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How Robots are Used in the Composites Industry

by Rob Schwamberger, Sales Manager , Automotive Component Paint and General Industries
FANUC America Corporation

Increasing costs and environmental regulations have forced composites manufacturers to consider robotic automation for the application of fiberglass chop and gel.  As noted in the accompanying case study, robotic automation can be used to apply spray chop and gel to anything from chicken coop fan housings to boats and bathtubs.  In a recent process examination, robots provided several key benefits over manual application methods (see Glasland case study).

Material savings

Variations in the amount of material used for manual application of resin or fiberglass leads to excessive expenses through warranty costs, part re-work, production delays, part fit and performance problems.

FANUC Robotics' P-series robots and controllers are designed specifically for industrial coating applications such as fiber reinforced plastic processes.  Robotic application provides consistent material delivery control which reduces material variation and increases part production consistency.  As a result, material costs and lay-up time are significantly reduced. 

Labor savings

Manual fiber chop applications can lead to repetitive motion injuries and prolonged exposure to resin fumes and fiber chop can potentially cause other physical complications.  In addition, strict EPA regulations to employee exposure and styrene emissions to open molding materials have increased.

Product quality

Inconsistent application of gel coat results in the reduction of product quality and performance.  Gel coat applied too thickly can cause product cracking; if it is applied too thin, the gel coat may not cure properly, or bleed through of the fiber reinforcement may occur.  Automation ensures that materials are applied consistently, which helps manufacturers improve quality and reduce  warranty costs.

Automated Solutions

FANUC Robotics understands the unique application challenges faced by the composites industry.  Our engineering staff  specializes in the development of turnkey solutions that address critical labor, quality and cost savings issues.
The Process

Before partnering with an automation company, it must be determined that the supplier has the process experience and application expertise to meet the demands of the fiberglass market.  The following list describes many of the process benefits that a qualified automation supplier will be able to provide to composites manufacturers. 

  • Extensive experience within the fiberglass open mold forming market
  • Reduced material over spray via accurate trigger timing and precise robot motion
  • Resin application flow and glass feed rates controlled to a tight, fixed set point 
  • Significant reduction in styrene emissions to help increase EPA compliance
  • Real time production monitoring 
  • Improvements in the  visual appearance of gel coat and fiberglass chop thickness uniformity
  • Reductions in warranty costs, part re-work, production delays, part fit and performance problems

System Specifications

FANUC Robotics offers the following products and support services to composites manufacturers:

  • P-Series robots offer flexibility and reach required for industrial painting
  • Teach pendant provides full functionality for setup, troubleshooting and path teaching
  • Fully integrated flow meter system monitors and controls material application
  • Glass detection and breakage feature mounted to gun; ensures proper material application
  • Advanced Controller allows gun trigger accuracy of 4 milliseconds
  • Complete lab facilities for system design, build and customer demonstrations
  • Optional System Features

Paintworks Stand Alone
Optional Windows-based graphical off-line path and program modification package.  Paths created by Paintworks may be directly loaded to the robot.

Gel Coat Color Change
Allows on-the-fly color and gel coat type change.  The robot handles line clean-out and purge.

Closed-Loop Material Delivery
Accuchop closed-loop material delivery system monitors and maintains consistent fiber chop and gel coat application and makes required adjustments based on robot feedback.

Mirror Imaging
Requires only one path to be taught for symmetric parts;  mirrors path for opposing robot.

Networking Communications
Wide range of networking communications available: Remote I/O, Host Communications and Distributed I/O.  Optional Ethernet allows path data communications through FANUC File Services software.

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