Advanced Plastics: a cobot case study

The cobot in operation at Advanced Plastics will run its process for at least the next five years, but payback will only take seven months.


Cobot - A UR5 like this one picks and places all the components inside the control box which it then lifts up, turns around and places on a conveyer belt – image courtesy of Universal Robots.
A UR5 like this one picks and places all the components inside the control box which it then lifts up, turns around and places on a conveyer belt – image courtesy of Universal Robots.

Advanced Plastics are technical injection-moulding specialists, producing everything from automotive parts like rocker covers to lenses and complex vibration-welded assemblies in their Hull factory.

Twenty-five six-axis robots handle tasks like de-moulding, degating, depositing parts into ovens for curing and applying foam gasket.

For a complex control housing for Ideal boilers, a Fanuc robot takes the substrate and places it into another machine for overmoulding.

Next, control knobs, buttons and lenses are added to the housing before it’s ultrasonically welded.

Two human operators usually do this but their delays and inconsistent cycle times prompted the company to implement its first cobot.

A Universal Robots UR5 picks and places all the components inside the control box which it then lifts up, turns around and places on a conveyer belt. Then the cobot picks up the next set of components, ready for the next cycle.

To ensure their locations are predictable, each set of parts arrives ready loaded in a tray. The cobot works its way through a set of trays, stacking empties as it goes.

Once the first pile is finished, it switches over to second full stack while the first is replenished.

“That leaves the operator free to check the quality of the assembled control box housing and pack it,” says Ed Darling, robotics process manager at Advanced Plastics.  “It gives us a constant cycle time and will eliminate the need for weekend working.”

“The cobot doesn’t require any guards and that was the big attraction,” he continues. “If you put a cell around the machine, that would be another £2,000. The cobot can work alongside the operator and it’s very user-friendly – we trained it ourselves.”

Two SMC rotary actuators sit at the end of the arm. There’s a four-way spindle and each spindle end either has a suction cup or a set of gripper jaws with which to manipulate parts.

“Our electricians had to build a control box so the actuators could communicate with the cobot,” explains Darling. “It was pretty straightforward to use the I/O card that came with the cobot to connect that, there’s no PLC or Modbus or other type of system required.”

The cobot and process were trialled offline first, helping to make the first six-hour live shift a success. With the line working flat out and staff training required, full production implementation will happen in Q2 2018.

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