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ROBOTIC RESOURCES

Combination of Robots and CDLR Conveyors Increases Production Up-Time

by Nino LaDuca, General Manager
Tech-Con Automation Incorporated

Tech-Con Automation combines Robots and CDLR conveyors to Increase Production Up-Time

A Tech-Con Automation client is a Tier 1 manufacturer of engine cradles. The client required an automated way to handle cradles going into and coming out of a protective coating process prior to shipping.

CHALLENGES

  • Part size & shape: The part is too heavy for one or more operators to ergonomically manage without a lift-assist. In addition, engine cradles are predominantly hydro-formed components welded together, which limits the options for reliable and repeatable gripping surfaces. Compounding this is the requirement to handle 3 different part models with the same tooling.
  • Effective placement of part on shipping racks: Shipping racks are typically steel fabrications and therefore not highly accurate by nature. In addition, their function exposes them to continuous handling and eventually damage. Robotic transfer of parts to and from racks requires the racks to be repeatable in both dimension and position.
  • Part tracking: Identification of parts entering and exiting the cell to avoid mixing of models or rejects released unrepaired.

SOLUTIONS

  • Automate the majority of the process: The team decided to use robots to manage the parts going into and out of the coating process, while allowing the operator to use a lift-assist to take away defective parts only. This preserved takt times and process control.
  • Handling of a hydro-formed part: Tool design involved determining key characteristics of the parts such as center of mass and reliable contact points for handling. In addition, external factors such as robot payload capacity, robot reach, part-in-rack orientation, and part orientation to and from the wax line also drove tool design. The result was a robust and compact custom pneumatic tool that met all performance requirements.
  • Positive rack location: With positive conveyor drives in two directions against hard stops and the addition of heavy duty pneumatic clamping, all racks are qualified repeatably by their base frame and held firmly in place during part transfer.
  • RFID system: This method of part identification was integrated into the robotic handling system to track and manage each part through the coating process and transfer them to their appropriate racks. This tracking was also linked to the customers’ factory level data collection system.

BENEFITS

  • Fully automate a previously manual process: Automation eliminated variability in process times, ensuring a maximum of production up time.
  • Allow the operator to manage issues that are best managed manually: By allowing the operator to take away defective cradles, the parts could be effectively sorted for rework.

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