Robotic Coating: Robots Improve Productivity at Glasland Industries
by Cathy Powell
FANUC Robotics America Corporation
Glasland Industries Inc., a manufacturer of fiberglass products, recently converted its chop and gel coating area from manual operations to robotics after the company was awarded a large contract to manufacture the fiberglass housings of ventilation fans for use in hen houses. Aggressive production plans and a lack of skilled chop and gel coat operators in the area prompted Glasland’s management to evaluate robotic automation.
Glasland’s system uses two robotic paint workcells supplied by FANUC Robotics’ paint operations in Toledo, Ohio. Each cell includes a P-145/RJ-3 paint finishing robot with PaintTool application software and safety equipment. FANUC Robotics also supplied an explosion-proof manual input station that is used by technicians to set program requirements and to start the robots, and solenoid valves that turn the spray guns on and off. Glasland, which did its own system integration, supplied the chop and gel coat application equipment, including the spray guns, chop motors and pumping systems.
The repeatability and consistency of the robots allows the skilled operators to tackle other jobs at the company. Improved accuracy has been the major factor in part quality improvements and reduced costs. In the past, even the most skilled chop and gel operators became fatigued by the repetitive motions required by the application, increasing the likelihood of overspray and the extra costs associated with material waste. For chop and gel applications, quality is assessed by the uniformity of material weight. The P-145 robots spray materials within a 1 percent variation of weight. In addition, Glasland has realized a 30-35 percent savings on gel coat materials.
The production of one fan housing requires two gel coat applications and one chop spray application. A technician prepares a mold for the initial gel coat application and positions the mold in front of the gel coat robot. The technician sets the safety interlocks, checks that no personnel are in the robot work area, closes any gates or curtains and energizes a servo lock-out switch. After the robot cycle is complete, the technician moves the mold to an area where the first gel coat application can cure.
After the first gel coat application is cured, the technician positions the mold in front of the chop robot. Upon completion of the chop spray cycle, the technician positions the mold in the chop rollout area. When the rollout is complete, the part is moved to an area for drying and then to a grinding booth. After the surface of the part is ground and smooth, it is moved back to the gel coat area.
The technician positions the mold in front of the gel coat robot for the second gel coat application. Upon completion of this cycle, the technician moves the mold to the curing area. After curing, the part is removed from the mold and transferred to an area where other operations are performed to complete production.
Production speed has been favorably rated by Glasland. The robots are able to accomplish a day’s worth of work in about half the time it takes a fully manual operation. “The system has also given us more flexibility with our labor,” said Doyle Heckaman, president of Glasland. “We’ve been able to improve working conditions and we no longer have to worry about absenteeism in the spray area.”
Overall, the robotic system has allowed Glasland to have a competitive advantage in the composites industry. where robots are just now beginning to be used. With the increase in production, material savings and reduction in labor costs, payback is expected to be just two years.