When making a high mix of products in small batches, automation systems need to be as adaptable as humans are. That’s what makes collaborative robots perfect in high-mix manufacturing – for QC as well as production tasks.
VIDEO: A Q-Span Workstation is designed for flexibility. Here the system is shown with two gauges, and a conveyor for a part feeding, mounted to the work table. The robot arm features a third gauge (robotic calipers) along with two robotic grippers for part handling. All gauges, calipers and grippers are easily exchanged to handle and measure a wide variety of parts in high-mix manufacturing.
Small manufacturers are the cornerstone of American manufacturing. The National Association of Manufacturers considered 98% of the 246,155 firms in the manufacturing sector in 2018 to be “small” (fewer than 500 employees).*
For these manufacturers, producing a high mix of products in small batches is the norm and flexibility is key. Their manufacturing teams need to change over production lines with minimal downtime, and make full use of equipment investments across their product mix. For their quality teams it’s no different.
Flexible automation for QC
The Q-Span System is well suited for automated gauging in high-mix manufacturing. It features metrology software (New Scale Robotics’ URCaps application) for pick, measure, record and place that works seamlessly with the Universal Robots (UR) robot programming platform and teach pendant.
Different gauges, fixtures, trays – whatever you need to accomplish the application – can be mounted on the workstation table in repeatable locations. The video above shows one example: a conveyor for part feeding, with two gauges mounted to the workstation table. An additional gauge (robotic calipers) is mounted on the robot arm, along with two grippers for part handling.
To inspect different parts, simply swap out the gauges and part feeders as needed. The workstation makes it easy to install everything in the exact same locations every time the system is changed over. Call up the appropriate inspection program, hit play, and you’re off and running.
PHOTO: This Q-Span Workstation is set up with robotic calipers and ruby styli (on the robot arm), a robotic gripper for part handling, and trays for parts-in and parts-out. A measurement fixture and reference blocks are also mounted to the workstation table. .
Further reading: Collaborative robots and flexible automation
Universal Robots has additional information on the flexibility of collaborative robots for high-mix manufacturing. For example, the blog post Adaptation, Business Continuity & Cobots: Quality Inspection:
“Quality inspection processes can make the difference between successful production runs and expensive, labor-intensive failures… across all sectors and regulatory environments, manufacturers need to ensure consistency of product.
“Today, with manufacturing in real need of flexible solutions, cobot-based quality control and inspection systems that can transition between different end products in very little time become very attractive –especially to manufacturers striving to meet the QC demands of high-mix, low-volume production runs. Easy to incorporate into existing production lines and a cinch to program, UR cobots are uniquely positioned to deliver results in fast-moving quality control environments. Able to shift from pick and place and handling roles to inspection tasks quickly, cobots are easily reconfigured to inspect new parts. This makes cobots the perfect technology for both future-proofing inspection processes and ensuring business continuity in difficult times.
“This operational flexibility extends to human-robot collaboration too. If you need to ensure social distancing requirements at your manufacturing facility, for example, you could consider introducing cobots to your quality control lines. Human-robot teams will improve the accuracy of your QC operations, while freed up workers can be reassigned to more interesting tasks.”
UR describes using a UR3 cobot in touchscreen testing, a UR10 cobot with vision system for final inspection of an automotive component, and the Q-Span Workstation Application Kit for automated gauging. Read the full article at universal-robots.com
* National Association of Manufacturers “Facts About Manufacturing”