Custom Process Equipment
August 26, 2021Categorized in:
Innovative manufacturers are always thinking of new ways to address their customers’ problems. Sometimes this innovation creates a problem of its own. There is no equipment designed to build or test the products they’re creating.
“You start talking about custom process equipment any time somebody can’t find what they’re looking for in a catalog,” said Daryl Rothamer, Director of Systems and Equipment at ACS.
For example, a manufacturer of farm equipment recently turned to ACS for help with durability testing. The manufacturer was developing a unique combine head for harvesters. It was flying engineers all over the world to field test the new design on different crops and field conditions.
Not only was this expensive, it wasn’t providing good data. There were so many variables the repeatability of the tests was low.
ACS designed a test stand that can simulate various types of rolling terrain. Impact actuators test how the combine head withstands small-point impacts from striking objects like rocks in a field.
“They had something very basic already. The idea was, ‘It needs to be like this but have all these additional functions,’” Rothamer said. “It was a cool project that solved a very unique problem. They couldn’t do it with anything off the shelf.”
When to design custom process equipment
Designing custom process equipment starts with a clear definition of what the customer needs. A comprehensive assessment evaluates what the customer is trying to accomplish. “If there is existing equipment that can do most of the things the customer needs with a specialized adapter or custom attachment, we’ll modify something off the shelf,” Rothamer said. “In some cases, there’s nothing out there that can be easily modified. Then we invent a custom piece. It’s all about what’s going to provide the best value for the customer.”
The custom design process
Once it’s clear what the equipment needs to do, the project goes to the concept design stage. When the customer is satisfied, the concept moves to preliminary design. At this point, the specific components are identified. “Sometimes, once customers understand what it would take to meet the specifications of their design, they realize they can’t afford it,” Rothamer said. “When that happens, we go back and guide them to an off-the-shelf solution that we can modify to achieve at least their core requirements.”
Throughout the design phase, the engineer will tease out any requirements besides functionality. The design should also consider aspects like safety, capacity, and ease of maintenance. For example, customers may forget to account for how the equipment will integrate with their facility. Sometimes custom equipment won’t fit in the area designated for it in the floor plan. Or its location requires a change to processes.
Rothamer recalls one customer that wanted a test stand capable of testing all the different valve types they manufactured. But any line they could install it on would deliver just one type of valve. There was no process to get all the different lines to converge on a single test stand.
The designer will also make sure the customer is aware of what it will take to run the equipment. A piece of process equipment might need a cooling tower or water supply. Or it might take more electrical power than the facility can provide.
In one case, a customer wanted to install the custom equipment in a basement laboratory only accessible by a freight elevator. The equipment had to be designed in pieces that would fit in the elevator and could be assembled on site. “These are considerations we need to uncover early,” Rothamer said. “Groups from throughout the facility, like operations and maintenance, need to be involved. If we don’t have their input when establishing requirements, downstream you end up having change orders or requirements that just can’t be met because we’re too far along in the design.”
Once the customer signs off on the critical design phase, the project is ready for fabrication. ACS’s in-house fabrication staff includes expert electricians, machinists, and welders. Completed equipment is factory tested at ACS before delivery to the customer.
As a systems integrator, ACS’s involvement does not end at delivery. ACS helps customers install the new equipment. We integrate it with existing systems, connect the utilities, and start it up for the first time. The same engineers who designed the system perform a final test once the equipment is on site. They make sure nothing was damaged during shipment or installation.
When your products are unlike anything on the market, your manufacturing and testing process has to be on the cutting edge, too. Contact us for the custom process equipment that can bring your napkin sketches to life.