“4.0” Since Ever

Relying on a strong specialization in manufacturing automatic assembly and testing machines, Primon Automazioni has long been applying to its machines some principles of traceability, thorough production control as well as flexibility in changeover, all key issues for Industry 4.0. Alongside the Verbania-based company is Balluff, which supplied sensors, photocells and joining components for a safety valves assembly and testing machine.

by Sebastiano Mainarda

Who said that going upstream is more tiring and causes delays? The history of Primon Automazioni, which has become a leading manufacturer of special assembly and testing machines in quite a peculiar way, shows that following different paths can have much in store. “Unlike most of our competitors, which started as mechanical designers and later have become mechatronic specialists, we were born as electrical designers and then have become mechanical”, says Primon Automazioni’s CEO, Fulvio Primon, the second generation at the helm of the family business. “This gives us, I believe, some extra skills in machine operation from the electrical and software point of view. Indeed, all our machines have long been connected to each other and designed for remote assistance: such concepts are now quite familiar when talking about Industry 4.0. For us, however, these have been standards for at least a decade”.

The importance of the engineering department
Primon Automazioni was founded by Vittorino Primon, Fulvio’s father, in 1970, for the production as subcontractor of electrical panels and systems, working mainly with local companies. About twenty years later, the initiative of the current CEO has made sure that the company’s production turned towards the construction of machines and systems for handling, assembly and testing. Today, 50 people work at Primon Automazioni, with an important core of about 15 people working within the engineering department. The latter takes care of the mechanical, electromechanical and software aspects in-house. Everything is designed and built inside the factory:
a flagship for the Piedmont-based company, as well as a key element to win, over the years, so many bets, especially abroad.
As a matter of fact, the company gains around 70% of its turnover abroad, and most of this comes from Germany,
a market that has always been quite difficult to approach.

Focusing on young people to have a future-oriented vision
In order to achieve such results, a clear and defined strategy is mandatory. The core business of Primon Automazioni is the production of assembly machines for small to medium-sized components and medium-high production rates. With the aim to have an overall view of the company’s activity, Primon Automazioni has decided to work primarily on machines with an average value, certainly far, for example, from the automotive sector. A strategy that allowed the company to have a fairly constant growth trend, without suffering too much even during the crisis years.
“Today we invest in the company and above all in the mentality of people: we have had very positive feedbacks by hiring young people, who must be followed, cultivated, trained and motivated, but I believe they ensure at the same time a key vision of the future”, states Fulvio Primon .
Naturally, the relationship with customers is also a primary part of the company’s overall strategy. “For us, customer satisfaction concerns the overall machine management”, he adds. “I like to define the relationship with clients as emotional, meaning that it is a game of combinations and adjustments up to the point where the solution is found. This is why it is important to be flexible and open to change. It is indeed a partnership that make two companies grow together by collaborating. The success of such an approach is proved by the fact that very few customers have purchased only one machine from us”.

A successful collaboration
Shifting from customers to suppliers – or partners, in a more appropriate way – the partnership with Balluff is quite long-lasting and well-established. “We are highly specialized in electronics- says Fulvio Primon – so we want to be able to monitor the status of each single component mounted on the machine. Balluff has a complete catalogue and the quality of their products perfectly matches our vision. When we choose an automation component we look first of all at its quality and reliability, but also at the overall management of the product, as well as the ability to meet delivery times. We have always done good with Balluff”.
Graziano Piscia, Balluff Area Sales Manager, confirms these words. “I find it very stimulating to be able to work with a company like Primon Automazioni, precisely because of their future-oriented vision. The desire to innovate, to find always different solutions, fits perfectly with our way of approaching our customers”.

The machine produces a valve every 3.5 s
Balluff sensors, connectors, wiring components and photocells can be found in virtually all the machines that come from the Primon Automazioni workshop in Verbania. These machines, it is good to specify, are all in possession of CE certification and featured by a special attention to their appearance: from the materials to the components – such as connection modules, not bulky – up to the colours.
One of the latest machines is an automatic assembly, calibration and testing machine of a safety valve against overpressure for domestic boilers. Characterized by a production rate of 3.5 s per piece, the machine uses four rotary tables connected to each other: two of them are aimed at preparing the parts that make up the valve; the middle one is intended for the actual assembly process, while the fourth rotary table allows for the calibration and testing of the valves. The latter is a crucial stage indeed, as we are talking about safety valves. The maximum pressure at which the valves are calibrated and tested is 13 Bar, with a tolerance of +/-1 Bar.
The actual assembly process starts with positioning the valve (coming from the first satellite rotary table) onto the placement. Then, the rubber hexagonal seal is loaded into the body. On it, the components coming from the second satellite rotary table are placed. Later on, the spring and ring with pre-screwing at first and then with proper screwing are then loaded.

Minimized changeover in the name of flexibility
The pair of valves on two adjacent placements of the main rotary table are picked up and moved to the calibration and testing table, which then processes two pieces at a time. After completing the calibration process, the valves are immediately subjected to testing by an initial pressurization to a high pre-set pressure and then to a settable low pressure and then brought back to the master rotary table to mount the caps and perform the edging. Finally, the valve is unloaded with possible separation of the waste pieces. All sensors, incoming signals remoting, micro photocells and optical fibres, up to the wiring system, are entrusted to Balluff. This is a very important intervention indeed, if we think that a machine like the one we are talking about has a lot of sensors and, in general, a lot of automation components. In fact, the machine is completely automatic, except for the manual load of the power supplies. The rotary table is also electronically managed and, in general, the machine is designed to minimize the time required for changeover, thus meeting flexibility issues according to Industry 4.0 requirements.

 

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