Alessandro Bonara
Alessandro Bonara
Born in Italy in 1965 Alessandro Bonara studied Industrial Engineering in Electronics. Today Alessandro Bonara conducts the SIPLACE Smart Factory in Munich.

Automation potential for low-volume/high-mix production environments: Collaborative robotics in SIPLACE’s smart factory in Munich

Sawyer Robot in ASM SMT production

(image: ASM Assembly Systems)

In the overall production effectiveness (OPE) measurement I introduced in my previous post we have found a smart tool for the SIPLACE factory in Munich that makes it easier for us as a team to identify efficiency-killers throughout the entire production process. Today I would like to present a concrete example of the results OPE has produced so far and how we implement these findings. The subject today is our latest innovation for our smart SIPLACE factory: the collaborative Sawyer robot.

Bottlenecks in in-circuit testing

Our OPE calculations in recent months showed that in-circuit testing (ICT) was repeatedly becoming a bottleneck for our employees. This relative simple process (insert circuit board, start test run, sort boards based on test results) takes up valuable time that could be spent more effectively on more complex process steps. Accordingly, ICT had great automation potential, which we determine based on the so-called 3D approach, meaning that we like to turn ‘dangerous, dirty and dull’ jobs are over to robots in order to relieve our employees and use their talents in more productive ways. But which automation technology would fit best into our manufacturing concept? Would an inline ICT system pay for itself? How about a cage robotics solution? A closer look at the process itself and the OPE results made it clear very quickly that these options would be too inflexible for our highly customized, low-volume/high-mix production approach; the process would become unbalanced and further reduce our OPE. That’s why we determined that a collaborative robotics solution would be the best way to meet our specific requirements and reduce our employees’ workload by actually helping them.

The new team member’s name: Sawyer

After evaluating the market in great detail, we found the right technology for our specific manufacturing needs. The Sawyer robot made by Rethink Robotics was the product that most effectively met our requirements in terms of flexibility and collaboration. What made the difference, however, were its mobile deployment capabilities (including automatic calibration via fiducial detection) and its intuitive programmability. For example, since pick-and-place processes can be easily stored in Sawyer via passive movements, even employees without any IT expertise can modify the robot’s motion patterns. The advantage for our manufacturing concept: Sawyer can be deployed at various stations in our factory and interact hand-in-hand with our human team members. That’s why we most likely will put him to use at our second bottleneck, the cluster separator.

Next-generation collaboration

To protect humans, collaborate robots must meet very high safety requirements. The hazard analysis for Sawyer is currently being conducted, but we are confident that we will be able to make Sawyer a permanent part of our production team very soon. In a smart factory like ours, collaborative robotics means integrating Sawyer fully into our production processes. Making it part of our machine operations is the first step in this process. Since our equipment concept calls for keeping interfaces as open as possible, we will be able to do this very soon. Links to higher-level systems (such as the ERP system) and other closed-loop processes will then be implemented in stages.

Collaborative robotics open the door to a wide range of automation opportunities in a low-volume/high-mix production like ours. We will keep you posted on further developments in our plant. How are you handling the introduction of (collaborative) automation tools? I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

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