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New Viking Champion QC305 Has Number of Improvements
When Viking Engineering & Development gets the idea for a new automated pallet assembly system, it listens to its customers; newest machine, the Champion QC305, makes debut at Richmond Expo.

By Tim Cox - Editor
Date Posted: 7/1/2000

Change-Over, Cycle Time Faster; ‘Teach Mode’ Reduces Initial Set-Up

When Viking Engineering & Development gets the idea for a new automated pallet assembly system, it listens to its customers. In fact, the ideas and concepts behind a new machine generally start with Viking customers.

"Our customer base and their input — their business — is what drives our product development, and what we supply to them," said Barbara Wenner, Viking’s vice president of operations.

Viking recently introduced a new model, the Champion QC305, which was exhibited at the Richmond Expo. QC stands for Quick Change-over, one of the primary benefits of the new Champion model. Viking was able to reduce change-over time significantly. The older Champion took 40 to 45 minutes to change over the machine from one pallet type to another; the new Champion QC305 can be changed over in about 15 to 20 minutes.

Change-over improvement comes primarily from a new operator interface unit that has enough memory to store up to 40 pallet types and tells the machine where to place the nails. The function was previously done with a program bar that required bolts or nail cams to be manually set each time the machine was changed over. "That portion of the machine is now computerized," said David Johnson, Viking’s director of sales.

Viking also added a fast mechanical set-up for the hoppers that feed stringers into the system. The hoppers consist in part of a series of rails to store and hold stringers. On the older Champion, the operator must set one end of the six rails and then line up the other end; on the Champion QC305, the rails are arranged in three pairs and can be adjusted one pair at a time with the turn of a crank. The new design frees the hopper so that it can move in and out without binding or catch points. The hoppers also were beefed up and made of more heavy-duty components, explained John Ek, Viking’s product manager, who led the Viking team that developed the new machine.

The Champion QC305 also has a new hydraulic drive that is more accurate and efficient. The drive is made up of three components: motor, encoder, and proportional valve control. Viking improved the motor to make it more efficient, added the accuracy of the encoder, and added the proportional valve, which regulates the speed, stepping down the system when it approaches a point to drive a nail. The proportional valve control allows for smoother stop and go on the carriage and better nail location accuracy. These improvements give the Champion QC305 a faster cycle time, so the company added certain heavy-duty components, such as drive sprockets and chain, to handle the faster cycle time with decreased system stress.

Other new features or improvements include face seal fittings, double-braided hydraulic hose, a one-piece hydraulic manifold, circuit breakers instead of fuses, and a new central processing unit that eliminated the need for some sensors. Another new feature makes ejecting a single pallet easier with a manual pallet pusher and stacker eject control switches. The various changes will reduce a pallet company’s operating costs, machine maintenance, and down-time, according to David.

One particularly interesting new feature is a ‘teach mode.’ When initially setting up a pallet, John explained, the operator can insert the parts into the machine and have the carriage perform a scan to determine the nailing pattern. The operator also can accomplish the same thing by putting a finished pallet — a template fixture — into the system and scanning it. The operator also may pre-set some directions, such as nails per board. In previous models of the Champion system, when initially setting up a pallet, the operator must enter each nail location and distance. "So it eliminates error and reduces initial set-up," said John. The system also comes with a number of default settings that can be modified.

The new Viking Champion QC305 can assemble pallets made of two, three, and four stringers, including pallets from 31 inches to 60 inches wide and 20 inches to 72 inches long. It is capable of manufacturing flush, double wing, single wing, double overhang, and single overhang pallets. Other standard features include automated pallet turn-over, automated stacking, and automatic pneumatic filter drains. Available options include infeed conveyors, lift tables, and additional roll-out conveyors. The system is 38 feet long and 20 feet wide.

Viking marks its 25th anniversary this year as a company. "What helps sell our machines is the after-support of our service department," added David, "the trouble-shooters that man our phone lines, and our reputation for standing behind our product." Viking recently added a complete Internet-based parts ordering system online that may be reached at its Web site at www.vikingeng.com. The company has a staff of service technicians based regionally throughout the country, he noted, and parts are available on an overnight basis.

