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Robotics Case Studies

Engineered Machined Products: A Company Standing the Test of Time in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

by Rob Herrmann
FANUC America Corporation

Engineered Machined Products (EMP), based in Escanaba, Mich., is a Tier 1 supplier to major diesel engine manufacturers.  It is hard to imagine that such a successful and high-tech manufacturing operation is located in the natural beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but it’s there, and if you would ask any one of its employees it’s going to stay put.

Brian Larche purchased EMP in 1991 and yielded $6M in revenue.  Brian’s dream was to make EMP a world-class supplier of automotive components, and maintain his factory in Escanaba.  Today, EMP’s revenue has exceeded the $320M mark; it employs 800 people, and has an extensive R&D Technology Center, which has over thirty (30) thermal management and oil management related patents.  In addition, EMP sponsors two vehicles in NASCAR circuit, Brian Vickers in NASCAR Nextel Cup and Kyle Busch in the NASCAR Busch Series. 

Like most manufacturers today, EMP faces serious challenges to produce high-quality products and solutions for their customers, stay competitive, and keep their operations in Escanaba.  

‘‘Brian had a vision to keep his business here in Escanaba, and in order to do that he had to automate,’‘ said Gabe Kluka, manufacturing manager, EMP.  ‘‘He’s also very dedicated to our community and has implemented automation to keep the jobs here in Delta County.’‘

To meet their challenges head on, EMP decided to implement the latest robotic technologies.  The company worked with FANUC Robotics’ Hoffman Estates, Ill. engineers to design robotic systems that would maximize their productivity.  EMP purchased its first robot from FANUC Robotics in 1999.  The cell serviced four CNC lathes and gave them a taste of what automation could do for their company. 

In 2000, EMP took on a contract with a major diesel engine manufacturer to provide high-pressure fuel delivery rails.  While focusing on their challenges, EMP called upon Makino and FANUC Robotics to develop a solution for the high-volume machining operation.  Producing high-pressure fuel delivery rails is complex, because the rails often require several machining processes to manufacture, and cycle times are very long for each process.  The team determined that a multiple robot solution would not be an economical decision for this application. 

Toploader Robots Selected For the Job
FANUC Robotics’ Toploader series of articulated gantry robots were evaluated for EMP’s machining operation. Compared to traditional linear gantry robots, Toploaders reduce floor space and ceiling height requirements.   They also provide six-axis dexterity to perform value-added post-processing operations such as degating, deflashing, labeling, quality assurance, packaging and palletizing.   EMP determined that the M-710iT Toploader robot, with a 70Kg capacity, and a variety of rail lengths would best suit their needs. 

Two FANUC Toploaders now services eight machine portals (some leading to several machining centers on Makino’s MSC system).  The cell layout allowed EMP to place the machines in close proximity around the robot rail, minimizing the traditional circle configuration with pedestal-mount robots. 

This two-robot line would have required over four people per shift to handle the heavy parts, not to mention the ergonomic issues surrounding repetitive loading and unloading motion.  Robots just made sense.  The 70-kg robots are able to handle two parts at once and since each robot performs the same process and operates independently, EMP can shut down one side if necessary while maintaining production capabilities on the other side. 

System Operation
Parts are manually loaded onto a fixtured conveyor and transported into the cells.  Each robot services two operations per cell, OP10 and OP20.  The robot starts by removing two parts from the movable machine fixture on the Makino MSC system in OP20 and places them on a four-position asynchronous pallet conveyor to be transported on to post machining and cleaning processes.  The robot then removes two parts from the OP10 machine and places them on a re-grip station where the parts are turned over for machining in the OP20 machines.  Next, the robot loads the parts onto the OP20 machine fixture and returns to the infeed conveyor.  Finally, the robot acquires two raw parts from the infeed conveyor, loads the OP10 machine, and the process is repeated.

The robot’s flexibility allows it to service any OP10 and/or OP20 combination in situations when a machine is undergoing service or tool changes.  Since this cell’s inception in 2001, it has undergone a re-tooling to accommodate revisions to the fuel rail.  Because the system was designed to easily handle customer modifications, machining processes and automation changes were minimal, and only required new machine fixtures and robot end-of-arm tooling (EOAT). 

EMP has automated additional machining applications and now has eleven FANUC Toploader robots in operation.  The company is currently the primary source for high-pressure fuel delivery rails for two major diesel engine manufacturers. 

‘‘Our automation focus on complex precision machining has allowed us to expand into areas that a typical machine shop wouldn’t be able to tackle,’‘ said Kluka.

Robots with Vision
In addition to machining operations using Toploader robots, EMP has incorporated other types of FANUC robots at their facility.   For example, the FANUC R2000iA/165F robot is used in several smaller machining cells throughout EMP’s factories.  The smaller systems are not only economical, but enable EMP to easily change product runs with minimal to no physical component changes.  FANUC’s 2-D vision system combined with DTS America’s flat-belt conveyors allow for a variety of parts (fitting within the parameters of the system) to be conveyed into the cell and located by the vision system.

For example, a machining cell that processes water pump impellers contains two R-2000iA robots and two over/under flat-belt conveyors along with two FANUC  2-D Vision systems.  A single Industrial PC controls the two cameras; the frame-grabber will allow up to eight cameras on a single PC.  Communications between the PC and the robots is furnished via Ethernet; all FANUC robots are equipped with Ethernet on R-J3 and newer controller platforms. 

Currently the system handles nine variations of impellers with simple changeover on the robots.  Due to multiple-sized parts that are run on the system, the parts are placed on pucks that ride on the flat-belt conveyors.  When a part is removed from the puck, the robot picks up the puck and places it on the outfeed conveyor.  The finished part is then placed on the puck for transportation out of the cell. 

During a product change the cell enters a cleanout mode initiated by the operator via the SNPX-interface HMI connected directly to the robot controller.  The robot completes the cleanout process, aborts, and a new part number is entered on the HMI.  The operator changes out the EOAT fingers and quick-change-tooling on the machine tool, presses ‘‘cycle start’‘, and the robot is able to make the next product.  The robot is equipped with a tool changer if EMP elects to incorporate automatic product change to meet future demands.

EMP also has robots doing assembly work at all three of its plant locations (Escanaba, Mich., Indianapolis and Greenfield, Ind.)  These assembly processes have several small parts (sub-assemblies) that are incorporated into the final assembled product - all accomplished by robots - minimizing human intervention and inconsistencies, while assuring delivery of a quality product. 

According to Kluka, our visitors are amazed by the amount of automation that EMP uses on its production floor.  ‘‘We are as nimble and aggressive with our business as we can possibly be.  As a lot of companies downsize and send their work overseas, it feels good to have a successful manufacturing operation here in Michigan,’‘ added Kluka.

‘‘A large part of our automation has allowed us to employ over 160 new hires in the last year. That’s why we’re dedicated to driving automation to the furthest extent that we can,’‘ said Kluka.

Headquartered in Escanaba, MI, Engineered Machined Products, Inc. is a leader in high-performance, high-efficiency, thermal and oil management systems for engine and process cooling applications. Under current ownership since 1991, EMP is a leading manufacturer of diesel engine pumps in North America. EMP has built a solid reputation in the diesel engine industry for its leading manufacturing, tooling and design capabilities.  For more information, contact EMP at www.emp-corp.com or call (906) 786-8404.

Media Contact:
Cathy Powell
Sr. Marketing Analyst
FANUC Robotics America, Inc.
Phone: 248-377-7570
Email: cathy.powell@fanucrobotics.com

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