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36 PCB007 MAGAZINE I MARCH 2020 Matties: Putting in one machine, starting with one toe in the water, if you will, is an interest- ing strategy. It will also be interesting to see how fast this company adopts the automation fully and replaces all the other equipment. Palmer: Exactly. We put a three-year plan to- gether with them to have all of their drilling and routing spindles replaced. Nolan Johnson: How many spindles do you think there will be when they're done? Palmer: They're at 54 spindles right now. It will be 38 when they're all done, but that's not just the automation. As a matter of fact, the auto- mation might add roughly 10% productivity; it all depends on how long boards sit on the machine when they're done without automa- tion, waiting for an operator to come change them out. When you look at going from 54 to 38 spindles, it's mainly due to the faster ma- chine speeds these days. We have to put 50,000 holes in a certain board, and it takes 20 hours on an old machine that's been around for 20 years; new machines today can do that in four or five or six hours. That's where you're get- ting your big-time savings, thereby requiring fewer spindles. Johnson: Combined with the fact that your drill department can be more flexible—each machine is running one spindle—you can get the maximum amount of mix on the floor at any given time. Palmer: That's important when you have high- mix, low-volume. Those operators are doing a lot of handling. If you get a four-, five-, or six- spindle machine, you may not be getting great use of your machine unless you can put boards on all of the tables, all of the spindles, all of the time. In that case, single-spindle machines help. As we work with a customer who wants to move to automation, we have to look at their mix, their average lot size, their capabili- ties, and what they're trying to get to, and then design the perfect drill room for them with all these things that are known. But the beauty of it is that as they grow and develop their process, they can add new ma- chines right beside it. Then, they can put in automation or further automate it by putting the panels on a carriage that moves back and forth. It's something they're considering doing. It is happening, but it's not going at the pace that you might think. Matties: The return on investment must be pretty quick, though. Have you calculated out what that would look like compared to a tradi- tional configuration? Palmer: Sure. Especially if you get the automa- tion component of a single-spindle machine, the automation is roughly 8–10% of the cost of the machine itself, so if you want to look at the return on that $25,000–30,000 automa- tion piece, it's quick because you're eliminat- ing one person. You can get a return in a year and a half very easily. Matties: And those are all bottom-line dollars. That's profitability. Palmer: Correct. But again, you have to think about the engineering and tooling changes that have to come up front; there's a little bit of cost there. You do that once, and each machine af- terward is a very quick payback. Matties: Is the resistance tied to the investment up front in terms of cash, or is it resistance in thought power? Do you need to have or hire a team with an automation mindset? Palmer: I think it's the latter; you called it thought power. It's the engineering and the CAD support and whatnot that's needed to get it all started. It's not that expensive at the end of the day, at least as far as the equipment side of it goes. You can get a return in a year and a half very easily.

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