Viking promotes several advantages of bulk nails. "They are far superior to a collated nail," said David. Based on standards for nail performance (standards developed by the Virginia Tech pallet and container research laboratory and approved by the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association), bulk nails are more resistant to pallet joint separation. In shear tests, for example, two wooden parts that are fastened at a joint are pushed toward each other so they become nearly parallel. According to Virginia Tech, the average resistance to pallet joint separation in shear of a .099x2-inch collated nail is 48% compared to a .113x2-inch bulk or loose nail. The bulk nail has a larger head, is slightly longer, and — unlike collated nails — have continuous, deeper spirals. In addition, pneumatically powered nailing tools are not capable of consistently countersinking nails and their high nail insertion speeds actually destroy wood fiber around the nail, which impairs holding power; hydraulically powered nailing systems completely countersink nails and push them into the wood in a way that promotes the effect of screwing the nail into the wood, which minimizes damage to wood fiber and increases holding power.

"And the cost of bulk nails could conservatively run 40 percent less than a collated nail," added David, depending on the region of the country and quantities ordered.

Viking has a comparison at its Web site (www.palletassembly.com) between bulk and collated 11.5 gauge, .113 wire diameter nails; in the example, collated nails cost $4.73 per 1,000 and bulk nails cost $2.50. Assembling GMA pallets, which require 84 nails, the fastener cost per pallet would be 40 cents for collated nails and 21 cents for bulk nails. With savings of 19 cents per pallet with bulk nails, assuming a company produces 10,000 pallets monthly, the annual savings would be $22,478.

In developing the Champion QC305, Viking once again turned to the people who are considered the key to the process of introducing a new machine: its customers. "We’ve had customers asking for a Champion that would change over quicker," David explained. "It seems the (pallet) market continues to demand more from our customers — that they build more, different size pallets, quicker. "This (the Champion QC305) will give our customers the ability to change over quicker and to build more, different style pallets in an eight hour shift than they could before."

In addition, Viking’s service technicians are a critical link in the chain of new product development. The service technicians follow a detailed reporting system when installing and maintaining Viking systems at customer locations, John noted. Reports from service technicians are reviewed by a team at the Viking factory that responds to issues the service technicians have raised. After a company has had a machine for 30 days, they receive a survey containing questions about the installation process, the transition to running the system, and more. Customers also are asked for suggestions about how to improve everything from training to billing. "Those reports come back and are thoroughly reviewed, and changes are made and implemented," added David.

Like other product development projects, the new Champion QC305 was the result of a cross-functional team representing many different departments at Viking. "What we’ve found is this gives us the best approach for a new product introduction," said Barbara. "We get a lot of different people involved right away from each department, creating a much smoother implementation into the field."

"We are a 100 percent employee-owned company," noted David. "Everybody is striving toward the same goal. The more we help our customers to become successful, the more successful we become as a company."

Viking Supplies Automated Assembly Systems

Viking Engineering & Development Inc. supplies more than a half-dozen different automated pallet assembly systems for both stringer and block pallets to the pallet industry. Viking also designs and builds special or custom systems. All Viking nailing machines use bulk nails, and Viking guarantees that its own brand of Super Stock pallet nails will run smoothly in every system it builds.

One of the newest machines is the Sentinel, introduced in 1998. The Sentinel, an entry-level system, is operated by one worker and can assemble about 300 new pallets per day. "The Sentinel is the only machine in its price range that uses bulk nails," noted David Johnson, Vikings’s director of sales. The Sentinel can enable a pallet manufacturing company to automate assembly operations with only operator and also reap the benefits of bulk nails.

The Viking Champion, a mid-level system that is available in several models, can assemble pallets of new or used lumber and has greater production capability. The system can produce approximately 500 pallets per day.

The Viking Turbo 505, introduced in 1994, "has become the standard of the industry for high volume stringer pallet assembly," said David. The company has well over 100 of the machines in service, he said.

Viking also manufactures the Explorer, a system primarily for assembling block pallets.

For more information on Viking or its products, contact the company at (800) 328-2403, fax (612) 571-7379, e-mail at sales@vikingeng.com, or Web site at www.vikingeng.com.

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