Woodworking machinery manufactured by Unique Machine now features automation products supplied exclusively by Mitsubishi Electric
With the success of the VFDs, Unique Machine has evolved to a 100% Mitsubishi Electric solution, incorporating servo motors, PLCs, cables, and, most recently, HMIs
A leading manufacturer of woodworking machinery is leveraging the benefits of the latest automation technology from Mitsubishi Electric.Fed up with the disadvantages of using automation products from a mix of different suppliers, Phoenix, USA-based Unique Machine & Tool Company wanted to find a reliable singlesource supply partner. The OEM eventually settled on Mitsubishi Electric and, after initial success with VFDs, soon adopted servo motors, PLCs, cables and HMIs from the same supplier. Reliability and brand reputation have subsequently improved immensely, with Unique Machine today making ‘100% Mitsubishi Electric’ a major part of its sales presentations.
Established in 1969, Unique Machine manufactures high-quality automated woodworking machines, used mostly by cabinet shops and door manufacturers in the design of custom kitchens and similar applications. Products include shapers and sanders, raised panel door machines, CNC machining centres, mitring machines, and dedicated cope and stick stations.Back in the mid-1990s, Unique Machine began the transition from manufacturing mostly manual machines, to producing highly automated, extremely user-friendly systems, pushing the limits of then-available technologies. “We had a ‘plug and play’ vision that was relatively new at the time,” explains company President Jeremy Lutringer. “To bring it to fruition, we had to use an eclectic mix of products from different automation manufacturers, and that caused a lot of problems. Whenever there was an issue, the different manufacturers would point fingers at each other and not take responsibility. It was very frustrating.” In addition to lacking a single point of responsibility, the need to depend on a multitude of manufacturers for different components was adding complexities and driving up costs.
“We had to continually write new drivers to make the different components talk to each other, and we also had to have custom cables designed,” explains Software & Controls Engineer Jon Mattson. The way to rectify the situation seemed clear: find and partner with an automation company that could offer a complete product line. Unique Machine came across a major automation supplier that seemed to fit the bill. However, the company soon discovered that the service and attitude of its new partner left a lot to be desired.“Their business model was to lock you into software service and upgrade agreements, as well as licensing fees, which had to be paid on an ongoing basis,” says Mattson. “That may be acceptable or even advantageous in some industries, but in the woodworking sector our customers are accustomed to paying for a machine once and having it run for 30 years. Demands for ongoing technical fees just don’t fly.” But, Mattson notes, the real damage to Unique’s reputation was yet to come. “Our supplier was not providing very good support; if we had a problem with one of their products they would either put a band aid on it, or not respond at all. Furthermore, they suddenly dropped a couple of products we were using and stopped all support service for them. That made us look really bad to our customers.”Frustrated, Unique Machine decided to find another supplier, but was committed to proceeding conservatively.
“Mitsubishi Electric had been calling on us and we decided to give them a try, but we had been burnt and didn’t want to jump from frying pan to frying pan,” explains Lutringer. “We decided to trial their VFDs in the first instance. They’re relatively simple components, and since we had used about 10 different brands of VFDs before, we would be able to weigh the relative quality right away.”Almost immediately, the Mitsubishi Electric VFDs showed themselves to be far superior to any brand the company had used previously.“The reliability of Mitsubishi Electric VFDs was far better than anything we had ever experienced, both out of the box and out in the field,” confirms Mattson. “With our previous supplier, we might experience five or six VFD failures out of 15 machines. However, with Mitsubishi Electric
I can’t think of a single failure, and we’ve used many, many more Mitsubishi Electric VFDs.”Lutringer adds: “Other drives would throw up errors and stop working at the first hint of heat. Woodworking shops can run hot and that was a big problem, but the Mitsubishi Electric drives stand up to the harshest conditions and just keep working.”In addition to huge improvements in reliability, the Mitsubishi Electric VFDs are providing a number of other benefits to Unique Machine and its customers. “Mitsubishi Electric drives are very easy to program,” states Mattson, by way of example. “The interface on the front of the drive and an auto-tune feature that lets you simply plug in the characteristics of a new motor, save a lot of time. And, with other brands, we would have to put in separate braking resistors to stop the motor quickly in an emergency. In contrast, the Mitsubishi Electric VFDs do it on their own, in less than 10 seconds, and without any risk of overheating that can plague resistors. This integrated safety is a big plus as it helps us optimise the safety of our equipment while saving on cost and providing a much neater, clutter-free cabinet that really projects ‘trouble-free’ to our customers.”
With the success of the VFDs, Unique Machine has since evolved to a 100% Mitsubishi Electric solution, incorporating servo motors, PLCs, cables, and, most recently, HMIs.“We had been using Windows PCs for many years because we liked the flexibility and functionality they allowed for creating full-featured interface screens and, for a long time, industrial HMIs just couldn’t compare,” says Lutringer. “This has all changed with Mitsubishi Electric, HMIs, which offer a lot of flexibility as well as feature-rich functionality. There was a smooth learning curve and we are very happy with the graphic capabilities, object actions, image sharpness and quality, even compared with full-featured PCs.” Now offering 100% Mitsubishi Electric components in most of its machines, Lutringer feels that the partnership has given Unique Machine a big advantage. “100% Mitsubishi Electric is definitely something that we highlight in sales presentations,” he says. “Most customers know that having a single, high-quality brand of components on-board makes for easier troubleshooting. Also, I think that the Mitsubishi Electric brand name carries a connotation of quality that no other can match in this space.”
That quality, Lutringer notes, is something that Mitsubishi Electric has worked hard to maintain for the company over the years: “We’ve been very happy with the level of support that we get. Access to engineers, customer service, sales – whatever we need – it’s always there. It’s in stark contrast to what we’ve experienced with other automation suppliers.”With Mitsubishi Electric by its side for several years now, Unique Machine has enjoyed some of its greatest successes in nearly half a century of trading. “If we hadn’t found a stable automation partner we probably wouldn’t have had some of these results,” concludes Lutringer. “Bottom line; I think Mitsubishi Electric adds confidence for us when we ship a machine out the door, while our customers also have confidence in the products because of the automation technology they feature.”
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