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Robotics Case Studies

PDSI Case Study: Using Simulation to Create a Winning Proposal

Visual Components

A Major Project Opportunity with Tough Requirements

Located in Dayton, Ohio, Production Design Services, Inc.; or PDSI, has been providing cost-effective solutions for complex manufacturing problems for more than 60 years. As a supplier and integrator of fixed and flexible turn-key automation solutions, PDSI has designed hundreds of cells for a wide variety of industries.

Last year, PDSI was approached by a leading U.S.-based manufacturer of home appliances to bid on a project. They wanted PDSI to design a new assembly line that was almost fully automated and capable of performing the pre-assembly, from individual components to cabinet assembly. The line also needed to easily accommodate the introduction of new appliances. In addition, the customer wanted a solution that could deliver reduced headcount, improved quality, and higher throughput. They set a hard requirement for a cycle time of 20 seconds or less.

Simulation Plays a Decisive Role

The bidding process was highly competitive — it was a big project and at least three other companies were invited to provide a proposal. Companies bidding on the project had to demonstrate their designs were technically feasible and could achieve the project requirements, especially the cycle time.

The customer was also a big proponent of production simulation. They used simulation internally for their own projects and had a simulation consultant on staff.

“They offered companies bidding on this project the support of their simulation consultant for a fee,” said Leland (Lee) Weed, an Applications Engineer with PDSI. “But we decided to perform the simulation work in-house.”

“We knew we could work better and faster with Visual Components.”

We knew we could work better and faster with Visual Components.

Leland (Lee) Weed, Applications Engineer - PDSI

From Simulation Novice to Company Expert

When Lee got the call that he was going to be the simulation expert on this project, he had limited experience using Visual Components. In fact, he was just learning how to use it.

“I was actually getting introductory training on how to use Visual Components when I got the call from my VP,” said Lee. “I had previous experience with layout planning, but simulation in Visual Components was new to me.”

“So, my trainer and I decided to use this project as a training exercise. We designed one of the robot cells and went through examples of how to define and simulate processes.”

The PDSI engineering team provided Lee with a timing chart of the infeed of components, the conveyer speeds of conveyors they wanted to use, and some CAD and STEP files of equipment they wanted to use in the project. They also confirmed the accuracy of robot joint speeds for the KUKA robots they wanted to be used. All other equipment used in the proposal was designed and manufactured by PDSI.

Verifying the 20 Second Cycle Time

Fresh from training, Lee went to work on the project. The first step was to verify the feasibility of the 20 second cycle time. Lee started by conducting a simulation study on one part of a robot cell; what was known to be a critical pace setter of the line. He designed a model of the cell using a combination of CAD and components from the Visual Components eCatalog, including the KUKA robot models the customer wanted.

PDSI’s engineering team used SolidWorks to design the equipment needed for the project. Lee would import these geometry files, as well as part models provided by the customer, into Visual Components, and model them into components. He then simulated the workflow of different robot paths until he had a design where he could verify the 20 second cycle time was achievable.

Lee and the engineering team verified the design of the cell, shared their analysis with the customer, then continued with designing the rest of the line.

A Collaborative Design Process

The design and verification process iterated back and forth between PDSI and the customer as they developed the solution. Lee communicated much of their progress by sharing 3D PDFs and simulation videos of their designs.

“Visual Components played an integral role in this project,” said Lee. “We used it to validate the layout, verify that the robots could accomplish their tasks, and that the machine tools and process machines could process their tasks.”

“We also used it to perform robot reach studies, conduct cycle times analyses, and most importantly, verify that each cell could achieve the required cycle time of 20 seconds or less.”

In instances where cycle times were too tight, Lee recommended changes to the equipment, programming, or layout design.

PDSI involved the customer throughout the design process.

“There were approximately five update meetings and two major decision point meetings with the customer,” said Lee. “During these meetings, we presented them with simulation recordings and drawings of our designs, created with Visual Components.”

“This allowed all of the project stakeholders to discuss key design tradeoffs, verify the feasibility, and better visualize the design as it progressed.”

Visual Components played an integral role in this project. We used it to validate the layout, verify that the robots could accomplish their tasks, and that the machine tools and process machines could process their tasks.

Leland (Lee) Weed, Applications Engineer - PDSI

The Solution

“The assembly line we designed consisted of five main cells,” said Lee. “The first cell is semi-automated, and the second cell is fully-automated”

In cell 1, a worker manually loads sub-components onto pallets that are transferred on a conveyor system. The pallets are fed to a pressing machine where a robot places a center section into the pressing machine, over the sub-component. The pressing machine cycles while the robot continues to hold the assembly. Once the assembly’s pressed together, the robot lifts it out of the machine, rotates 180 degrees and places it on the exit conveyor, where it moves to the next operation.

In cell 2, conveyors feed-in skins from the left of the cell and center sections from the front of the cell. An elevator in the middle of the cell lifts the center section, and a robot places a skin over it. Next, a set of drivers insert screws into the assembly, attaching the skin to the center section. A second robot lifts the whole assembly and moves it to a secondary fixture where additional screws are inserted. The assembly then exits the cell via the conveyor on the right of the cell.

“The throughput for both cells 1 and 2 is one assembly every 20 seconds,” said Lee.


The pre-assembly line, which consists of five cells, has key elements automated and much less human intervention. Most importantly, the new design met the required cycle time of 20 seconds.

Visual Components played a significant role in the design and verification of the project.

“The customer was impressed with the speed and accuracy of Visual Components, especially compared to other simulation products they had seen,” said Lee. “They were also impressed with the accuracy of the joint speeds in the robot models and that the KUKA arms clocked in real time.”

“Visual Components’ high-quality graphics and visuals also made a big impact during the customer presentations.”

The project is currently in construction and will enter operations in 2019.

The customer was impressed with the speed and accuracy of Visual Components, especially compared to other simulation products they had seen.

Leland (Lee) Weed, Applications Engineer - PDSI

About PDSI
Founded in 1955 and located in Dayton, Ohio, Production Design Services, Inc. provides cost-effective solutions to complex manufacturing problems. It supplies automated solutions in the design and build of custom equipment including material handling, automated assembly, welding, and test equipment, as well as integrated robot systems.

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