Aimed at small manufacturers and sub-contractors that would like to extract additional production output from one or two machining centres, Fastems has launched an upgraded range of flexible pallet containers. They cost about the same as a conventional pallet pool, but have a smaller footprint and are more efficient at delivering fixtured components to the machine spindles. Called FPC version 4.0, the automated pallet storage and retrieval systems are supplied as part of a turnkey package only through machine tool builders or their agents (unlike Fastems’ larger flexible manufacturing systems which may be supplied directly to the customer). The FPCs are equally suited to machining one-offs and small batches as they are to series production runs. Each FPC container is configured to suit the particular machining centre and can be unpacked, connected electrically and mechanically and in operation the same day. Even the load / unload stations are mounted inside the container for transportation, so commissioning requires little more than to move the load station from inside to outside and to re-mount. The container range comprises four models covering pallet sizes from 400 mm x 400 mm up to 1,000 mm x 1,000 mm and loads up to 3.2 tonnes. The latter, heaviest duty system accommodates six pallets on one level, while the lightest system with 750 kg load capacity stores 12 pallets on two levels. Only one FPC may be needed at the outset, but a second can be retrofitted at any time, taking pallet capacity of the lightest system to 24. A rail-guided stacker crane with three numerically controlled axes and either a parallelogram-type or telescopic fork mechanism effects transfer of a pallet around the system, from one or two loading stations, into and out of the storage positions, to the machining centre(s), and back again for unloading and exit from the system. Up to 29 pallet movements per hour can be scheduled. The FPC’s control system is based on the Windows PC-based MMS, as used in a full Fastems FMS. It is responsible for scheduling automatic pallet transfer on a first-in, first-out basis between load station(s) and machining centre(s) – via the store if the intended machine is occupied – and downloading the requisite program to the machine control(s). Manual over-ride is available for promoting a rush job to the head of the queue. A wealth of management data is available from MMS, including machine, load station and crane utilisation figures, reasons for spindle down-time (equipment service, cutter exchange, etc), and daily, weekly or monthly production reporting. The information is available on the factory floor, in the office, or anywhere in the world via the web. Machine status monitoring and analysis is an option, as is remote alarm via a mobile phone text or e-mail message.