2030.

    The system has been installed in an ISO 8 clean room. The system includes a laser welding system for joining clear polycarbonate parts. Other processes include bonding prep, adhesive dispensing, curing, coating, vision inspection, tray feeding, vibratory feeding, step feeding, pressing and leak testing.

    When completed, the product is approximately 8 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 4 inches tall. The assembly process was broken into nine modules to accommodate the numerous processes and subassemblies, to create a flexible footprint, and to optimize process accessibility and visibility for operators. The system assembles approximately six devices per minute. For maximum throughput, some processes are performed on two or three assemblies simultaneously.

    The modules are connected to each other with buffers in the form of conveyors, vibratory inline tracks, and pallet queues for robotic material handling. The buffers isolate the modules from one another so downtime on one module will not adversely affect another.

    The modules can be placed in the assembly area in locations that facilitate manual material handling for incoming components. In addition, HMIs and operators can positioned where they are needed to optimally support multiple modules and processes.

    Rotary indexing dials are used for assembly processes. Linear, servo-indexing “walking beams” are used for tubing assembly. Robots shuttle assemblies in and out of the final leak testing operation. And, a pallet-transfer conveyor supports manual loading stations.

    Another benefit of the modular design is that some processes can be isolated. For example, one station involves spraying a silicone sealant. Preventive maintenance may be higher on this module, and there is always risk of silicone contamination to nearby stations.

    The device has several tubes of varying thickness and diameters. Automatic feeding of the pre-cut tubes, as well as automatic tube surface preparation for bonding, was implemented at numerous stations.

    Leak testing is done with four independent leak test stations. The instruments actuate the device during testing to fully test their functioning. Parts that fail at this station are automatically rejected and segregated from production parts.

    ATC Automation also collaborated with the customer for FDA validation efforts. Process failure mode and effects analysis, user and functional requirements specifications, traceability, and final acceptance test protocols were all deliverables on this project.

  4. Protecting Your Intellectual Property

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    Your company’s intellectual property (IP) is arguably the most valuable thing it owns. It has cost tens of millions of dollars to generate over a span of years and years, if not decades. When your business engages with a third-party vendor to support you in manufacturing, you’re risking your IP by sharing it. While most companies are trained on how to protect the IP they’ve generated, are you sure the third party you’re sharing it with has that knowledge? In addition, what about the IP that your third party is about to generate for you on your dime? Who owns that IP?

    When working with a system integrator, it’s important to note that there are two intellectual property phases to a project that are separated by the purchase order. At first, there is mutual protection for the IP that each party brings to the table. The placement of the purchase order (PO) is the customer buying the IP from the integrator. This includes the concept and starts the next IP phase, but determining what exactly you have the IP rights to is something you should understand before you place the PO. Let’s dig in some more.

    Before the PO: Mutual Protection

    When you source custom automation, it’s important to execute a nondisclosure agreement. NDAs offer protection of the intellectual property you’re sharing such as product design, pertinent manufacturing processes, and any information that the two parties share in discussions. The simple fact that you’re sourcing automation for a certain product is protected, as well.

    While businesses sometimes use one-way NDAs, it’s most common in the custom automation world to execute a mutual NDA for the early phases of a project. While you have intellectual property to protect, the machine builder will also want to guard the concepts they generate to solve your automation problems. Their concept is protected at a high level and would usually only be relevant with complex assemblies yielding hundreds of order of assembly and manufacturing process permutations. Intellectual property ownership is not straightforward, as the machine builder should be working directly with you to develop the concept and they’ll revise it repeatedly based on your feedback.

    After the PO: You Own It?

    Once you agree upon a concept, you can place a purchase order. The terms and conditions outlining the project will govern the PO. Here, the intellectual property that the integrator is going to generate on this project has to be clearly discussed. It most often isn’t. You’ll be moving on from the mutual NDA and will now be paying for engineering and IP generation. You should own the concept.

    Below are many things that you, the customer, should expect to receive from a custom machine builder, both as a deliverable and in a written contract. Make sure you’re getting them!


