Automated data collection boosts production for manufacturer by 40 percent

August 26, 2014

Unico Systems, a manufacturer of home air conditioning and heating systems, previously used manual methods to track manufacturing workflow, a time-consuming task that increased the chance for errors. Today, the company automatically enters the tracking information into a database using Cognex wireless handheld scanners to read barcodes on the product, and QR codes on employee badges and assembly stations. Operators now spend much less time on data entry tasks which, along with other improvements, has helped increase the production rate on the company’s lines by an average of 40 per cent. The new system also provides additional safeguards to ensure that only quality products are shipped to customers, resulting in a reduction in warranty costs. Here’s their story:

The company

Unico systems enable virtually all hot water and steam heated structures and other difficult installations to be centrally air conditioned and heated without a major sacrifice in space. The system’s flexible, insulated duct thread runs through, over, around, between and under existing inner wall structures so it can be adapted to the unique situation of the structure rather than requiring costly and inconvenient remodelling. A high velocity stream of air is delivered quietly and seamlessly into the room using two-inch room outlets or an eight- by .75-inch slotted diffuser. The inconspicuous room outlet can be positioned in ceilings, walls or floors. The modular air handlers and coils can be easily installed into attics, ceilings, crawlspaces and closets.

The challenge

Unico heating and cooling systems are produced on three lines used for blower assembly, coil assembly and final assembly. In the past, the company printed labels with tear off stickers and serial numbers that were attached to each major subassembly or component at the beginning of the line. Operators at each station tore off a sticker as they completed work on the product. They placed the sticker in a book in which they also recorded other information such as test results and the time when the operation was completed. The data recorded in the book was later keyboarded into an Excel spreadsheet. The limited amount of information that was recorded and the difficulty of accessing the information either on paper or in the spreadsheet reduced the value of the data.

“We were concerned about the amount of time that operators were required to devote to data entry and its impact on manufacturing productivity,” said Steve Intagliata, vice-president of operations for Unico Systems. “We were concerned about the potential for manual data entry errors and also wanted to record greater amounts of data than could be accommodated with a manual process. It was clear that we needed to automate the collection of data on our manufacturing process.”

The solution

Unico approached HTE Technologies, a multi-division distributor that provides products, technical assistance and support services for motion and control, production and maintenance, power and process equipment and metal finishing. Scott McBrady, director of technology at HTE Technologies, designed a custom manufacturing data system that uses a handheld scanner at each station in each line to record the model and serial number from the assembly, the employee badge and the station number.

“The ID readers were critical to the success of the manufacturing data system,” McBrady said. “Yet the stations are difficult to reach with conventional cables and there is moving equipment in the area with the potential to tangle up the cables. Reliability of the ID readers is also critical because downtime has the potential to substantially reduce throughput of the line. We have seen reliability issues with some wireless ID readers. We selected Cognex DataMan 8100 readers for this application because we have used them on several previous projects and they have provided near 100 per cent uptime.”

The DataMan 8100 wireless reader provides a working range up to 100 metres with sufficient memory capacity for reading codes when offline or out of range. It supports industrial protocols for both corded and cordless models, allowing for easy integration, reduced installation costs and remote access to diagnostics. Common to all DataMan 8000 series models is the system’s modular design that allows any reader to be easily switched between corded RS-232/USB communication to industrial Ethernet or to wireless using field exchangeable interface modules. Cognex Connect makes it possible to communicate via industrial protocols such as EtherNet/IP, Profinet and MC Protocol, in addition to traditional support for USB and RS-232.

HTE Technologies wrote software in the Microsoft C-Sharp programming language that communicates with the Cognex ID readers to capture all of the information needed on the manufacturing process. A key advantage of the new manufacturing data system is that it records the time of each data entry step, making it possible to accurately record the cycle time of every manufacturing operation.

For example, at the first station in the blower assembly line — the motor test station — the operator scans his or her employee badge, scans the station and scans the barcode on the motor with its model number and serial number. Then the operator runs a test that measures the amount of current drawn by the motor during operation. The motor test machine is connected to the network, so the results go out over the network and are captured by the manufacturing data system.

