"As manufacturers face stiff competition from cheap overseas labour rates, we have experienced a steady influx in requests for robotic automation solutions," says Sean Wells, senior engineer at Promatech LLC, a robotic systems integrator based in New Berlin, Wis. "Companies are also turning to robotic automation in order to prevent employee injuries from on-the-job accidents."
Promatech designs and deploys robotic models from FANUC, Yamaha, Motoman and ABB, and specializes in applications such as machine tending, traditional and non-traditional palletizing, robotic routing, drilling and deburring, case packing and robotic inspection.
A gripping request
Recently, Promatech's engineers were asked to develop a solution for automating tote assembly. The customer wanted to reduce material handling time and prevent workers from having to do unnecessary bending, lifting and other movements that could lead to injury.
The company designed a tote assembly system that incorporated a four-axis M-410iB/160 articulated arm robot from FANUC, and a dual-function vacuum gripper from PIAB Vacuum Products.
Promatech installed nine VGS 3010 units, each with 3.5-inch (8.9-cm) suction cups, on the arm of FANUC's M-410iB/160 four-axis articulated arm robot.
PIAB's VGS 3010, which includes DURAFLEX suction cups and COAX, a proprietary multi-stage ejector technology, made up the end-of-arm tooling on the robot.
"COAX integrates the internal components of a multi-stage vacuum pump into a vacuum cartridge," says John Holmes, packaging manager at PIAB. "The result is a smaller, more efficient, more reliable and highly flexible technology that allows users to design a modular system."
The VGS 3010's vacuum pump is integrated in a single unit called a "Gripper". This avoids the pressure loss problems inherent to traditional vacuum systems that utilize a centrally located vacuum pump. Additionally, the pump can function at operating pressures below 45 psi, providing reliability even in the case of a breakdown in the air pressure network.
Another major factor in choosing PIAB's VGS 3010 was the durability of the suction cups. Because they are made from DURAFLEX–specially developed polyurethane–the suction cups can easily grip porous leaky materials and coarse, uneven or curved surfaces.
Saving time, money and aggravation
In the fall of 2004, Promatech put the new automated tote solution to the test with a well-known consumer products manufacturer.
"The customer's existing assembly process required two employees to manually lift the bulky totes and hand-assemble them on individual pallets," says Wells. "This was a labour-intensive operation with the potential for repetitive motion injuries and muscle strains."
Promatech created an automated solution to handle the customer's heavy-duty corrugated cardboard containers, which were stationed on a manufacturing line.
The company installed nine VGS 3010 units, each with 3.5-inch (8.9-cm) suction cups, on the arm of FANUC's M-410iB/160 four-axis articulated arm robot.
Promatech created an automated solution using PIAB's VGS 3010 vacuum gripper to handle heavy-duty corrugated cardboard containers (totes), which were stationed on a manufacturing line.
Almost immediately after the new tote assembly solution was installed, the customer realized a time savings of eight hours per day, allowing the company to reassign one of its full-time workers to a more productive task.
Additionally, the customer has eliminated any unnecessary bending, lifting and other movements that could result in injuries for its employees. Also, because the new system uses less floor space, the customer's employees have a more open, less cluttered working environment with room for additional machines where totes were previously stacked at the beginning of each shift.
Michael Tuohey is the marketing and communications manager for PIAB USA Inc.
Get a grip
Advancements in automation technology, the rise in overseas manufacturing and the increased awareness of employee safety have all contributed to the growth of the robotic industry over the last decade. More and more companies are realizing that robots have the potential to significantly cut costs and prevent injuries to employees.
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