Robot team shares load ... and brings 21st century savings to 100-year-old auto partsmaker.

Position:Hot markets review: robotics
 
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Ask a metal industry robot how it likes working alongside a human and it won t answer. The human, however, might have a comment, but when the robot is saving material and labor, improving quality, and running faster cycles, it's hard to have anything negative to say.

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That's the situation Motoman Inc. brought to Grote Industries. Grote, of Madison, IN, installed two modular, highly flexible robot work cells that feature robot teams working in close proximity with human operators.

"Material savings alone easily paid for the robot cells," says Tom Blades, plant manager. "We also had direct labor savings, quality improvements, and improved aesthetics," he adds.

A privately owned 100-year-old company with a history of innovation, Grote was experiencing high demand for components from automotive, OEMs and aftermarket suppliers. Grote manufactures head and tail lamps, dome lights, emergency lighting, flashers, and LED marker lamps.

The die was cast for Grote to implement robotic assembly to improve productivity.

"Five or six operators per shift were needed to run these parts on a manual line and, depending on the product being run, cycle time was 19-24 seconds per part," Blades says. "With the robot cells, we only need two operators per shift, and cycle time is 1215 seconds a part, so we can run parts nearly twice as fast."

Among the several points that sold Grote on Motoman was its small footprint.

"This plug-and-play arrangement for the welders saves on floor space and auxiliary support equipment," Blades says.

Automating the process also has provided quality improvements, ranging from the cosmetic look to the traceability with laser-etched identifiers.

"The cosmetic look of the parts is much better now that they're being built by robots," says Ed Sitarski, product development engineer. "We also have improved traceability. Parts are laser-etched with identifiers indicating the date, time and shift they were built," he adds.

"Each robot cell can run 10 different parts, and we have 10 product types, each with two color variances (red and amber)," Sitarski says. "We have three different types of packaging--bags, totes and boxes. So we have about 60 part numbers that we can change over to, as needed."

Changeover requires less than five minutes.

The automated system includes multiple processes: inserting terminals into housings, soldering printed circuit boards (PCBs) to terminals, dispensing encapsulant material, curing the...

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