The manufacturing data system also records information from each of the subsequent stations on the final assembly line. At each station, the operator scans his or her badge and the station identification number. For example, the motor is assembled to several components at the second station in the blower assembly line. The operator scans the components and the database marries the serial number of the motor to the serial number of the components. In the third station, the motor is assembled to the blower frame and here again the operator scans the serial number of the blower to marry them in the database. Pressure testing is performed at the fourth station of the blower assembly line. The operator performs the test and the test data is again automatically sent out over the network and recorded in the database against the serial number of the blower.

The manufacturing data system records the amount of time consumed by each assembly process and the results of each inspection operation. This information is posted on a web page that managers access to keep their finger on the pulse of the lines, correct problems quickly and track continuous improvement programs. Unico engineers can easily make changes to the software, such as adding an employee to a station. Along with implementing the scanners and new software, Unico also improved the method of delivering materials to the line. When the material at a station drops to the safety level, the operator at the station pushes a switch that activates a light. The material handlers then are tasked with delivering the material within a certain period of time.

“We have seen a substantial improvement in productivity through the implementation of the scanners, software and other changes,” Intagliata concluded. “The biggest factor is the automation of the data entry task, which frees up operators to focus on assembling and testing the product, and has played a key role in increasing line throughput from 25 to 35 systems per shift. It is also much easier now to access information on our manufacturing process. We can see at a glance if a line has slowed or stopped, or if a bad part has been produced. When a part fails a test, a red light goes on and the line stops until the part is removed, so there’s much less risk that a faulty product will be shipped to a customer.

"The additional information provided by the manufacturing data system is also very valuable," Intagliata added. "Managers can easily check the throughput of a line over any period of time up to and including in real time. This information helps us ensure that only the highest quality products are delivered to our customers, and keep our costs under control by continually improving productivity. The Cognex ID readers have played a critical role by providing near 100 per cent read rates and reliable operation without any significant amount of downtime.”

BH Vendor Partner: Unico, Inc. to give away $25,000 HVAC system in sweepstakes.

August 04, 2014

Because Unico is a vendor of many Blue Hawk Distributors, this was a message sent to all Blue Hawk members about the TOH giveaway.

St. Louis, Missouri (July 24, 2014)-

Unico, Inc., maker of small-duct, high velocity heating and air conditioning systems, has been selected by "This Old House" magazine to participate in its giveaway of more than $728,000 in prizes this fall. The HVAC products from Unico are ideal for use in renovations of older homes due to the non-intrusive small ductwork that allows installers to preserve the home's original architectural features.

The winner of the Unico System will receive a complete HVAC system that includes a high-velocity air handler, an outdoor inverter heat pump, a high-wall split unit, ducting, and system design. The value of the prize is $25,000.

"We participated in the giveaway last year and thought it was a great way to tell homeowners about the advantages of the Unico System," said Scott Intagliata, marketing director at Unico. "Our target customers are families who are renovating or updating older homes, particularly houses that have never had central air or heating. Our small duct system can be installed with very little impact to a house or building's architectural integrity, and owners of historic homes really appreciate that benefit."

The Unico System for the giveaway features the company's traditional small duct system together with two new products that work in sync with the system: the iSeries outdoor unit and iSeries high-wall split unit. The split unit is often used to heat and cool a room that has been added on to the original house or a porch that has been enclosed. It's also helpful for conditioning an attic room.

The Unico System offers the advantages of quiet operation, draft-free and even room temperatures, installation in tight spaces, and little to no duct leakage or thermal loss. The air conditioning system removes 30 percent more humidity from the house than a traditional system, saving energy and lowering utility bills.

Information about the "This Old House" sweepstakes can be found at The sweepstakes runs from July 1, 2014 through September 2, 2014.

Category: Press Releases

Pints With Pete - A Voyage into Valves!

July 11, 2014

Here is a link to our press release covering next weeks Pints With Pete - A Voyage into Valves featuring Ron Blechle from Sporlan, a division of Parker Hannifin.

Pints with Pete Press Release

Category: Press Releases

Historic American Homes Newsletter

July 11, 2014

The Unico System was recently featured in the newsletter of the Society for Historic American Homes. This society views older, historic homes as national treasures and strives to inspire people to own historic homes, as well as provide historic homeowners with the tools and knowledge for sound ownership. We are proud they would include us in their newsletter. You can find our feature on Page 3.

