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Lights-out production: Productive Robotics installs cobot on wire EDM machine

A machine shop implements a collaborative robot on a wire EDM machine to double output and meet early deadlines


June 19, 2020
By Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Photo: Productive Robotics

As a full-service machine shop, California’s True Precision Machining focuses on quality control, quick turnaround time and innovative solutions to meet the requirements of customers in the medical, aerospace and communications industries.

However, even with a highly trained and skilled team, it was challenging to meet certain deadlines. Producing parts fast enough on their wire EDM machine is just one example of this challenge.

“We typically run two shifts per day for five days, totalling 80 production hours per week,” explains Marvin Rodriguez, vice-president of True Precision Machining.

“A 500-part job would take at least a week to finish working at that pace – and that’s not accounting for downtime or breaks. To stay competitive and meet our customers’ high demands, we need to be faster than that.”

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Rodriguez recognized that the existing production schedule took advantage of only 80 of the 168 hours in a week. What if they could operate at a higher capacity, taking advantage of all available hours, unhindered by machine downtime?

The solution: 24/7 production with a robot

During their extensive research of collaborative robotics, the True Precision team discovered Productive Robotics’ OB7 cobot at a trade show and taught it a task on the spot.

“We were impressed by the no-programming user interface and how simple it was to teach the cobot tasks,” says Rodriguez. “This would be a solution that we could develop on our own without hiring outside integration.”

OB7 features seven axes, which provide a great degree of flexibility and the ability to work in confined spaces.

“We saw how well OB7’s seventh axis worked during the CNC demo, and we wanted that in our shop,” says Rodriguez.

The seventh axis allows operators to place OB7 to the side of a machine door, rather than directly in front of it. The OB7 can reach around into the machine, freeing up space for machine operators to work.

“We finished a job in one 3.5 days that would have taken a week to complete.”

OB7 would allow True Precision to expand their hours of production through working “lights out,” or around-the-clock, even when employees are not at the facility.

Ready, set, assemble

When it came time to install OB7 for the Alpha Wire EDM machine, True Precision set up the automation work cell entirely on their own.

“We did not have any prior experience with cobots, but we were able to create the necessary tooling and configure our environment to work with OB7,” says Todd Ackert, president of True Presicion Machining.

After the few days spent planning the work cell, the team turned to assembling the OB7 and had the cobot up and running in a matter of hours.

“OB7’s intuitive user interface made the process simple. We physically moved the robot control handle to introduce a task and customized our waypoints on the tablet interface for more precision,” says Rodriguez.

“People think that robots take away jobs, but it has actually helped grow our business, become more competitive and better utilize the talents of our team.”

The 500-part job on the wire EDM machine was soon working 200 per cent faster and could continue to operate round-the-clock.

“We finished a job in one 3.5 days that would have taken a week to complete,” says Rodriguez.

“Working ‘lights out’ with OB7 allows us to go home and return the next morning with a job completed, ready to start the next. OB7 has saved us significant time and money, while increasing quality and precision.”

Photo: Productive Robotics

Expanding implementation to grow business

“People think that robots take away jobs, but it has actually helped grow our business, become more competitive and better utilize the talents of our team,” says Ackert.

OB7 allowed True Precision to bring in more orders, meet deadlines faster and simultaneously allow their workers to focus on other highly valuable tasks. Looking forward,

True Precision plans to implement OB7 on multiple other machines in their facility.

“In the process, [we’ve] learned to strategize more efficient, creative and innovative methods for automating future jobs with collaborative robots,” says Ackert.

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 edition of Robotics Insider, Manufacturing AUTOMATION’s quarterly e-book dedicated to industrial robotics.