In the contract machining and fabrication business, change is a fact of life. For Wisconsin-based WST Fab, a large customer order unexpectedly fell through on the day the company received its new UR10e cobot-based machine tending system that was specifically designed for that part. But because UR Certified Systems Integrator (CSI) PCC Robotics focuses on “handing over the keys” to the customer with full knowledge transfer, the WST Fab team didn’t miss a beat. Within days, they were able to reprogram the cobot, adapt the versatile fixturing, and 3D-print new grippers, and can now run a dozen different parts on the system.
The business transformation
WST Fab had explored traditional automation but needed the versatility of cobots that can be moved or redeployed as business demands change. The cobot also allows them to fully utilize existing equipment, while a traditional robot would have required a dedicated CNC machine that could only run certain parts. Charlie Lenn, general manager at WST Fab says, “From a cost standpoint, to invest $550,000 into an industrial robot that’s in a fixed position versus probably a third of the cost for a heavier-duty cobot that we can then move somewhere else if we need to, it just feels a lot safer.”
Timm Abel, WST Fab operations manager, adds, “We can put a cobot in place, do this job, and pull everything out, and have the same machine we had before we started. And this is in a matter of hours, not days. That’s how we’ll grow our business in the robot world—versatility.”
Based on its experience with the UR10e machine tending cobot, WST Fab continues to push its automation goals. The availability of UR’s bigger, faster, and stronger cobots gives them even more options to handle larger or unwieldy parts in the future. Lenn explains, “We’re always asking ourselves what more can it do? How can we challenge it? Can we ask PCC for bigger, stronger, faster cobots, so that we can use them in other applications?” He adds, “I bet you we talk weekly about what can we automate. Can we use a cobot on the press brake? Can we use it on a turning center? Where is the next spot for it?”