    It’s often the case that solving a problem with automation requires a unique innovation. This may happen as part of a proof-of-principle effort or simply be something that a creative controls engineer or a talented machine designer engineers to solve a complex problem elegantly. It’s important to make sure that you’ll own the intellectual property for such innovations as your competitors would certainly benefit should your integrator share this innovation. Physical solutions are easier to quantify IP for than processes that the machine builder developed. An example would be a leak test process. At ATC Automation, our customers are secure in knowing that all IP that a project generates is customer owned.


    Your custom automation system will have a programmable logic controller (PLC). This will be programmed to control the entire line or module, receiving all the inputs as the brain of the automation system. You, the customer, should own the program and the rights to edit this program. Many system integrators don’t share the source code as they wish to further profit off you with their service department. You should be especially wary of custom machine builders offering their own intelligent chassis as the base software, saying IP for these systems won’t be shared. ATC Automation delivers all source code for our systems to our customers.

    Drawings and 3D Models

    While most companies will state that they’ll supply you with drawings, you should be clear about the format in which you wish to receive them. In addition, the 3D models’ format should also be clearly defined. ATC Automation delivers documentation related to CAD to our customers per their requirements.

    Vendor Part Numbers

    Some custom machine builders will take a vendor part number, like a pneumatic gripper from Vendor A or a simple shoulder bolt part number, and place their own company part number on it, giving you their part number in the BOM/documentation. This prevents you from sourcing the part yourself, costing you money and time. Remember, you paid for the engineering effort, but you didn’t pay for this company to forcefully put themselves as a middleman between you and the vendors they select. ATC passes all vendor part numbers through to our customers. Further, ATC selects components that are commercially available from partners that are the industry gold standard.

    Selecting a Vendor That Takes IP Seriously

    If you’re sourcing custom automation, you should spend time understanding how seriously the machine builder treats intellectual property. It matters.

    It starts in sales. Did the salesperson mention a half-dozen companies you compete with and the products for which they’ve automated processes? If yes, would you like them to tell that to your competitors about your products? Probably not.

    IP Protection Is a Company Culture

    At ATC Automation, we take intellectual property very seriously. Here are some examples of the practices that help our customers feel secure:

    • Non-customer-related naming conventions on all ATC documentation. Nowhere in our shop will you see your company name on a document. It’s not until the final documentation package is delivered that your company name and logo appear on documents.
    • Private assembly bays for sensitive IP projects. ATC Automation has built-in infrastructure in our buildings to secure your builds from competitors’ eyes.
    • Secure badge access. Our customers’ visitor badges will only permit them to be in certain areas pertaining to their equipment. Further, our employees are also badged to only be in areas pertinent to their job.
    • Cybersecurity. This is a major concern to ATC Automation and our customers. We have dual-factor authentication for all network-capable devices that can access our customers’ IPs. Further, permissions within our network restrict project access to only those who need to be in there. File sharing is done with our customers via our secure SharePoint/OneDrive system. We routinely use Microsoft Teams for meetings, which offers additional layers of security over other third-party web meeting solutions.
    • Training. We regularly train our employees on the importance of IP protection, as well as any sources of vulnerability to our network.
    • Team structure. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, ATC Automation is team-based. We have nine design and build teams that, for the most part, stay together for decades. During the design, build, debug, and post-install support, these teams will acquire customer knowledge. You can rest assured that we won’t use these teams to work on your competitors’ projects, and they’ll be available to you on your next project with us.

    To learn more about our automation solutions and how ATC Automation protects your intellectual property, contact us today.

  5. Bill Curran to Retire as Segment President and General Manager from ATC Automation Ethan Bernhardt as Successor

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    ATC Automation & Robotics announced that Bill Curran, the Automation Segment President and Cookeville location General Manager will retire effective July 1, 2022 while continuing to function in an advisory role until December 31, 2022. Ethan Bernhardt will assume these roles effective July 1, 2022.

