Reading time ( words)
Integrated Process Systems, Inc. (IPS) is a manufacturer of automated wet process equipment and material handling systems in Cedar City, Utah. IPS was formed in June of 1996 with a philosophy of being a multi-product, multi-industry company. In 1996, IPS purchased the assets of VCM for its vertical process equipment, and in 2000, purchased the assets of Western Technology Associates Inc. (WTA) for its horizontal process equipment and VRP technology. The result is the establishment of IPS as a state-of-the-art product line that offers a turnkey solution to all wet process and material handling requirements.
Of the 39 suppliers Whelen chose to use, none were as integral to the automation and overall design and layout of the line as IPS, with its team led by President Mike Brask. In February 2014, IPS approached Whelen at a very early stage, to put the required infrastructure in place before any of the equipment could be installed. This involved the design and installation of al the overhead utilities: the blower on the roof for exhaust, the process piping, as well as all the Unistrut framing (yellow and green for Mike’s favorite Green Bay team—a playful jibe for a factory located in the heart of New England Patriot territory). IPS also hired local mechanical contractors to run the plumbing, which would later be connected to pump stations (also installed by IPS) scattered throughout the factory. From start to finish, the Whelen project took the IPS team approximately 18 months.
Speaking about taking on such a large project, Brask said, “From an engineering point of view, the challenge was thinking through all the process flows and automation details that needed to happen; Alex Stepinski had his flow charts and his logic worked out, but what does that tool have to look like? That’s where we came in. He did a very good job spec’ing the process, which made it a lot easier, but then configuring the tools to do each one of those functions—that took some time. Another big challenge for us was that normally, equipment manufacturers in the U.S. don’t get huge orders like this every day. We had to ramp up to keep up with the capacity we needed to build this along with our other projects and try to balance it all.”
The IPS equipment made up about one-third of Whelen’s equipment spend. Overall, IPS installed 52 machines at Whelen. One of the key technical challenges was working with other vendors to integrate their tools into the software management system. IPS had the responsibility of integrating these tools for the line to run as a turnkey solution. This involved writing software drivers to work with each supplier’s unique formats and languages that, in some cases, weren’t developed at the time the orders were placed with IPS. All systems needed to be programmed so the user could define the process flow of each job in a tray that could be independently routed and tracked. This soft-ware and hardware allowed the line to run as a continuous system.
All IPS equipment was manufactured in the U.S. in Cedar City, Utah, except for the handling equipment, which was made by IPS’ Taiwanese partner, WorldTech. It makes up an impressive automated conveyor system that tracks very smoothly and is filled with IPS loader/unloaders, buffer systems, etching and stripping systems, and so on. But perhaps the most impressive IPS system is the vertical electrolytic plating machine. Being fully automated, this machine has the biggest cycle time gain; in 30–40 minutes Whelen is able send a panel through the entire process. After all of the equipment was installed, IPS also worked with Proface, their touchscreen provider, to develop software that coordinates all the machines and allows the system to monitor each job in real-time.
Within the budget Whelen set, Alex dreamed up a remarkable factory, but it was IPS that played a central role in making it a reality.
“We’re in a redefining moment,” Brask said.” We had our initial business plan that we started the company with—to be multi-product, multi-industry. We’ve always stuck with that philosophy. That has gotten us through the down-turns and the recessions. We’ve been fortunate enough to always be stable. Now what we’re doing is we’re redefining the business plan to basically bring to the table integration and automation. It’s what the future market needs in the U.S. for circuit boards.”