ActiNav Machine Tending Delivers Fast Savings and Improvements in Productivity and Labor Utilization for Schaeffler Group USA
01 the short story
In Cheraw, South Carolina, two Schaeffler Group USA factories produce high-precision engine components and industrial products. Schaeffler turned to the Universal Robots (UR) ActiNav machine tending kit with a UR5e cobot to automate manual assembly lines and improve labor utilization and productivity. The ActiNav system picks complex components jumbled together in bins and places them in precise orientation on an automated conveyor for assembly. This reduces manual labor for a repetitive, hard-to-staff job; delivers an immediate 7% boost in productivity due to the robot’s consistent, round-the-clock dependability; and saves the company $150,000 per year.
02 the challenge
Within the Cheraw facility, four operators feed 24/7 manufacturing lines to build a variable cam timer (VCT) component that improves performance and reduces emissions in internal combustion engines. The work is repetitive and boring, making it hard to staff. In addition, because these lines are far from other equipment, workers can’t easily be utilized in other areas, and if they leave the line for breaks or other reasons, production halts.
Schaeffler’s special machinery group, called Sondermaschinenbau (SMB), develops and builds special equipment to extend automation within Schaeffler facilities, as well as for outside customers. The production line asked SMB for a solution that would improve employee utilization, efficiency, and costs.
Automating the machine loading on the line proved challenging, however. The component is produced by an outside supplier and delivered in bulk, and the complex geometries of the component must be accurately oriented onto a conveyor for the next process. Having the parts delivered in oriented trays for traditional automated machine tending would have added too much cost.
Video — Schaeffler Group USA
03 the solution
A key advantage of the ActiNav system is its ability to autonomously pick parts that are randomly oriented in a bin and accurately place them. On the new ActiNav station, an operator now simply dumps components into multiple bins and then move to another process. ActiNav’s 3D sensor scans the bin so the system can calculate appropriate picks for the UR cobot, which then places the part based on its orientation. If the part is face up, the robot places it directly on the conveyor. If the part is face down, the robot places it in a reorientation station, where it is flipped so the robot can repick it and place it accurately on the conveyor, easily meeting the line’s 12-second cycle time requirement.
Once the parts are placed, the conveyor transfers the parts to the next cell. If there are no more parts to be picked from the bin, the system triggers the UR5e robot to initiate a bin-change sequence so it can continue to pick from the next bin, with no operator intervention needed.
Operator dumps parts into randomized bins and moves to another process, giving ActiNav system about two hours’ worth of work without employee intervention.
ActiNav’s 3D sensor above the robot scans the bin so the system can calculate appropriate picks for the UR5e cobot, which then accurately places the part on the conveyor based on its orientation.
If the part picked is not oriented correctly from the bin, the robot automatically places it in a reorientation station, where it is flipped so the robot can repick it and place it accurately on the conveyor.
ActiNav delivers measurable results in just three months
The ActiNav system delivered immediate results by reducing labor requirements from four operators on the line to three, with the freed-up operator being moved to higher-precision tasks on another line. That’s provided an immediate annual savings of $150,000, which leads to a return on investment (ROI) of less than a year. By automating the process, Schaeffler has eliminated downtime and labor underutilization and boosted overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) on the line, with production efficiency improving by seven percent.
UR Academy speeds integration, even with limited robotics experience
Aman Bhave, Mechanical Design Engineer in SMB, came into the project with limited programming experience, but found the online UR Academy tutorials to be instrumental in his success. “I was a bit skeptical that I could get this system running within a few months,” Bhave says. “But as I started looking at the tutorials of this, and started working with the system, I realized that it wasn’t that complicated and people with less experience can easily follow the steps and integrate the process.”
Before starting the system, Bhave went through all the tutorials and then installed the free URSim offline simulator on his laptop. That allowed him to have offline programming and simulation of the robot program on one screen and the steps of the appropriate tutorial on another.
UR cobot models:
UR+ products used:
ActiNav UR+ Application Kit for Flexible Machine Loading
Aman Bhave, Schaeffler mechanical design engineer, came into the project with limited robotics experience, but was able to integrate the ActiNav system due to its straightforward, hands-on programming.
Aman Bhave, Schaeffler mechanical design engineer, used Universal Robots’ free online tools to quickly get up to speed, including the UR Academy tutorials and the URSim offline simulation tool.
- Addresses labor shortage
- Increases efficiency and machine output
- Eliminates need for oriented parts and associated higher costs
- Increased productivity by 7% on 24/7 manufacturing line
- Valuable employee moved from repetitive manual processes to higher-value roles, saving $150,000 per year
- Straightforward integration and programming, even with no previous experience
- Proven, complete kit provides easy plug-and-play solution that can be integrated throughout other global manufacturing facilities
- ActiNav flexible machine loading works around the clock, picking complex, randomized parts from a deep bin and accurately placing them to increase machine output
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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-sized companies.