Tooling & Production

July 2008 Edition

hot markets review: robotics

Robot team shares load ...

... and brings 21st century savings to 100-year-old auto partsmaker

In Cell 1, an operator loads a part onto an indexing turntable, the turntable rotates the part into the robot, which moves the part to the terminal insertion station, and then places it back onto the turntable.

Ask a metal industry robot how it likes working alongside a human and it won’t answer. The human, however, might have a comment, but when the robot is saving material and labor, improving quality, and running faster cycles, it’s hard to have anything negative to say.

That’s the situation Motoman Inc. brought to Grote Industries. Grote, of Madison, IN, installed two modular, highly flexible robot work cells that feature robot teams working in close proximity with human operators.

"Material savings alone easily paid for the robot cells," says Tom Blades, plant manager. "We also had direct labor savings, quality improvements, and improved aesthetics," he adds.

A privately owned 100-year-old company with a history of innovation, Grote was experiencing high demand for components from automotive,
OEMs and aftermarket suppliers. Grote manufactures head and tail lamps, dome lights, emergency lighting, flashers, and LED marker lamps.

The die was cast for Grote to implement robotic assembly to improve productivity.

"Five or six operators per shift were needed to run these parts on a manual line and, depending on the product being run, cycle time was 19-24 seconds per part," Blades says. "With the robot cells, we only need two operators per shift, and cycle time is 12-15 seconds a part, so we can run parts nearly twice as fast."

Among the several points that sold Grote on Motoman was its small footprint.

"This plug-and-play arrangement for the welders saves on floor space and auxiliary support equipment," Blades says.

Automating the process also has provided quality improvements, ranging from the cosmetic look to the traceability with laser-etched identifiers.

Automating the process also has provided quality improvements, ranging from the cosmetic look to the traceability with laser-etched identifiers.

"The cosmetic look of the parts is much better now that they’re being built by robots," says Ed Sitarski, product development engineer. "We also have improved traceability. Parts are laser-etched with identifiers indicating the date, time and shift they were built," he adds.

"Each robot cell can run 10 different parts, and we have 10 product types, each with two color variances (red and amber)," Sitarski says. "We have three different types of packaging — bags, totes and boxes. So we have about 60 part numbers that we can change over to, as needed."

Changeover requires less than five minutes.

The automated system includes multiple processes: inserting terminals into housings, soldering printed circuit boards (PCBs) to terminals, dispensing encapsulant material, curing the encapsulant, welding the plastic lens to the housing, etching, greasing, labeling, and final testing. Multiple automated inspections are performed, including vision system checks.

Cell 1 includes three Motoman six-axis HP6 robots equipped with custom grippers. Quick-change fingers enable the grippers to handle various part types.

Using a Motoman MSR-500 three-position rotary turntable and part fixtures at each station minimizes floor space requirements and simplifies the process. The table is separated into three stations: operator, soldering/potting, and terminal insertion.

The Motoman HP6 robot in Cell 2 removes the part from the plug-and-play ultrasonic welder and transfers it through a series of grease, laser etching, final test, and labeling operations

Following production of the Cell 1 subassembly, parts are indexed back to the operator, who then picks up an individual cured lamp base, adds a lens, and places the part into the Cell 2 fixture. One operator tends both load stations at Cell 1 and Cell 2.

Curing time is much shorter with the new, less-expensive encapsulant, which has significantly improved physical properties and also creates less fumes, making it safer.

Cell 2 uses one Motoman HP6 robot to perform the welding, grease, laser etch, final test, and labeling processes.

Vibration, ultrasonic and spin welders are mounted on a welder anchor rail for interchangeability. The different welders are changed out, as required, depending on the type of part being run.

The graphical user interface screens on the Human Machine Interface (HMI) actually use visual overlays of the cell with touch screens that allow users to navigate easily through different layers, from an overview of all cells to individual cells, to individual components.

"We can use the HMI to control all part changeovers, diagnose faults, adjust shift information, track production, track rejects, enter packaging requirements, and access manuals, drawings, et cetera," Sitarski says.

"The operators are delighted with the control screens and how easy the system is to run, as well as the ergonomics," he adds.

Motoman Inc.

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editor's blogs

Dennis Seeds

Off the Toolpath

EASTEC marks 30th show with spotlight on medical devices
The recession hasn’t stopped business, if the activity at the EASTEC Advanced Productivity Exposition is to judge. The show, in its 30th year, drew 570 exhibitors, down from 608 in 2008 and 650 in 2007. About 15,000 attendees pre-registered. Last year’s show tallied 14,000 attendees. The largest industrial tool trade show on the East Coast, EASTEC was held May19-21 in West Springfield, MA.
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