What is the price of an automatic assembly machine?

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October 2019

“What is the price of an automatic assembly machine?” This is the number one question we get asked by pretty much all of our existing and new customers.  This question ranks way above “How do I design my product for automation?” or “How long does it take to build an assembly machine?” in importance, however, the latter follows a close second.

 

The answer on pricing is … it depends.

 

Every assembly machine we design is custom-built for the application, which is why the design and price are different for every project.  There are a whole host of factors that can raise or lower the price. Here we can hopefully explain in a bit more detail what these are and how they impact the cost.

automatic assembly machine
Figure #1 – Example of a Complex Spray Gun Assembly
Figure #2 – Example of a Simple Three-Part Nozzle Assembly

#1 – Number of components:

One of the biggest contributing factors on the price of an automatic assembly machine unsurprisingly is the number of components involved.  You will see in Figure #1 and Figure #2 that we have two products that are from the same customer, similar in function but wildly different machine designs and prices. This is based mainly on the fact that one has three components and the other can have up to 20 for certain configurations.

 

Each component is going to need fed into the assembly machine somehow, which means it needs a vibratory bowl, escapement, pick and place, position on a transfer system of some sort and all of the associated pneumatics and sensing.

As you can imagine the more components you have, the more feeds you need, the more expensive the machine gets. This will also dictate the size and layout of the machine.

 

automatic assembly machine
Figure #3 – Example Assembly Module for Spray Gun Sub-Assembly

 

 #2 – Complexity of Components:

Product designers do a really good job of designing things that function well and look really good.  The hidden penalty for this is that sometimes it can make them really difficult to handle and put together.

 

Due to unusual geometry, some parts of your assembly may not feed in a vibratory bowl. Instead, they may need a tray handling system with some conveyors to get components into the machine.  The tray handling system may end up cost neutral with a bowl feed system but you may need a robot to unload the trays rather than using just conventional pneumatic pick and places. This is a simpler and far more cost-effective.

 

If your product fastens together with screws, the machine will need a feed system for these and some way of assembling them.  This has to be an automatic driver of some description and depending on the number and location of the screws – may need a robot to load them.

 

If you can’t have fasteners it means you will need some sort of adhesive dispense and curing system or another joining technology to put your product together. Things such as welding, riveting, staking would work here. The more joins there are and the more expensive the hardware is to perform the joining, the larger the impact on the overall machine cost.

 

Components that clip together in straight-line paths, and can be built all from one side (the sub-assembly doesn’t need re-orientated) are the most cost-effective assemblies to design around.

 

#3 – Product Variation:

 Today, manufacturing companies would be in the minority if they offered products where there was only one variant.  The gun example has a long narrow nozzle end which can be assembled rather than the “rose” shown. Therefore any assembly machine has to accommodate this with feed systems, pick and places, ultrasonic welders etc.

 

Other customers may have product variants where an assembly is very similar but has different diameters, lengths or heights.

 

In accommodating this variation there is a dilemma to be addressed – change tooling or automatic adjustment of the machine.

 

In most cases, change tooling is the most cost-effective up-front way of dealing with the problem but comes at the penalty of machine downtime.  How many parts are not being produced while that set of grippers is being changed over?

 

Depending on the level of variation, automatic adjustment is going to involve integrating electric actuators on pick and places and grippers. Alternatively using robots where conventional pick and places may have been a suitable option for one variant.

 

Less variation = less cost.

 

#4 – Assembly Speed:

Pick and places, robots, bowl feed systems, indexing tables, and conveyors can only operate to a certain speed.  Assembly sequences can be broken down into smaller and smaller steps until you are left with the simplest, fastest processes. However, there comes a point where we have to admit that physics has won.

 

At this point, in order to increase throughput, you, therefore, need more stations, more machines or a combination both.

 

It goes without saying that anyone of options #A, #B or #C is going to lead to a more expensive machine. Therefore, weighing up exactly how fast you need to produce is an important consideration for the project budget.

 

There are other factors that can influence the cost, but that hopefully is a fairly good overview of the factors that make up the costings of an automatic assembly machine.

 

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