Case Study: Flexible Automation

Flexible Gear-Handling Cells Leverage Toolless Changeover, Error Proofing, and Vision System

The Challenge

Our customer — a large automotive manufacturer — required several flexible gear cells for a transmission plant. However, each cell needed to handle a family of parts, and the customer also required toolless changeover. In cells that handle many parts, loading the wrong part can be detrimental: the robot or machine tool can crash, or the wrong part can get mixed in with good parts, causing problems down the line. In this case, complete accuracy was key to ensure a successful operation.

Our Approach

First, we assessed each part family (there were four families total with 10-17 parts each). We considered safety, the number of parts, part sizes and weights, the machines being loaded, cycle time, machine exchange time, indeed and outfeed of parts, and secondary processes.

In order for toolless changeover to function properly, we error-proofed each cell to verify correct part loading. This included checking the I.D. and O.D. by using electric grippers with feedback mounted in the end-of-arm tooling; checking the face width using an analog laser sensor; and leveraging Cognex vision systems to identify blank, hobbed, or broached parts. For specific cells, we also integrated dunnage, tray loading, iRVision, eddy current checks for hardness, conveyors, SPC drawers, and reject chutes.

Results

This complex, integrated system employed several of our most advanced technologies. Toolless changeover increased the speed of the operation and substantially reduced downtime. Simultaneously, it reduced operator and the output of bad parts. Error proofing throughout the system ensured seamless operation.

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