Robots assemble air compressors at Atlas Copco
Many companies wish to optimise their production lines, often looking for ways to automate assembly tasks. Robots can already take over many repetitive, heavy and boring tasks from human operators, but certain complex actions are still a challenge. Atlas Copco, KUKA and Flanders Make worked together on developing technology for the automated assembly of an air compressor.
The manual assembly of an air compressor was a labour-intensive process requiring a lot of resources and time from Atlas Copco employees. The workers had to work with chemical glues and over time the repetitive process caused many ergonomic problems. Atlas Copco looked for ways to automate this process, first writing down the entire assembly process in a use case. Together with KUKA, a supplier of industrial robots, they encountered a specific difficulty: the robot had to perform a complex peg-in-a-hole manipulation, such as inserting a rotor into a casing. The difficulties surrounding this operation meant that the whole process was insufficiently solid to enable an industrial roll-out. Both companies approached Flanders Make in order to jointly find a robust solution to this challenge that would allow leaving this process to robots.
“It was quite a challenge”, says Asad Tirmizi, Robotics Researcher at Flanders Make. “We had to investigate all the possibilities that might cause a failure when inserting the part. Often, we do not even know how this is caused. By trying and testing a lot, we came one step closer to the solution”, says Asad. The researchers of Flanders Make built a test set-up in the Make Lab, a mobile research lab filled to the brim with top technology. The Lab also serves to test feasibility studies on assembly technology for companies that do not have the infrastructure or expertise to do so. By setting it up in realistic shop floor conditions, an assembly cell could be recreated that performed the specific operation flawlessly time after time.
“After a lot of testing, we have now developed robust technology and software that has successfully demonstrated this operation more than 500 times”, continues Asad. "Previously, the robot failed 1 in 7 times. Thanks to our technology we have reduced this to less than 1%.”
Flanders Make is now showing the test setup in the Make Lab to all interested companies that wish to automate their assembly line. “Atlas Copco and KUKA were quickly convinced of the benefits, which encouraged us to continue pursuing this path", says Luc Vastmans, Project Manager at KUKA. Atlas Copco implemented the solution on an industrial scale in their factory and has been using the technology and software without any problems for a long time now. Flanders Make's research has had a clear impact on the realisation of the installation”, concludes Luc.
“This innovation is very important for Atlas Copco Wilrijk", confirms Karel Vennens, team leader manufacturing processes at Atlas Copco, "It allows us to remain internationally competitive and to enter new markets. We are currently also investigating how this robotic assembly can be extended to larger product variants.”
“What used to be a labour-intensive assembly, during which many hands had to slowly move the parts from one station to another, has been transformed, partly thanks to Flanders Make's technology, into an elegant automated work cell where air compressors are manufactured entirely autonomously”, Asad proudly concludes.
Wouter Hanoulle - Communication Officer
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