New Zealand 'snapper' saves components manufacturer millions

By
Friday, 28 February, 2003


A leading New Zealand's mechanical design company has designed a specialised production line machine for a manufacturing plant in Mount Wellington Auckland. The aptly named 'snapper' was developed to help fulfil a large order for TCXO's (Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillators), which are an essential component of many radio, mobile and GPS technologies.

InFact specialises in developing and managing the implementation of new products, machines and systems for clients in the consumer, industrial, military and technology industries.

It's customer, Rakon supplies over 50 per cent of the frequency control devices used by the world's GPS industry to customers that include Motorola, Navman, Trimble, Rockwell and Garmin. The technology is used in many modern GPS consumer and industrial applications such as hand held personal locators, asset tracking of trucking fleets, heavy machinery and shipping containers, surveying and mapping systems, and navigation devices for automobiles, boats and aircraft.

Due to the ever- increasing worldwide demand for such GPS devices, orders for Rakon's TCXO technology have dramatically increased. To meet this demand, an increase in production along with a new type of machine was needed to automate the manual process and snap up to 30,000 oscillators per day by the end of this year. Normally, oscillators are supplied in an 11 x 7cm ceramic arrays and can only be separated by being 'snapped' along the score lines.

InFact was approached by Rakon to design a machine from the ground up and develop and implement a new 'snapper' machine for the job. The requirement involved designing and creating a prototype of the snapper followed by detailed validation and design integration processes.

It began constructing the snapper in February 2002, including meticulous assembly and debugging of all components. The snapper is now complete and was installed in August of the same year.

At full speed the new machine will be running three 8 hour shifts, 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, and offering greater speed, reliability, consistency and accuracy than any manual alternative. Rakon is pleased with the result and has estimated that the snapper will provide a return on investment within one year. In total the snapper machine saved the company about NZ$250,000.

"InFact were very proactive in taking the project forward and providing the necessary detailed design and engineering to help turn the concept into a reality," said Phil Brownlie, Rakon Engineering Manager.

With one successful project now complete, Rakon says it would consider complementing their development team again by outsourcing future machine design projects to InFact at peak loading times. "InFact have proved to us that they can provide the necessary qualified and reliable expertise when we need it, and they do it well," said Brownlie.

"This project is a good example of the type of work we do best," explained Nigel Sharplin, InFact director. "Because we have the skills and international design experience to match the requirements for most product development projects we can be relied upon to complement a customer's in-house team with excellent accuracy and reliability. For one-off projects with particularly tight deadlines it is far more practical and efficient to outsource to a trusted support team on an as required basis, than to employ someone especially for the job and train them up."

Anticipating a rapidly growing need for temperature compensated crystal oscillators (TCXOs), Rakon has invested in purpose-built facilities in Auckland. Production is highly automated and uses innovative technology, much of which has been developed in-house.

The integration of satellite GPS technology with personal telecommunications services, and the burgeoning use of car-embedded GPS, will bring an explosion in demand for high-performance frequency control technology, according to many industry observers.

Rakon says it is committed to maintaining its leading position in the GPS market, first, by increasing its production capacity as it has already done with the 'snapper' process, and second, by continuing to advance the technology.

The company now says it is now looking to expand into the USA and Australian markets to supply competitive automation solutions for the product manufacturing process.

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