    “ I have been blessed to be a part of ATC and witness the growth in the markets we serve and the expansion of our operations in North America. Our associates are exceptional, highly skilled and integral to the success of our business,” said Curran. Mr. Curran has served in his current role since 2000 and prior to that led various technical positions for ATC. During Bill’s tenure the company has grown from 50 employees with one facility located in Cookeville, TN to 300+ employees with facilities located in Cookeville, TN, Simi Valley, CA, and Monterrey MX.

    Mr. Curran served as the Chairman of the Board for the Cookeville Chamber of Commerce and under his leadership ATC Automation & Robotics has been heavily involved with the local community. Areas of involvement range from implementing an updated controls lab facility for Tennessee Technological University, to working with area businesses and education programs to facilitate regional growth, and also supporting local charities.

    “Bill Curran has been the key leader for ATC Automation’s success for the past 33 years. He has been instrumental in driving our growth, leading our strength, and instilling our ethics to provide world class equipment. I am fortunate to have had his mentorship for over two decades,” said Bernhardt. Ethan Bernhardt graduated from Tennessee Technological University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology and has worked at ATC Automation & Robotics since 2001. “I have known and worked with Ethan for 21 years and he is a proven leader. I have solid confidence in his character, technical expertise and his dedication to the continuing success of the company. Ethan understands the complexities of our industry and what is required to succeed and continue to grow.” said Mr. Curran. In Mr. Bernhardt’s 21 years at ATC he has served as a Mechanical Designer, Service Team Coordinator, Business Unit Manager, and in his current role as Director of Operations. Bernhardt attributes his success to, “God most of all for blessing me with a loving and supportive family and for surrounding me with strong mentors, both personally and professionally”.

    ATC Automation & Robotics has been in business for 45 years. The company started with two employees with one location and has grown to multiple facilities and over 300 employees. ATC Automation & Robotics provides highly technical custom Automation and test equipment to the Medical, Automotive and General Consumer businesses in North America as well as Internationally.

  6. ATC Automation Announces the Acquisition of Dynamic Automation and Robotics

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    Cookeville, TN, Release: September 1, 2021, For Immediate Release

    ATC Automation, owned by a TASI Group of Companies, has reached an agreement to acquire Dynamic Automation and Robotics, Simi Valley, CA . Dynamic has a solid history of serving customers in the custom automation and robotics market. Dynamic will immediately complement and strengthen the geographic and technology offerings of ATC Automation. With a strong presence on the West Coast, the business will remain in its current location in Simi Valley where Marc Freedman will continue to lead its growth as General Manager.

    Dynamic Automation and Robotics, founded in 1986, has flourished over the past decade serving Life Science, Consumer, and Aerospace and Energy markets.

    “It is rare to find an automation company that shares our high value of employees and the focus on building world class automation to make our customers successful. I couldn’t be more pleased to join forces with Dynamic. Together we will expand our collective reach to provide more depth in what we offer the customer. I look forward to Marc’s continued leadership and continued growth in the Western US and USMCA markets.” Bill Curran, General Manager ATC Automation

    “I am proud of and credit the entire Dynamic team for the hard work that made this merger possible. I’m excited to join Bill and the ATC team and believe ATC’s acquisition of Dynamic provides continued growth opportunity while extending even more value for our customers both in scope and geographic location.” Marc Freedman, President Dynamic Automation & Robotics
    Dynamics’ installed customer base in Automation and Robotics market is complimentary to ATC Automation and both companies have been experiencing high growth rates with the shortage of skilled workers across the manufacturing space.

    The TASI Group is a globally diversified company comprised of four strategic business segments. ATC Automation one of its holdings in the Automation Segment, is a leader in assembly automation market. All of the TASI companies seek to provide solutions that improve manufacturing processes and deliver value-added results. Leveraging the latest technology advances along with products supported by experienced engineering teams, the company delivers the highest achievable quality and reliability in production environments.

    Contact Information:
    Name: Angela Smith – Marketing and Sales Administrator
    Organization: ATC Automation
    Address: 101 Mill Dr. Cookeville, TN 38501
    Phone: 931.582.5417