Automation brings flexibility & efficiencies to electronics firm

Investing in a highly automated, flexible assembly line is paying dividends for family-owned manufacturer, Harwin PLC.

Using standard components from Festo, Harwin achieved the automation accuracy necessary to produce differently shaped and sized connectors on one assembly line - image courtesy of Festo.
Using standard components from Festo, Harwin achieved the automation accuracy necessary to produce differently shaped and sized connectors on one assembly line – image courtesy of Festo.

When developing a new production line with the aim of improving manufacturing efficiencies, Harwin identified that a high level of automation and flexibility were needed to be able to produce differently shaped and sized connectors on one line. Working with Festo, the Portsmouth-based company was able to develop a modular, automated process using standard components.

Harwin’s connectors are high quality, reliable and durable and are often deployed in harsh ambient conditions. They are not only specified by customers in the cost-conscious consumer electronics sector, but are also in demand for high performance applications such as aerospace, motor sports and the automotive industry. This means the connectors have to be made consistently to exacting standards.

Every 0.5mm diameter pin is turned and has a patented slotted four finger contact design, enabling high-level current handling on a very small pitch, alongside high vibration and shock resistance.

In response to market demand, Harwin introduced its Gecko range of connectors. These advanced connectors have a pin pitch of only 1.25 mm and are half the size and 75% lighter than micro D connectors.

From an initially manual process, manufacturing the Gecko connectors has been refined to today’s highly automated process, capable of producing hundreds of thousands of connectors a year with a wide range of configurations.

The assembly line comprises three key stations: inserting, press-fitting and bending the contact pins. In the first station, the workpiece carriers are equipped with the required connector housings and are positioned so the contact pins can be inserted. In the second station, the servo press presses the contact pins into the connector housing.

A precision gripper locates the workpiece carriers holding the connector housings while the pins are fitted. The handling system and the servo press kit are also used in the last station for bending the contact pins to the required angle.

Advanced software working in conjunction with the servo press helps makes programming easier via a graphical user interface. Adapting the press profile to the different connector variants can therefore be achieved without the need for special programming skills.

Following on from the successful introduction of the new Gecko production line, the Harwin team is already planning to extend their adoption of Festo solutions.

Operations director, Paul McGuiness commented: “We will certainly continue the modular concept, but there is scope to extend the automation, further driving down the cost of production and increasing the production reliability.”