Robots and lasers have a long history together. Now, cost-effective, easy-to-use cobots and new lower-cost lasers are a perfect match for a wide range of engraving and marking applications.
“Nowadays, everything requires a number,” explains Victor Amorim, Western Territory Manager for Gravotech, a global provider of marking and engraving equipment. Amorim uses the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill as an example, explaining that the lack of traceability numbers prevented BP from being able to point fingers at its contractors. Today, nearly everything that is fabricated requires marks to identify manufacturer, part number, date codes, or serial numbers for traceability as well as warranty information.
Gravotech keeps production lines flowing with automated marking systems
Gravotech recently demonstrated new automated laser and dot peen marking solutions using a UR5 robot. Depending on the type of part and the type of mark required, the UR5 automatically places parts inside a Gravotech LW2 Class 1 laser enclosure for marking with an F30 fiber laser, or places a part under the XF510CP dot peen marker. The UR robot is fast, precise, adaptable, and easy to control, and allows on-the-fly programming changes with the touchscreen interface. And with built-in safety sensors, it can work safely beside human workers for inspection or related processes.
Gravotech expects interest in automated marking solutions, which keep production flowing reliably and consistently, to be strong. Amorim says, “We cater to several industries—military, medical, automotive, oil and gas—and these people rely on us to put marks on their parts, because if you don’t mark, you don’t ship; if you don’t ship, you don’t collect. So it’s a very, very key part of the process, and with this robot and this laser machine, we have it flowing. We’ve got the clients covered.”
Watch how Gravotech and Oestling Laser deploy the UR robots
Ostling marks precise medical parts with no human interaction
Ostling is another global provider of marking systems who is demonstrating an excess diode pump solid-state laser marking system automated with a UR robot. Brian Watts, Ostling Product Support Manager, explains that the robot manages full control for z-axis focusing as well as rotational control and location for the laser-marking process. The robot can also be incorporated with a vision system to do visual inspections for the mark, or to use the system for cutting or welding.
The UR robot brings important capabilities to the automated system. “The UR robot is extremely, extremely easy to program,” says Watts. “With the collaborative nature of the unit, it’s easy to set up; it’s safe. A lot of the programming attributes for robots I used to use in the past, safety was always an issue. With this, it’s as simple as me grabbing the end effector, moving it in position, then using the teach pendant to dial in the fine-tuned settings.”
The UR3 robot manages full control for z-axis focusing as well as rotational control and location for the laser-marking process.
Ostling sees great potential for the turnkey system, especially for high-volume marking applications that are difficult for an operator to provide consistency and repeatability, and that present ergonomic challenges for human workers. The Ostling system is ideal for medical marking, which must be done in Class 10,000 clean rooms with no human interaction with the parts at all. For these applications, the part can be picked up and inspected by the robot, using a vision system to identify the location for the mark, so no human workers are involved.
“In some of these cases, there are very, very detailed graduation lines or identifying marks, like for laparoscopic or endoscopic surgery,” Watts explains. “These are critical that we have that laser and that robot in tandem to know exactly that those parts are being marked where we tell it to. It’s also good for traceability. We can place a mark, an identifier on it, put it under our vision system and actually have the robot use that for all of its positioning, and then come over to a vision system to do a verification, tie back into a database, release that for a final production part, or eject it off as a scrap part if it wasn’t correct.”
Beyond medical, Ostling is seeing interest from the aerospace industry, where the robot can work nearly non-stop without the potential of human contamination of delicate parts, as well as the automotive industry.
The UR5 robot picks and places the titanium business cards for laser engraving
The Ring Lord evolves from updates ancient art to robotic laser engraving
While these systems are being demonstrated now, other automated robot-laser systems are successfully in production—some in surprising applications. The Ring Lord built its business in the chain mail supply industry, producing a million “jump rings” every day. These small wire rings are also used to link charms and other jewelry components. This growing company has adapted multiple times to maintain its growth, and has moved into laser engraving, which it is now automating.
The Ring Lord was producing engraved dog tags, scales, and rings, but decided to expand into custom engraved business cards, but ran into an ergonomic issue. Jon Daniels, one of the company’s owners, explains, “When we were running 8- to 10-second parts on the laser marking equipment, it wasn’t a horrible job to manually change out the metal plates when the machine was ready for a new part. The business cards, however, take 20 to 40 seconds to complete. And at that point, the economics start to completely change. Manually swapping out parts at that rate is a really crappy job. The efficiency of a human being drops off completely when you bore them to death.”
That’s no problem for a robot, however. Daniels researched his options, and decided on the flexible, lightweight UR5. Its ease of programming was also a huge advantage, which Daniels describes as “no harder to use than your average smartphone.”
The UR5 at FUTEK is integrated with a Robotiq gripper and is vision guided through a Keyence (IV-G300CA) vision system
UR5 takes the night shift
At FUTEK in Southern California, a provider of test and measurement tools, a UR5 robot feeds amplifier casings into a laser engraving machine. Mechanical engineer at FUTEK, Javier Ruiz, says that the UR5 has increased production by 40-50% and has optimized the use of existent work force. “Because it takes 7 minutes to engrave a part, it is less efficient to have a dedicated staff member monitoring the process. That labor has been reallocated to other parts of the production line, and we can have the robot running a 3rd shift,” explains Ruiz who also emphasizes how the product quality has increased with the exact repeatability of the robot.