Auck­land-based plas­tic in­jec­tion mould­ing com­pany au­to­mates man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses with the help of Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - FOOD & BEVERAGE -

The sig­nif­i­cant labour costs and geo­graphic iso­la­tion of the New Zealand man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try has meant that in order to com­pete with in­ter­na­tional play­ers, lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers must look to in­no­vate with new tech­nolo­gies and au­to­mate their pro­duc­tion pro­cesses.

To com­pete with global man­u­fac­tur­ing hubs, lead­ing Auck­land based in­jec­tion mould­ing com­pany, TCI New Zealand ( TCI) was look­ing for an au­to­mated so­lu­tion that would of­fer a more cost- ef­fec­tive means of pro­duc­ing its cus­tomer’s prod­ucts.

TCI found the so­lu­tion in Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots, a global de­vel­oper and man­u­fac­turer of six-a-xis in­dus­trial ro­bots. TCI has now de­ployed two of Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots’ in­dus­trial ro­botic arms, the UR3 and UR5 to per­form la­belling and assem­bly tasks for the com­pany’s Easi Yo Yoghurt Maker line, as well as its stor­age bins.

With a Uni­ver­sal ro­bot as­sist­ing, sev­eral key pro­cesses in the man­u­fac­ture of these prod­ucts have been au­to­mated, re­liev­ing em­ploy­ees of repet­i­tive assem­bly pro­cesses and en­sur­ing smooth pro­duc­tion flow.

The UR3 was the first ma­chine im­ple­mented by TCI, with the costs of the ro­bot re­couped six months after it was first pur­chased. Sat­is­fied with this re­turn on in­vest­ment, TCI then de­cided to pur­chase the UR5, with the pay­back pe­riod ex­pected to be un­der 12 months.

FIND­ING A SO­LU­TION

TCI is one of the largest pri­vately owned plas­tic in­jec­tion mould­ing com­pa­nies in New Zealand, based in Avon­dale, Auck­land. For more than 20 years, TCI has man­u­fac­tured a vast ar­ray of prod­ucts, in­clud­ing build­ing prod­ucts, com­po­nents used in in­stru­men­ta­tion, nav­i­ga­tion, res­cue and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, as well as a range of re­tail prod­ucts, in­clud­ing home­wares, gar­den prod­ucts and out­door fur­ni­ture for com­pa­nies across New Zealand and the rest of the world.

“Pre­vi­ously we were pay­ing two em­ploy­ees to work in 12 hour shifts to en­sure around-the- clock pro­duc­tion of our EasiYo Yoghurt Maker. If one em­ployee didn’t turn up for work it meant the en­tire pro­duc­tion line would be halted. This wasn’t re­ally fi­nan­cially sus­tain­able for us so we were look­ing for an au­to­mated so­lu­tion that would guar­an­tee qual­ity as­sur­ance and help us to re­duce costs,” said Quintin Fowler, Man­ager Di­rec­tor at TCI.

Dur­ing its search for an au­toma­tion so­lu­tion, TCI came across Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots’ tech­nol­ogy at a trade show and made con­tact via De­sign En­ergy, Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots’ New Zealand dis­trib­u­tor.

“We de­vel­oped the lay­out for the pro­duc­tion cell and de­signed and built an ap­pro­pri­ate grip­per unit for each of the ap­pli­ca­tions,” said Mike Shat­ford, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor at De­sign En­ergy. “TCI then man­u­fac­tured the ma­chine frames and mounted the var­i­ous op­er­at­ing units in the rel­a­tiv­i­ties we had laid out. Once the ma­chines were com­pleted our tech­ni­cian spent time at TCI writ­ing the ro­bot pro­grams and get­ting each cell op­er­at­ing to the cus­tomers’ re­quire­ments.”

“De­sign En­ergy were fan­tas­tic. We were ini­tially con­sid­er­ing an off-the- shelf ro­bot from over­seas, but I’m glad we were able to find a cus­tomis­able so­lu­tion,” said Fowler.

