De-risked robot attracts UK’s largest magnet maker

Successful robot testing has convinced a leading UK magnet manufacturer of the far-reaching benefits SMEs could see through adoption of automated processes.

Full - Anchor Magnets champions AMRC robot project
Anchor Magnets manufactures a range of products for various sectors. The five-day assist gave the company some insight into the application of robotics in-house without the burden of purchase costs.

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) helped Anchor Magnets in the city to de-risk technologies that would transform its operational processes, potentially freeing up technicians who currently perform the job manually.

Engineers from the AMRC’s Factory 2050 were tasked to develop a solution for the Sheffield company that would automate its entire magnet strip stacking process and liberate staff to perform more dexterous, cognitive-based tasks.

An entry level robot called EVA, manufactured by London-based machine maker Automata, was brought in over a five-day testing period and a physical demonstrator was created at AMRC’s Factory 2050 to verify the robot and its capabilities for the specific task at hand.

Despite the discovery that certain components were too complicated to manipulate in a repeatable manner using a robot and mechanical gripper, Anchor Magnets’ MD, Warren Turner said AMRC was “able to demonstrate the packing capabilities of a low-cost robot for magnetic materials”.

He added: “It is fantastic that AMRC’s Factory 2050 was able to fund and test technology on our behalf, creating real-life scenarios using our materials. De-risking this part of the feasibility study and having access to specialist skills and resources is an enormous help to SMEs like us.

“And whilst this particular make and model will not be suitable for our environment and products, it has given us some great ideas of what may be possible for us to develop.”

Anchor Magnets manufactures a range of products for various sectors. The five-day assist gave the company some insight into the application of robotics in-house without the burden of purchase costs, according to Matt Bacon, SME project manager at AMRC.

The research projects taking at Factory 2050 produce real-world answers to today’s manufacturing problems – image courtesy of AMRC.
The research projects taking at Factory 2050 produce real-world answers to today’s manufacturing problems – image courtesy of AMRC.

“EVA seemed a good fit due to its price point of £5,000 and ease of use,” he said.

“We already had the capability here and agreed to carry out some validation testing for Anchor with regards to automating the stacking process, using EVA. An important part of our role in working with SMEs is to de-risk technologies for them.

“The AMRC is perfectly equipped for this kind of quick validation – we have the robot, we can do the programming, we have the right electrics. Ultimately, we take away the financial risk for the business which for a small company can be invaluable,” Bacon added.

By Rory Butler, Staff Journalist