Sheffield Forgemasters adopts pioneering robot assistance

Posted on 15 Apr 2021 by Tom Lane

Sheffield Forgemasters has adopted pioneering collaborative robotic (Cobot) assistance for some of its Foundry operatives, dramatically reducing exposure to vibration, improving safety and increasing productivity within its fettling operations.

Sheffield Forgemasters is one of the first foundries in the world to employ the 6A10 Grinding Cobot, from French firm RB3D, which works with operators of heavy grinders to stabilise and take the weight of the grinder, amplify its operational pressure and dramatically reduce the level of vibrations for the operator.

The Cobot initiative is a significant change for Sheffield Forgemasters, which relies heavily on grinders to fettle or prepare the complex 3d shapes of its castings, allowing operators to safely increase their working time on each job by reducing fatigue load.

John Sanderson, Foundry operations director at Sheffield Forgemasters, said: “We are conscious that manual grinding tasks are inherently difficult and pose challenges for operators, particularly from vibrations, stress injuries and fatigue.

“The Cobot is a robotic, electric-motor driven arm, which takes the full weight of our pneumatic grinders and is guided by the operator, but does not require any programming.

“Trials of the Cobot have transformed what we can achieve on such tasks, by improving the health and safety environment, reducing the chances of a grinder slipping from the work surface, and by removing fatigue and vibrations from the process, which dictate how much time an operator can safely work for.”

For manual grinding tasks, vibration levels require a maximum working duration of three hours for the safety of the operator, but the Cobot allows operatives to conduct full days of grinding tasks without any of the associated risks posed by manual grinding.

Sheffield Forgemasters
image supplied by Sheffield Forgemasters.

RB3D designs and provides equipment to assist manual workers and has developed Cobots and exoskeletons, which protect the wearer from lifting and straining injuries and enable heavier loads to be handled safely.

Olivier BAUDET, sales director at RB3D, said: “We are pleased to be supplying Sheffield Forgemasters, one of the world’s leading foundries and an early adopter of our Cobot technology.

“We want to contribute to the challenge of reducing musculoskeletal disorders, which represent a human challenge because of the suffering caused to the people concerned, and also a financial challenge because of the very high cost of collective social protection within companies.”

The Cobot operates from a mobile cart and is currently configured for smaller, ground level jobs, where it can access around 60 per cent of the work surface compared to an operator manually handling a grinder.

Peter Davies, senior development engineer at Sheffield Forgemasters, added: “The benefits of this initiative are immense and purely from a health and safety point of view, set the requirement for us to further explore the benefits of this technology.

“We are also seeing a 50 per cent uplift in productivity and are now looking at the potential of a jib-mounted Cobot to efficiently access larger components and higher working levels.”