Embracing change as technology bytes

Edward Pryor and sons 'Chris Harrop and David Rey check fibre optics
Edward Pryor and sons 'Chris Harrop and David Rey check fibre optics
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Innovation has been part of the lifeblood of Pryor Marking Technology since before the 1930s.

When the first desktop computers became available more than 30 years ago, Pryor was quick to see the potential benefits.

Its first computer controlled marking machines were based on the Commodore 64, with just 64KB of RAM, a further 20KB of ROM and an 8-bit microprocessor.

“We cut down a Commodore 64 to build the controller, operations director Simon Dunn recalls.

“We used to build 15 a month and it was very labour intensive.”

Today the company designs its own electronics and has the capability to develop bespoke control systems – part of the business, which, in Simon’s words, is flying.

Pryor’s connections with Rolls-Royce, making marking and traceability systems for its plants across the globe, has been a key driver for innovation at the Egerton Street company for the last 40 years, says business development manager Alastair Morris.

More recently, Jaguar Land Rover has joined Rolls-Royce in driving innovation at Pryor.

Following on from calls from the motor insurers’ automotive research centre, Thatcham, for the unique Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, to appear in more places on a vehicle, JLR decided to mark the chassis in three places.

As a result, Pryor has developed a robot marking cell that can recognise the model, knows exactly where the VIN must be marked and completes the job before the next vehicle comes down the production line.

“The first one we made was installed at JLR’s Hailwood plant last summer and is marking the Evoke, although it will also do the new Freelander when that is launched,” says Alastair.

“It takes no more than 69 seconds to mark every car in three places – otherwise the next Evoke is coming down the line.

“In that time, the robot has to lift the bonnet, mark the chassis, close the bonnet and then go inside, through the gap where the windscreen will be on the finished car, and mark inside the passenger compartment.”

The robot also incorporates a vision system that identifies features in the chassis in order to know where to place the mark and then checks it has got it right.

“The challenging thing with the vision system is this has to be done after the car has been painted and, because there are so many different colours of car, it requires subtly different work lighting to get it right. Black cars are quite straightforward, but some of the other colours are more difficult,” says Alastair.

“The complexity of the system is made even greater by the fact that they wanted a back up robot, so that if one breaks down, the other takes over.”

JLR must be well pleased with Pryor’s system because they have ordered a second system which will be installed at a factory in China which JLR is building as part of a joint venture with Chinese auto maker Chery.

There are also plans for robotic systems, with dot markers, to put identification numbers on engines and gearboxes, too.

While the aerospace and automotive industry are moving towards robotic or automatic marking stations, demand continues for Pryor’s portable systems across industry and in oil and gas, where they may want to mark large pieces of steel out in the field.