Case Studies - General Industry
Loading and unloading, milling, food production and more: Discover international case studies from the world of Kawasaki Robotics – hands on
Case Study Suscom take more Kawasaki Robots
Robot handles castor thousands
Suscom Industries, one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of components for office furniture and equipment, has recently expanded its fleet of Kawasaki robots part of a successful reshoring programme
Located in Wigan, Suscom’s recent addition of another Kawasaki RS20N robot takes the number of Kawasaki units in use at its plant to a total of 8. The company uses the brand exclusively. Seven of the units are Kawasaki’s RS20N with a single, larger, RS50N robot making up the total. Each robot works 24 hours a day, 5 days a week as Suscom deals with demand.
The robots are deployed during the moulding and post-moulding processes of many components and are engaged in a variety of tasks across the shop floor. One of these is removing completed seat bases from a moulding machine and positioning them onto an adjacent workstation, using vacuum grippers.
Another is removing the five-armed star shaped bases of office chairs from the moulding machine and holding them in place, almost upside down, with a three fingered gripper whilst a laser cutter profiles a section of the base to allow the fitting of the gas strut. In order to do this, the RS-20N robot must describe a perfect 100mm diameter circular motion as the (fixed) head of the laser cutter sets about creating the required profile.
Other tasks undertaken by the robots are varied and include upholstering the mesh onto freshly moulded chair backs and installing the 5 castors into position on the star shaped chair bases.
Suscom Technical Director Matthew Kennedy says “Each of the many tasks we use robots for involves a combination of speed, agility and accurate, repeatable precision. In all the years we have operated our Kawasaki robots, we have never had a single problem, nor a moment of unscheduled stoppage time with them”. The company says that its decision to use Kawasaki robots exclusively is based on a proven track record of trouble-free service combined with ease of use by Suscom staff.
Ian Hensman, Kawasaki Robotics UK Sales Manager observes “It is good to see Suscom’s success in a competitive market, and to be a part of it. The pandemic has underscored the value of the UK’s manufacturing base and reasserted its vital importance to all consumers. As the sole supplier of robots to Suscom we continue to work closely with them, matching robot technology precisely to their needs. The units at Suscom work a typical 120 hour week with no more than routine maintenance”. All Kawasaki robots in the range are currently available on favourable and flexible leasing terms. “For many SME’s, our leasing programmes open the door to productivity and profit without the penalty of purchase funding up front” concludes Ian Hensman.
Further information from Kawasaki Robotics: Ian Hensman 01925 713000
Further information from Suscom: Matthew Kennedy 01942 221133
Case Study Fox’s Biscuits
Fox’s fresh approach to SCARA swap-out
Fox’s, one of the UK’s leading biscuit brands, has replaced two hard working SCARA type robots for four Kawasaki robots to overcome efficiency issues relating to obsolescence. The move away from SCARA configuration to conventional six axis arms illustrates the affordability and efficiency gains offered by today’s advanced robotic designs.
Back in 1989 Fox’s Uttoxeter facility first implemented robotic handling of wrapped biscuits, reducing operators from 34 to just 14, using two SCARA configuration robots. Designed originally for high speed handling and assembly, the high-speed arms operated at their upper efficiency range for 80,000 hours before a complete rebuild and a further ten years operating rendered them obsolete and operating at just 70% efficiency.
Out of three replacement options proposed to Fox’s only Kawasaki suggested a move back to conventional six axes arms. Through simulations Kawasaki Robotics UK was able to illustrate that two RS-20N Robots would cost effectively match, and exceed if required, the output of one SCARA.
David Bill, Fox’s Maintenance Manager and project manager for the update, explains, “The SCARA arms had worked well but operating consistently at such high speeds, and obsolescence of parts, took its toll on operational efficiency. Our replacement criteria was straight-forward; to meet existing production levels and to fit within the existing work envelope. Kawasaki proved to us that four of their RS-20N Robot arms could meet the specification cost effectively and operate well within their scope of performance.”
Integration of the replacement robots and the updating of control and peripheral equipment was carried out by Bristol based food and beverage automation specialists Visppro Limited. As an existing supplier to Fox’s and familiar with the production line, Visppro were ideally suited to ensure a smooth transition over a 14 days period.
