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21. February 2018 / By Nick Armenta / 2 Comments
There are many factors to keep in mind when hiring an employee: skill level, experience, background, availability, and more. The perfect candidate is hard to find, and with unemployment at such low levels the odds are against manufacturers trying to keep up with growing demand. A key solution to this is through utilizing automation, but what does that really mean nowadays?
This quick video shows how we used a UR10 robot to tend an Okuma LB3000EX CNC bar-fed machine tool
In the past, CNC machines were expensive to automate and required dedicated personnel to get running. This gave large shops a serious advantage and enabled them to automate processes that smaller shops couldn't. These days, with the introduction of easy-to-use robots, automation is no longer a dream. In fact, they can be deployed faster than it would take to hire and train an employee. Here's a perfect real world example of that from an installation we did last year:
9/12/17 - Received call from machine shop interested in automating a machine tool. Scheduled a visit and demo for that same week
9/14/17 - Visited the shop to demo the robot in the morning and followed up with a system quote that afternoon guaranteeing a finished install within 4 weeks from order. This price was within 5% of the finalized quote that came later.
The customer bought a low-cost Rota-Rack at auction which we were able to interface directly into the robot’s digital I/O for easy part accumulation. This saved them hundreds on accumulation hardware.
The customer created their budget for 2018 and found that the less than 1 year ROI made the solution a no-brainer. From here on I'll compare our actual dates (Shop 1) to a theoretical machine shop (Shop 2) with a perfect hiring scenario using numbers from this article:
11/10/17 - Shop 1 received the final quote and began paperwork. Shop 2 posted some ads online and locally.
11/13/17 - Shop 1 sent the order and had it processed the same day so that material could be quickly put on order. Shop 2 received some applications from potential candidates.
11/20/17 - Shop 1 received the accessories needed for the workcell and finalized the layout. Shop 2 conducted phone interviews with the top candidates and scheduled an in-person interview with their favorite.
11/27/17 - Shop 1 has received all of the hardware for the workcell. Shop 2 conducts the interview and is pleased with the candidate.
The robot is controlling the machine tool using only an Ethernet cable routed directly into a Moxa I/O box inside of the electrical cabinet. The I/O box is wired into the CNC robot interface. With this we’re able to control the doors, chucks, air, and cycle start all through Modbus I/O, no wires! Here you can see it triggering an air nozzle to blow off debris and coolant from the part.
11/28/17 - Shop 1 worked with us to schedule an install date for the machine. Shop 2 had the candidate complete a drug test which they passed with no issue.
11/29/17 - Shop 1 set up the workcell so it would be ready for our scheduled install date. Shop 2 submitted the candidate's info for the background check and it came back perfectly clean.
12/4/17 - Shop 1 begins robot install. Shop 2 is excited to have the new employee in for day 1 and gets all of their paperwork completed.
12/6/17 - Shop 1 finalizes the workcell and is running production by the end of the day. Shop 2 has finished all of the paperwork and has given the employee the formal orientation so training can begin!
On the original machine there was not an auto-door installed (~$10k) so we opened the door manually with the robot to save time and money. For end-of-arm-tooling, we used the UR+ certified On Robot RG2 gripper. The certification means plug & play integration with UR robots. Using this gripper completely eliminates change-over, which was crucial as the machine is constantly changing jobs. All we have to do in the program is adjust the grip distance through the gripper software integrated on the robot’s teach pendant. After this is done the program is saved and simply loaded the next time that job is up.
The workcell was fully automated within EIGHTEEN business days of receiving the order, and I didn't even mention the Thanksgiving break in the timeline. Automation has become extremely open-source and user friendly, and this has allowed for competition regardless of the size of the user. Smaller companies are now competing with larger, more established firms by utilizing flexible automation solutions with lightning-speed installation times. Hiring a machine tender may no longer make sense with automation where it's at today.
Oh, and that robot I was talking about? It's still running 3 months later without so much as a hiccup.
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Nick Armenta is an Automation Engineer with over five years of experience at Olympus Controls, a U.S. based distributor of UR robots with offices in Seattle, Portland, San Jose, Dallas and San Diego. Nick has a degree in Electrical Engineering and has been working with Universal Robots since 2013. He has personally been involved in over a dozen Universal Robot installs.