Robotic upgrade for automotive fitting line

28 November 2011

As part of a major investment by Norgren at its Lichfield manufacturing site in the UK, Kawasaki Robotics has replaced two aging robots with Kawasaki RS06L robots. The new robots will allow faster cell tool change times and are able to work more comfortably within target cycle times.

The original, 13 year old Kawasaki robots were operating between 5 to 7 days a week for three shifts a day in Norgren’s Automotive/Truck air-brake fittings section. Their task was to load and unload brass fittings into a rotary transfer machine, with a six second cycle time. This has been the robots operating almost continually since they were installed.

“Generally the robots have been reliable but as expected after 13 years hard labour there have been some joint wear issues,” explained Mark Clark, manufacturing engineer at Norgren. “Although Kawasaki recently gave the robots a clean bill of health for another year, ongoing investment by Norgren, in the Automotive fittings section, provided us with a good replacement opportunity to upgrade interface electronics to remove any risk of obsolescence from the process.”

The new Kawasaki RS robots load and unload brass fittings to two rotary transfer machines which have been moved to new bays in the plant. The cells are programmed to produce up to 100 variants of fitting produced in batches.

Brass stampings enter the cell, randomly positioned, on a conveyor belt. A vision camera over the conveyor belt pick up point, illuminated by a structured light source, provides the robot with co-ordinates to pick the component correctly. The robot has a double gripper and moves to the transfer machine load point, removes a finished machined fitting and loads the un-machined fitting.

The machine cycle is complete in 6 seconds. “The new robots are quicker – they work well within the machine cycle time and present the part to the machine before its cycle is finished and that’s what we want,” said Clark. “In addition the old robots had a shorter reach which meant they needed to be moved, on a slide fixture, away from the transfer machine to facilitate tool setup. This had a potential to introduce inaccuracies and effectively slowed down tool changes – this process is not necessary now as the new Kawasaki RS06L has a longer reach.” This has resulted in faster tool changes and reduced the risk of the robot being out of position.

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