Society for Historic American Homes

June Newsletter

July 01, 2014

In the July issue of This Old House, General Contractor and TOH TV host Tom Silva provides a list of some of his favorite building products that are made in the USA.

Among these products is the Unico System - this is a great honor to be named one of the best products made in the USA, especially by a magazine of this caliber!

This Old House magazine also did a quick introduction to the iSeries product line -
This Old House PDF of magazine coverage of Unico iSeries

June Newsletter

Major Coverage of the Unico System in HVAC Insider Magazine!

June 02, 2014

Unico has two articles featured in the latest edition of HVAC Insider magazine! This is very exciting to have a publication of this caliber devote an entire page about our company. Below is the full PDF.

May Newsletter

May 30, 2014

Unico iSeries product line is ready and the first shipment has arrived!
We are very excited to finally have these products become available for sale.
If you aren't aware of what iSeries is, this product line features:

  • High Wall Inverter Indoor Units
  • Unico Inverter Blowers and Coils
  • Outdoor Inverter Heat Pump

There are many features and benefits:

  • Up to 20 SEER
  • Designed to match Unico System indoor units
  • Either mono-split or multi-split
  • Inverter Technology
  • Efficient operation at even the most extreme temperatures
  • Cold Draft prevention
  • Thermostat on remote control
  • Compact and easy to install
  • Quiet, indoor and out

Unico iSeries HVAC Line Named “2014 Money-Saving Product”

May 14, 2014

Unico’s iSeries line -- multi-split outdoor units that connect to both high wall units and ducted air handling units at the same time -- has won accolades for its efficiency in heating and cooling areas where space is at a premium. “Buildings” magazine identified the iSeries as a “2014 Money-Saving Product,” an annual awards list that will be published in the June issue.

The iSeries products include refrigerant-based outdoor inverter units that range in size from 1 to 4 tons and feature a high SEER rating, making them incredibly energy efficient. The outdoor unit compressor matches the power request of the indoor units. This creates more efficiency and energy savings because the compressor isn’t constantly cycling on and off and attempting to achieve full power. The multi-split outdoor unit has an operating range from -25F to +122F.

“This recognition by ‘Buildings’ is a great honor, and we hope it will help increase awareness of our iSeries as the best choice for challenging projects such as tight spaces, or retrofits that require preserving the original architectural features,” said Scott Intagliata, Unico’s marketing director.

Unico added the iSeries to its offerings in January, through a partnership with Italian manufacturer Argoclima S.p.A, a leading producer of HVAC products. The iSeries offers customers more options when retrofitting heating and air conditioning in an older home, or when designing a new home. Unico’s indoor components work in conjunction with iSeries indoor and outdoor components. For example, the iSeries outdoor multi-split can be matched with Unico air handlers and high wall units, allowing both to be used with a single outdoor unit. Now, iSeries high wall units can condition one area that has no space for ducting, while a Unico small duct system can supply the rest of the structure, providing highly efficient and quiet draft-free comfort.

Unico’s revolutionary flexible small ducts weave through the smallest spaces—ceilings, walls, even floor joists -- allowing original architectural features to remain in place and keeping ductwork out of sight.

Category: Press Releases

Contracting Business

May 02, 2014

Here is an article posted on Contracting Business website about Pints with Pete!

Refreshing: Unico Serves Up 'Pints with Pete' Webinars

April Newsletter

April 24, 2014

Unico iSeries to be ready May 1st!

We are very excited to finally have these products become available for sale.

If you aren't aware of what iSeries is, this product line features:

- High Wall Inverter Indoor Units
- Unico Inverter Blowers and Coils
- Outdoor Inverter Heat Pump
- There are many features and benefits:
- Up to 20 SEER
- Designed to match Unico System indoor units
- Either mono-split or multi-split
- Inverter Technology
- Efficient operation at even the most extreme temperatures
- Cold Draft prevention
- Thermostat on remote control
- Compact and easy to install
- Quiet, indoor and out

This line will allow incredible versatility when designing HVAC projects as it makes it possible to have central heating and air conditioning and also high wall units from just one outdoor unit.

Category: Newsletters