Most of us have encountered franking machines at some point in our careers some of us have been users. Shoving the letters into the machine and having them ripped from your hand and fired out the other end complete with their frank does give a certain satisfaction until, of course, you find that you have forgotten to change to today’s date and you have already franked a couple of hundred quid’s worth of mail.
In the UK, franking machines have to meet the most stringent controls in the world equal only to those imposed in the US. Designs have to be approved by the Royal Mail after which the design cannot be change without further approval. Along with these security standards, franking machines also have to conform to British Standards which includes making sure that no one can get their fingers caught when the machine is in operation.
Pitney Bowes is a name synonymous with mail room equipment. When the company set about designing a new range of franking machines it was looking for an alternative to the microswitch which was then used to prevent the machine from operating if the drum door was open. The microswitch had two weak areas: it could take some minutes to set on the production line and it could also be tampered with once installed. Pitney Bowes approached Hamlin, a specialist in custom sensors to help them develop a better solution.
Hamlin is known for its work with the automotive industry in supplying sensors for airbags. It has 85% of the market in Europe and 30% to 40% in the US. The safety critical nature of these sensors is indicative of the quality and reliability of the company’s product. All sensors are subjected to very stringent controls and the company is accredited to QS9000 a standard more rigorous than ISO9000. These controls apply to all sensors produced by the company from non-critical upwards.
All Hamlin’s sensors are based on reed switches but despite its large share of the air bag market the company is expert in manufacturing sensors for a huge range of applications. The company’s strength is that it works with its customers to design an appropriate solution to their sensing problem. The company uses Pro/Engineer design software which is network linked to its other facilities worldwide. By checking to see if products for similar applications have been designed elsewhere Hamlin avoids re-inventing the wheel and consolidates its sensing expertise. Manufacture is a mixture of automated lines and manual lines: products are also tested before dispatch so they can be delivered straight to production lines at the customer’s facility.
When Pitney Bowes presented Hamlin with the problem of the drum door the companies worked together closely so that Hamlin had a good understanding of the application and was able to develop the sensor alongside the development of the franking machine. The result is a sensor that is extremely easy to install and needs no maintenance or adjustment meaning that significant production time is being saved at Pitney Bowes. The switch is much more difficult to tamper with than the previously used microswitch and the reed switch is cheaper.
Having learned more about the nature of reed switch based sensing and Hamlin’s expertise, Pitney Bowes says that it has confidence in both the technology and the company and would happily use both in future projects. Indeed, another Hamlin sensor is already being used in another mail room product for automatically stuffing envelopes (folder/inserter is the correct name we’re told). Where the effectiveness of opto-electric devices degrades in a dirty environment; reed switches can be hermetically sealed and are impervious to dust and dirt.
Hamlin Electronics Europe 01379 649700