UR3 I N AC­TION

The UR3 is a com­pact ta­ble-top ro­bot that weighs just 11 kg and is ca­pa­ble of han­dling pay­loads up to three kilo­grams. The ro­bot has a reach ra­dius of up to 500mm and fea­tures 360- de­gree ro­ta­tion on all wrist joints and in­fi­nite ro­ta­tion on the end joint. It is ideal for man­u­fac­tur­ers such as TCI that have lim­ited fac­tory floor space and a num­ber of in­tri­cate pro­cesses.

TCI uses the UR3 to help la­bel and place rub­ber feet on its Easi Yo Yoghurt Mak­ers. After a prod­uct is moulded, the UR3 aligns and passes the prod­uct though a la­bel printer, then it ad­heres the la­bel to the base of the prod­uct. The UR3 then in­verts and places the prod­uct onto a man­drel, then picks up rub­ber feet from a bowl feeder and places them on the base of the prod­uct.

A pneu­matic press is then ac­ti­vated, which presses the feet firmly on the prod­uct. The UR3 then picks up the fin­ished assem­bly and places it on a con­veyer belt for de­liv­ery to the next process. The UR3’s con­troller pro­vides con­trol for all an­cil­lary equip­ment in­clud­ing the la­bel printer, bowl feeder, pneu­matic press and con­veyor.

UR5 I N AC­TION

The UR5 helps man­u­fac­tur­ers au­to­mate repet­i­tive and dan­ger­ous tasks with pay­loads up to five kilo­grams and a reach ra­dius of up to 850mm. The UR5 is suit­able for col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­cesses such as pick­ing, plac­ing and test­ing.

The suc­cess of UR3 gave TCI the con­fi­dence to im­ple­ment a Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots’ UR5 ro­bot to help as­sem­ble sev­eral dif­fer­ent sizes of stor­age bins, from 40L up to 112L.

“We use the UR5 to put wheels on stor­age bins and we pro­grammed the ro­bots to be able to place wheels on mul­ti­ple sized stor­age bins. The ro­bots are so easy-to- pro­gram that we can quickly change from one size to the next by press­ing just a few but­tons,” said Fowler. FLEX­I­BLE Fowler noted, “Both the UR3 and UR5 went be­yond our ex­pec­ta­tions in what we were look­ing for in a ro­bot. These ro­bots have the abil­ity to per­form the tasks that we need with­out be­ing overly ex­pen­sive or dif­fi­cult to pro­gram. They also of­fered a quick re­turn on our in­vest­ment.

“Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots’ ro­bots can eas­ily move around and fold over on them­selves in very tight spa­ces. The ro­bot can also op­er­ate safely along­side our staff with­out the need for guard­ing.”

EASY TO PRO­GRAM

All UR ro­bots can be com­pletely re­pro­grammed and de­ployed for other tasks in a mat­ter of min­utes. A graph­i­cal user in­ter­face with a teach func­tion en­ables an op­er­a­tor to sim­ply grab the ro­bot arm and show it how a move­ment should be per­formed. The user-friendly in­ter­face then al­lows staff to drag and drop the rou­tines to do their pro­gram­ming.

“The UR3 and UR5 are very flex­i­ble ro­bots. They are very easy to re­pro­gram, which is why we use the UR5 to help as­sem­ble all of our stor­age bins. The ro­bot can be re­set to per­form dif­fer­ent jobs de­pend­ing on the size of the bin,” said Fowler.

SAFE TO USE

In con­trast to tra­di­tional in­dus­trial ro­bots in the mar­ket, Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots’ small and light­weight ro­botic arms are able to work safely along­side staff (sub­ject to prior risk as­sess­ment). The ro­bots’ state- of-the- art force limit safety fea­ture au­to­mat­i­cally stops the ro­bot from op­er­at­ing when its move­ment is ob­structed. The ro­bot will not ex­ert a force greater than the limit spec­i­fied in the ad­justable safety set­tings.

