Semiautomatic benchtop stripping and terminal crimping machine can be a staple of each harness assembly shop. They’re perfect for high-mix, low-volume wire processing applications. But, if you want to produce a large number of identical crimped wires in a shift, you will need a fully automatic cutting, stripping and crimping system.

Fully automatic machines tend to be faster plus more consistent than semiautomatic equipment. They can combine multiple operations in just one setup and automatically separate rejected leads.

Automatic equipment removes the human element from high-volume wire processing applications, while improving quality and reducing costs. As an example, state-of-the-art automatic crimping machines can process wires at rates above 4,000 pieces hourly with absolute precision and also in-process inspections.

On the other hand, manual crimping is vunerable to variations through the operator, including prematurely positioning a wire into a terminal before crimping, leading to mistakes and low quality. Automatic machines eliminate this variation.

“Fully automatic machines need fewer operators to perform the same tasks,” says Erich Moeri, manager of applications engineering at Komax Corp. “Therefore, they can be better. Generally, you are going to save on floor area. There’s less equipment and you could eliminate some intermediate storage, including the have to store precut wires.

“Fully automatic machines may also provide a higher quality product, due to integrated quality checks,” adds Moeri. “In addition, they offer a far higher output.”

“Wire harness shops can perform more using the same amount of human resources,” notes Rich Schwartz, v . p . of engineering at Schaefer Megomat USA Inc. “Fully automatic machines also allow shops to visit after more and larger jobs. Sometimes, a piece of equipment could purchase itself in just a year.”

That’s important, because going from semi- to fully automatic equipment takes a big investment. While semiautomatic wire processing equipment can run $15,000 to $30,000, fully automated machines average $50,000 to $75,000. Engineers need to avoid falling in the trap between machine capability and actual use on the plant floor.

Since today’s machines are engineered with quick change-overs under consideration, most experts believe there exists a spot for fully automatic equipment in high-mix, low-volume wire processing applications.

As an illustration, Komax supplies a machine specifically for that. “The Zeta 633 crimping machine features a wire sequencer option where you could have 36 different wires ready at the wire cutter always,” Moeri indicates. “Changing wire is performed through the click of your mouse.”

Engineers at many equipment suppliers have designed numerous quick-change features to their machines to significantly lower set-up time. Artos Engineering Co. recently unveiled the Cr.22, which can tackle a wide array of applications, including weather sealing, crimping, twisting and tinning. While the machine can handle low-volume runs requiring multiple change outs during production, it also can accommodate high-volume runs.

“Diversity in production is essential,” says John Olsen, president of Artos Engineering. “Today, customers want options and adaptability.

“The step to justifying a good investment within an automatic method is to maintain the device producing parts as efficiently as possible with minimal downtime,” explains Olsen. “Older automatic machines might take around twenty or so minutes to put together and alter from one job to another.

“This was acceptable if the machine could process 1000s of wire at one time and run for hours through the initial set-up,” adds Olsen. “However, when a customer would want to run a few hundred pieces and change to a different one job, that volume of change-as time passes negates productivity.”

With quick-change carts, sensors that track wire core size, and all servo-driven technology, fully automatic machines can be put in place within seconds vs. minutes. Most new-generation machines provide built in quality checking features, which happens to be vital for wire harness shops doing automotive-related applications.

“These kinds of customers are searching for machines that provide the greatest number of fully integrated quality checks,” says Moeri. “We offer equipment where operators start by downloading ‘jobs’ from a business resource planning system and appearance material with the machine using a bar code scanner for process verification.

“Product quality concerns might be addressed by automatic crimp height measurements, crimp height adjustments, pull-force monitors and seal position analyzers,” Moeri indicates. “Afterwards, they could try to find feedback about the product manufactured by automatically uploading critical information back to the ERP system. That addresses traceability issues.”

User-friendly controls and software make all that possible. For example, Schleuniger Inc.’s new CrimpCenter 36 S boasts efficient motor programming and internal Ethernet communication in addition to a maximum feed rate of 8 meters per second. It also features a touch-screen monitor and intuitive operating software.

“The combination makes programming not so difficult so that even novice operators quickly feel comfortable,” says Gustavo Garcia-Cota, crimping product manager. “Standard TCP/IP protocol allows for easy machine networking. The optional EASY ProductionServer software helps optimize order processing and allows engineers to check and gather valuable production data from practically around the globe.”

As wire gets smaller and smaller, it gets tougher to deal with. That will undoubtedly spur more investment in fully automatic equipment that can easily grip thin wire.

“Machines designed with powerful servo motors and optimized programming from the process axes offer precise and fast motion sequences,” says Schwartz.

His company recently unveiled copper wire stripper that that may process wire as small as .08 millimeter squared.

“The Megomat 1000 has an unusually large variety of wire cross sections that could be processed,” claims Schwartz. “It can handle up to AWG 8 wire. And, the arrangement from the cutting blades dexjpky35 for very short wire overhangs.”

A software-controlled, adjustable wire guide system eliminates the use of tubes on the gripper. The programmable gripper jaw openings are automatically adjusted. “A large, two-side enabled swing radius of both gripper arms provides flexibility in realizing different applications,” says Schwartz.

However, no matter how much they embrace fully automatic equipment, most wire harness shops will need to keep a few manual and semiautomatic machines readily available. Applications involving cables, large-gauge wire, twisted-pair leads and shielded wires continue to demand some of those tools.