An in-house project valued at DKK 500,000 where a cobot is put behind bars has yielded big gains for Ib Andresen Industri.
Ib Andresen Industri produces a wide variety of workpieces: on some days the company manufactures steel sections up to 10,000 mm in length and 500 mm sections on others.
This requires a high degree of flexibility in the solutions which subsequently handle and pack the finished sections. Up to now, it has been difficult to find suitable solutions which efficiently bridge this gap in terms of length, weight and packing patterns.
From the outset, the goal was to set up a mobile robot cell to handle steel sections in lengths of 200–1000 mm, which could then be moved around among the systems depending on which section was being manufactured.
“The project supports our strategic objective of increasing our level of automation,” says Morten Rasmussen, Production Manager, Ib Andresen Industri. “But since the cell is used on machine lines that are operated by only one operator, our investment does not pay for itself by reducing wage costs. It does improve well-being and job satisfaction, however.”
To which roll-forming operator John Jensen adds, “At the pace our roll-forming lines manufacture sectional steel, we spend many hours on trivial handling tasks just to keep up. The handling cell eliminates this and has vastly improved our job satisfaction. Now we can focus on ensuring that the machine runs perfectly all the time.”
“Besides increasing our level of automation and improving our working environment,” Morten Rasmussen continues, “we’ve learnt a lot from the project, which we can draw on when implementing additional robots in the future.”
Speed undermined safety
Initially, the cobot was not intended to be put behind bars, but in front of one of the company’s press brakes. However, there were a number of factors to consider, particularly at a steel processing company like Ib Andresen Industri.
“The steel workpieces we process often have sharp edges. This made it necessary to lower the robot arm’s handling speed so much that it no longer made sense to use it at our press brakes – it slowed down the process too much,” says Bo B. Larsen, Project Manager, Ib Andresen Industri, continuing:
“To exploit the robot arm’s potential, we had to shield it, and that’s the result of this project. Now it’s installed as a key element of our mobile handling cell, where we don’t have to slow down to maintain safety.”
The mobility and flexibility this provides have been important to the development of this robot cell, as this is the very purpose of having a UR10 robot arm from Universal Robots in the production process.
Control technicians Dennis Bressendorff and Mikael S. Nielsen, both of Ib Andresen Industri, were involved from the outset of the project, and it has been a stimulating challenge which has familiarised them with the cobot’s potential.
“The project was very challenging, and we’ve learnt a lot along the way. Most of it was new to us, so occasionally we had to bring in a specialist. We’ve amassed lots of invaluable know-how throughout the project,” Mikael explains.
Dennis adds, “There are many steps in the handling of sectional steel. There are many movements and calculations which must take place simultaneously so the system knows what to do in the next step. Although the cobot’s workflow looks simple, the control system must respond to more than 100 signals.
For example, there’s a difference in how the cobot must place the steel sections on an empty pallet as opposed to a pallet that is almost full. Also, the control system must tell the cobot when the pallet is full so that it automatically begins placing the sections on a different pallet that’s empty.”
Two pallets can fit inside the robot cell, which makes it possible to remove the loaded pallet and replace it with an empty one without having to stop the production process.
In addition, the cell’s controls are easy and intuitive so operators quickly become adept at operating the system.
More cells in the pipeline
After the summer holidays yet another automated solution will be on its way to this Danish supplier of steel solutions. The next one will be a fully automated packing cell for an existing roll-forming line, comprising two ceiling-mounted Kuka robots working together.
“This project is also part of the strategy to increase automation of the production process, optimise the working environment and increase our competitiveness,” Morten Rasmussen says.