“One thing I loved about Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots was that we didn’t have to worry about guard­ing. Whereas a lot of the other ro­bots in the mar­ket guard­ing was an is­sue be­cause you’d have to use safety bar­ri­ers for all the ma­chines which just com­pli­cates the sit­u­a­tion,” said Fowler.

THE PAY- OFF

Ac­cord­ing to TCI, the com­pany has been able to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce ex­pen­di­ture by us­ing ro­bots at a time when labour costs can be 10 to 20 times higher that of other over­seas mar­kets.

“We paid off the UR3 within six months, which means we can rein­vest in fur­ther prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and in­no­va­tion. We also saved around 75 per­cent on yearly prod­uct assem­bly labour costs for the UR3 and UR5,” said Fowler.

When asked what ap­pealed to him the most about the UR3 and UR5 ro­bots, Fowler pointed to their sim­ple pro­gram­ming and con­sis­tency.

“The ro­bots are easy to set up and re­pro­gram­ming can take just a few min­utes. How­ever, one of the big­gest sell­ing points for us is hav­ing that guar­an­tee that the ro­bots aren’t go­ing to call in sick – pro­duc­tion can go on 24/ 7 with­out us wor­ry­ing about hu­man re­lated fac­tors that might stop pro­duc­tion.”

ABOUT TCI NEW ZEALAND

TCI New Zealand was es­tab­lished in 1995 and is one of the largest pri­vately owned in­jec­tion mould­ing com­pa­nies in New Zealand. The com­pany op­er­ates from an 8400m2 pur­pose- built fa­cil­ity in Avon­dale, Auck­land. TCI New Zealand man­u­fac­tures a wide va­ri­ety of prod­ucts, in­clud­ing com­po­nents used in in­stru­men­ta­tion, nav­i­ga­tion, res­cue and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, an­i­mal health, as well as dis­pens­ing equip­ment, stage light­ing sys­tems and draw­ing in­stru­ments. The com­pany also pro­duces a range of home­wares, gar­den prod­ucts and out­door fur­ni­ture.

ABOUT DE­SIGN EN­ERGY

De­sign En­ergy is a New Zealand busi­ness which spe­cialises in the de­vel­op­ment and com­mis­sion­ing of equip­ment so­lu­tions which solve prob­lems, de­liver pro­duc­tiv­ity gains and en­hance its cus­tomers’ busi­ness. Founded in 2007, De­sign En­ergy han­dles ev­ery­thing from process en­gi­neer­ing con­sul­ta­tion to ma­chine de­sign, through to the sup­ply and ser­vice of full turn- key sys­tems. De­sign En­ergy part­nered with Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots to de­liver qual­ity ro­botic and au­toma­tion so­lu­tions to some of the coun­try’ s lead­ing pro­duc­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers.

ABOUT UNI­VER­SAL RO­BOTS

Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots( UR) is a global de­vel­oper and man­u­fac­turer of flex­i­ble and user friendly in­dus­trial ro­bots. Head quar­tered in O dense, Den­mark, the com­pany has a global net­work of about 200 sales part­ners in 50 coun­tries serv­ing an ever- grow­ing li st of cus­tomers across mul­ti­ple sec­tors in­clud­ing au­to­mo­tive, elec­tron­ics, man­u­fac­tur­ing, con­sumer goods, food & bev­er­age and pro­cess­ing. In Jan­uary 2015 UR of­fi­cially opened its APAC (ex­cludes China and In­dia) head­quar­ters in Sin­ga­pore. UR of­fers three ro­botic arm mod­els – the UR3, UR5 and UR10 – each of which is de­signed to suit par­tic­u­lar types of tasks and pay­loads. UR’s ro­bots are mod­u­larly de­signed, hand as­sem­bled and can func­tion with­out the cum­ber­some safety fenc­ing that most ro­bots re­quire. They are equipped with a state- of-the-art “stop-force” safety fea­ture that hugely min­imises the oc­cur­rence of se­ri­ous work­place ac­ci­dents. Un­like tra­di­tional in­dus­trial ro­bots, UR’s small and light­weight ro­botic arms are eas­ily mov­able and re­pro­grammable.

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