Flywheel Automates Multiple Machine Tending and Welding Tasks Using ActiNav Bin Picking and UR5 Cobot
01 the short story
Flywheel Supply is a family-owned machine shop that produces about 29,000 unique metal parts for antique machinery, steam and boiler controls, valves, and gauges, for both industrial and government applications. The company moves a single UR5 cobot between an ActiNav automated bin picking application for machine tending and TIG welding applications to drive productivity and help the company compete nationally and globally.
02 the challenge
Flywheel’s high-mix, low-volume production made it difficult to cost-effectively automate many processes such as repetitive, manual machine tending and welding tasks—especially with no prior robotics experience. Additional challenges for the machine tending application included parts that are oily from upstream machine processes, making them difficult for a robot to accurately pick and place, but a wash station between processes would add costs and delays.
Video — Flywheel Supply, USA
03 the solution
A single UR5 cobot is easily moved between machines and processes to automate multiple tasks, including machine tending and welding. The ActiNav UR+ Application Kit for flexible machine loading automates a wide range of processes, such as drilling, chamfering, and threading parts without needing a wash station between processes. The ActiNav application will ultimately process 1,500 different part numbers.
“The only way that made sense for us to put a robot on a machine tending application was to be able to do randomized bin picking,” says Zach Northway, Flywheel co-owner and lead project engineer. “The cycle times on the machine are so short that if an operator has to stand there and line parts up in an organized fashion for a robot to pick them in a traditional sense, it would defeat the entire purpose of using the robot to begin with, because your operator is still standing there.”
In the ActiNav flexible machine loading system, the UR5 cobot picks randomized parts from a deep bin and presents the parts to the 3D sensor above the bin to ensure correct position.
ActiNav is a UR+ Application Kit certified to work seamlessly with Universal Robots, with intuitive programming using the cobot teach pendant. It must be quickly programmable to pick up to 1,500 part numbers of different shapes, sizes, and weights.
The UR5 cobot accurately places parts in the jaws of a machine that indexes to multiple stations to perform tasks such as drilling, chamfering, and internal and external threading.
ActiNav verifies position before placing the parts in the machine and rejects unplaceable parts, which can be later dumped back into the bin to be successfully repicked the next time.
ActiNav flexible machine loading is the only option to automate Flywheel’s machine tending operations
In Flywheel’s ActiNav application, the UR5 cobot picks parts from a deep bin and places them in the jaws of a machine that indexes to multiple stations to perform multiple tasks such as drilling, chamfering, and internal and external threading. Ultimately, the ActiNav system will process as many as 1,500 different part numbers, so it must be quickly programmable to pick parts of different shapes, sizes, and weights. “The biggest advantage to ActiNav is that it can take randomization of parts being dumped in a bin, and as the bin gets low, a person can just come by and dump some more into the bin and it will keep picking parts,” explains Northway. “It doesn’t have to be reset, recalibrated—anything. It notices the bin amount changed and it keeps on going.”
The UR cobot uses a vacuum gripper to pick up each part. ActiNav verifies pick success and the cobot presents the part to the integrated scanner to ensure that the part is correctly oriented before placing it in the machine. Because the parts are oily and can easily shift position, ActiNav does validation checks throughout the routine to verify placement and make sure the robot precisely hits the target in the angle and position required. If the image sensor recognizes that a part has changed position, making it unplaceable, the cobot drops the part into a reject bin. During the course of the day, an operator empties the rejected parts back into the bin, where ActiNav can re-pick them successfully the next time.
Cobot is quickly deployed in TIG and MIG welding application for 4-5X productivity increase
With a fast-moving, high-mix manufacturing environment, Flywheel has also deployed the UR cobot without the ActiNav kit in TIG welding applications. Northway found the integration with the welder to be a straightforward process. “One of the really nice advantages of the UR robot and the software is you’re able to take a CAD file and output a G-code tool path like you would use on a mill,” he says. “The robot will follow that tool path and give you really good, precise control over where your welds end up going on your part.”
Northway is able to program new welding applications in as little as 15-20 minutes. In the first six months, the UR cobot has welded tens of thousands of parts with no problems. Welding productivity has also surged. “Prior to the robot, we were averaging about a minute cycle time for a person to weld them manually,” Northway explains. “With the robot doing the TIG welding, you simply drop the parts in the fixture, clamp it down and hit start, and it welds that part now in 14 seconds. Our throughput is four to five times greater than having one person welding continuously.”
By automating TIG welding with the UR cobot, Flywheel increased welding throughput by 4-5X over manual welding, reducing cycle time from a minute to about 14 seconds, including part loading and unloading.
The lightweight UR5 cobot can be easily moved between machines for additional flexibility.
Flywheel quickly automated MIG and TIG welding applications, creating new weld programs in as little as 15-20 minutes.
UR cobot models:
UR+ products used:
ActiNav UR+ Application Kit for Flexible Machine Loading
- Single robot can be flexibly redeployed
- Fits in tight production environment
- Increases production hours without increasing staff
- Complete kit for bin picking application
- Easy to program
- Increased welding throughput by 4 to 5 times
- Reduced welding cycle time from one minute to 14 seconds part-to-part
- Lightweight and flexible to easily move and redeploy
- Employees moved from repetitive manual processes to higher-value roles
- ActiNav flexible machine loading can work around the clock, picking randomized parts from a deep bin and accurately placing them for a range of processes
- Fast implementation for TIG and MIG welding applications, with easy reprogramming
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Cost-effective, safe and flexible collaborative robots - or cobots- are making automation easier than ever, even for the small and mid-sizes companies.