The production area produces variety packs, each pack comprising 4 separate packs of biscuits, typically Nice, Bourbon, Malted Milk and Custard Creams. Each robot’s job is to load an input conveyor with packs of one type of biscuit from a tote bin; four conveyors, one per biscuit type, transport the biscuits to a collator which feeds four packs of different biscuits into a wrapper. After the wrapping, completed packs pass over a metal detector before entering a carton erector.
“The robots are working well within their capacity and efficiency is already in the high 90’s,” David continues. “This is a very important product to Fox’s and several production lines feeding it biscuits are reliant on its continued uptime. Prior to installation we built up 14 days of stock so the pressure was on Visppro to meet the deadline.
“It came together very well, with as many as 17 personnel working on their own specific areas at any one time. The system was operating in seven days and training took part during the next seven days with full efficiency run up being reached within six weeks.”
Moving from two robots to four offers considerable benefit to Fox’s besides overcoming the obsolescence issue. The system is configured so that if required one robot could load across two conveyors allowing for maintenance or unplanned outage. Programming is straight-forward with revised location functions being enabled through the system PLC.
Case Study Barrel Handling
Robots take the load for cooperage
Automation technology is proving it can mix effectively and unobtrusively with the heritage craft of barrel manufacturing at Speyside Cooperage in Alloa. Two Kawasaki robots and a purpose designed lathe are being used in the refurbishment process of traditionally built oak barrels.
An independent cooperage, Speyside manufactures and refurbishes over 100,000 oak barrels a year in its two factories at Speyside and Alloa. Although maintaining the craft skills demanded by the manufacturing process, the business is open to the implementation of machinery where output and health and safety can be improved.
Oak barrel refurbishment is an important part of the whisky industry; firstly as previously used barrels, for example sherry barrels, are used for maturing whisky to provide unique flavours and secondly, often after a typical 10 years without attention, barrels are well suited to being repaired for continued service.
Meeting a growing trend to refurbish both ends, or Heads, of a barrel as part of the refurbishment process, Speyside Cooperage went to specialists Aberlour Engineering. The brief was to design a system to automatically handle the process of removing up to 3mm from the barrels internal diameter and to handle it through a charring process after machining.
Steven Langlands, Manager of Speyside Cooperage, explains, “Traditionally the refurbishment process requires ‘dropping out’ only one end of the barrel using a lance burner and ‘scouring’ the inside of the barrel with a rotary wire brush. Increasingly our customers are requiring both ends to be removed and a shaving to be taken from the internal diameter to clean the surface.
“With the barrel open at both end it lends itself to a lathe operation which we specified to Aberlour Engineering. Using a lathe introduced a loading issue as some of the larger barrels weigh in excess of 100Kgs.”
Aberlour Engineering designed a horizontal lathe with powered tail stocks and two 300Kg payload Kawasaki ZX300S Robots to load and unload the barrels. The load robot picks a barrel from an infeed position and loads it into the horizontal lathe. After a barrel has been machined the unload robot removes the barrel, inverts it over a collector unit to catch the wood shavings and places it onto a conveyor. This conveyor transports it through the charring process which has the effect of opening the newly machined wood grain to allow it to absorb moisture as part of the wood’s sealing process.
After the charring process the barrel is removed by the Kawasaki robot and placed onto an output conveyor. Using one gripper design for all four barrel variants, the system takes only 15 minutes to change the lathe tooling which comprises a cone on each tailstock.
“When the decision was made to refurbish by ‘dropping both ends’ we assumed that the process time would be extended above the existing ‘one end’ manual operation. In fact the new process is far quicker. The system effectively increases our capacity – subject to feeding it enough barrels,” continued Steven Langland.
“Also we could possibly have managed with a single robot, however, a conscious decision was made to have two; for future expansion of the process we would not require extra robots as we now have the potential for each robot to service two machines if they are mounted on linear axes.”
The system requires one operator and to date Speyside Cooperage has found that a half day of robot training has been sufficient. If programming and maintenance training is required in the future this will be provided by Aberlour Engineering and Kawasaki Robot UK but as the system is designed, and has proved, to be straight-forward to operate and reliable this isn’t seen as an issue.
Finally at Speyside Cooperage, Alloa, where everyone is either a qualified or apprentice cooper, automation and a heritage craft are working in harmony with the only special skills evident being that of the cooper.