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Cobots Increase CNC productivity and quality – and protect workers

Published: 4 December 2018 - Sarah Mead

CNC manufacturing setups are some of the most widely automated industrial processes. They often involve exactly the kinds of repetitive tasks that are ideal for robots, which can work at higher speed than human workers and provide accurate, consistent movement that paves the way for higher manufacturing quality as well as greater productivity.

Quick shifts to new products and processes

Today’s lightweight, flexible collaborative robots ('cobots') can be easily moved and reprogrammed to be used in conjunction with a wide range of CNC machines or to other processes such as gluing, welding, polishing, or pick-and-place.

Easy programming means almost any manual task can be quickly automated, including those with small batches or rapid change-overs. And for recurrent tasks, Universal Robots cobots can re-use instruction sets previously used in other contexts, so they can swiftly be applied to other new-but-similar jobs.

Significant safety advantages

Cobots provide a dramatic step up from traditional industrial robots that require extensive and expensive safety caging to keep human workers out of the robot’s work area while it is operating, all of which severely limits the robot’s deployment flexibility.

Cobots such as those from Universal Robots feature significant safety advantages that make them even more compelling as a way to boost a company’s CNC manufacturing output and capabilities, with big additional benefits for staff.

Robots and humans side-by-side

For CNC manufacturing setups of such kinds, Universal Robots solutions let human workers safely move in and out of the robot’s work area to load or unload parts. When a human enters the robot’s work cell, the robot arm can operate in reduced mode, with patented technology that limits force to avoid injury if the robot arm comes in contact with a person. The robot automatically resumes full speed when the worker leaves its space. Other options enable the robot to run at full speed inside a CNC machine and at reduced speed when outside.

Collaborative robots help provide CNC manufacturing setups with the best of both sets of skills and capabilities – robotic and human.

Boosting capacity and employee satisfaction

The Swedish machine shop FT-Produktion was receiving orders from global leaders like Volvo, Renault and Scania. However, in the current labour market recruiting and retaining increasing numbers of qualified employees proved tricky.  As part of a renovation of its CNC machinery it committed a small share of the investment to a flexible cobot solution comprising a UR5 cobot from Universal Robots, two RG2 robot grippers from OnRobot and a ProFeeder from EasyRobotics. As a result the sales team can take orders with much higher voluemes and shorter lead times – without requiring employees to work overtime.

“The demand for productivity continues to grow. But relevant manpower is hard to come by these days. Thanks to automation, an operator can keep three or four machines running at once without stress. We try to eliminate monotonous manual tasks by robotising the high-volume production runs, giving employees more time to work on smaller runs with greater variation in their tasks,” says Joakim Karlberg, who, alongside his sister, owns and operates FT-Production.

Dealing with big orders fast

Similarly, RSS Manufacturing & Phylrich – a manufacturer of plumbing fixtures and faucet fittings in Costa Mesa, California – discovered Universal Robots while researching how to meet a large, fast-turn order of 700 valves. “Our CNC machine can normally do 400 valves per month with two shifts, so we would have been forced to buy another machine even if we put a third shift on,” noted CEO Geoff Escalette. The company deployed a UR5 from Universal Robots and put it to work 24/7. This enabled them to complete the entire order in just 11 days, while also opening up 30 percent more capacity on their existing machinery.

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