Dress rehearsal for robots: collaboration makes its IMTS debut with model of air-cooled engine.


When the curtain lifted last month at IMTS 2008, it was a debut like none other for Partners in THINC.

While its roots go back 10 years, the partnership has only been "in business" since 2007. The partners decided the booth at IMTS would be a reproduction of a full manufacturing floor in 4,800sqft of space that produced a model air-cooled engine assembled by robots.

The concept of Partners in THINC is built upon the Okuma THINC control (The Intelligent Numeric Control), an open architecture, Microsoft Windows-based platform, and how more than 30 partners collaborate through Okuma's Charlotte, NC, facility to bring out the best of the control's capabilities for their advanced manufacturing customers.

Not only did the IMTS cell demonstrate a number of equipment capabilities from Okuma and more than 20 participating partners, it showcased process flow--complete from order entry to shipment invoicing--all through the THINC control.

In a nutshell, six different cells produced a total of 10 parts in a cycle time of about 33 minutes. Though a manufacturing engineer collected the parts from each machine to take to robots for assembly (due to space restrictions in the booth), this process could be automated by parts catchers, automated guided vehicles, and/ or conveyors, according to Jeff Estes, director of Partners in THINC.

"It takes about 17 minutes for the two Fanuc robots to assemble the motor and package it," says Estes. "This includes thorough inspection of every component by the Fanuc vision system, including fasteners, and then putting the completed product into a box.

"Now, human hands do actually close the box, insert the packing list and the invoice generated by SAP and/or JobBoss--we're using both--and then the pre-printed FedEx label is applied," he adds. "This process could also be automated with further investment into available packaging and shipping systems--I'm thinking about $30,000. We just didn't have the space at IMTS to do this."


The power of THINC

"The THINC control is Ethernet-ready and offers plug-and-play compatibility to Okuma machine tools and industry peripherals required in manufacturing," Estes says. "The control is designed to optimize productivity through the availability and adaptability of real-time information for our end-users."

Taking the process and capabilities of the collaboration to the next level and showcasing the collective strengths at IMTS was the vision of the Okuma America...

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