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Once in a blue moon Marshall Wolf likes to give the employees a chance to stretch their engineering muscles. With our systems integration constantly producing new and innovative products, our Panel Shop manager Jon Wolf sent out a little competitive email to all of our staff:

“Who would like a crisp 50 dollar bill to spend over the weekend? Here’s how you can make that happen. If you haven’t already played with the Idec demo that Dan and myself put together, go do that now.

Here is the quiz:

Come up with an application that would require using the following items:

Use your imagination and be creative. Think outside the box. Don’t go online and try to find your solution. Have fun with this! Creativity will get you farther than technical know-how.

Thanks, Jon”

To further the fun, Jon worked with each submittal to get as detailed and creative as possible; we all had to admit this was a fun and different exercise.

While some concepts focused more on making a living situation easier such as Caryl’s bike loading machine or Chris’ skittles distribution machine, each idea seemed to really express a lot about our employees’ personalities.

Chris' Skittles Machine

“High Speed 2 axis pick and place unit with stand, (2) steppers with vacuum cup on end and small hand held touch screen, the feeder bowl moving skittles candy in a single file orientation and while laying back in the lazy boy chair you could positon the drop right over your mouth with the best ratio of speed of drop per processing ingestion. (The) Vision system will confirm the proper positon of the mouth from a comparative picture stored in memory.  This will prevent miss drops position must be correct or the action will not complete the cycle and allow to return to the home position for the next cycle.”

Or how about Beckie’s “Kid feeding station”?

The HMI is on the kitchen table and allows the kids to pick what the hell they want for breakfast (lunch, dinner…)

Their food options are sitting on the breakfast bar, ready to eat with images of each option on the HMI along with a picture of each child.They choose their picture and what they want to eat on the HMI. The PLC will then send a signal to the pick and place robotic arm, which uses stepper motors, to pick up the proper plate and deposit it in front of the correct child.

If they choose something that isn’t available the PLC will send a signal to a loud horn (available in silver, red or white to match your décor) that will honk at them!!

When they finish eating the child needs to hit the ‘finished’ button on the HMI. Pressing ‘finish’ will have the PLC send a signal to a Patlite alarm (BSV-24PL-D) that you can pre-record sayings in. My voice will then sweetly remind them: ‘don’t even think about leaving this kitchen without cleaning up your dishes and thanking your parents for dinner!’.”

Mind you, we have all decided we will be patenting these concepts and bringing them to Shark Tank (haha). When Jonny read Beckie’s concept I think every single parent in the room lit up!

Although Hans seemed to really like Marc’s pizza machine and they even came up with a clever name:

FATBOY Automated Pizza Cutter

“2 Idec programmable steppers one operating on a Y axis via linear actuator, and the cutting motion and the other indexing the rotating pizza platform

*Ultrasonic cutting heads to maintain food standards

HMI Pages

  • Page 1  used to determine pizza style cut ( square cut or slice)
  • Page 2 to determine size of pizza being cut (Small, Medium, Large X-Large)
  • Page 3 to engage cutting and reset cutter

IDEC PLC to control cutting stroke distance and speed for each style/size of cut also to engage all 4 cutters for square cut pizza or only one cutter for pie slice.

  • Pie shaped cut pizza would require 4 cut strokes and 4 – 45 degree table indexes.
  • Square cut pizza would require 2 cutting strokes and 1 – 90 degree index.
  • Frame to be made of stainless steel

Your Dad told me it’s ready to be patented!! – Marc”

There seems to be an emerging trend with our guys and food while our resident biker, Caryl, is thinking up better ways to maneuver her motorcycle:

“I would like to see an application that helps me get my bike out of my garage. See diagram:

Since my parking situation is very limited and my bike is very heavy, it’s hard for me to get it out of the garage.  If I had an application where I could open the garage door, push a button or sequence of buttons and have a track that backed itself up out of my garage, in an L-shape and then pulled my motorcycle back for me to a starting point where I can move it off of the track, then the track could push itself back into the garage and I could close the garage and pull down the driveway; that would be amazing!

If it could be mobile, so it could go under either mine or my sister’s bike that would be even better!”


Caryl was swinging for the fences and even submitted a second concept:

“I have a pocket door between my dining room and my living room.  Its solid wood (built in 1885) and about 6 feet wide and 9 feet high, so it’s very heavy.  It’s already on a track, built into the wall and header of the rooms.  I’d use the stepper motor and plc to automate the door to make it easier for my mom to open and close the door; we use it to keep the cats out of the room every night and re open it in the morning.  I would try to add a motion sensor high up on the wall so that when you walked up to it, the door opened automatically.  You would need a sensor to keep the door from closing in case someone or something was still in the doorway when the door was closing, like a garage door sensor.”

Lastly, I’ll admit my idea came from working at a haunted house for many years….

Morgan’s Animatronic arm:

“One of the biggest flaws with animatronics is the fact that they have to be programmed to stay a certain distance away from customers.  I may end up needing to use additional products outside of the IDEC PLC, HMI and stepper motor to fully actualize. My idea is to either line the floor with sensors (IE the Schmersal Safety Mat) to constantly observe customer movements and tie that in with an Exergen IRT/C infrared sensor OR depending on how fast the P+F photoelectric scanners can pick up movement we could use those when customers trigger a certain spot.

The IDEC PLC would be primarily used to dictate the safety standards for sensing customers (distance between customer and animatronic, max number of customers in a room, time delay for scares) while the IDEC HMI would be used to observe the room as a whole. If we could incorporate a live stream video into the system this would allow for a human to observe the room and adjust certain parts of the scare (scare intensity, number of customers etc.). We would additionally use other stepper motors and PLCs to control parts of the animatronic (mouth, eyes, arms). If you’ve ever played PORTAL you could imagine a GLADOS style arm coming from the ceiling that was dressed up in any form of monster to fit the area that could better interact with customers than anything previously used.

With a concern for speed in response, this animatronic would likely be used in a larger staging area where customers would be pooled in, watch a “show” using the animatronic and led onto a new section. If we intended on using these in smaller areas where customers have the potential to run, we could probably use retroreflective sensors to track their movement and trigger different effects (which is very similar to the pneumatic step pads currently used). By better improving the sensing and tracking of customers with industrial grade parts, this could lead to a much more intense customer experience.”

The decision came down to Beckie’s handy kid feeding machine and my idea, but due to Beckie’s early weekend Jonny ended up choosing the new and more intense animatronic. This was fun little exercise for everyone right before the 4th of July weekend. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to do this again soon!

Visual thinker in a digital spectrum, or in layman’s terms….I make all the visual content for Marshall Wolf Automation 🙂 With a background in video advertisement and film production, I work with MWA’s marketing department to keep our customers reading our blogs and viewing our products.

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