RARUK Automation has supplied Plymouth-based industrial control systems manufacturer Oakmount Control Systems with an automated pick and place solution to eliminate labour-intensive processes.
A FlexiBowl parts feeder and Shibaura Machine THP700 SCARA robot are now working in unison at a customer of Oakmount, where they are feeding, picking and placing a medical product into individual plastic packaging trays.
This task was previously performed by a human operative and the new solution has enabled the end user to redeploy its labour resource to a more value-added task.
Initially, cycle time studies of the existing operation set a goal for a proposed automated solution.
Using this information, Oakmount worked with technical partner RARUK Automation to discuss the optimum way of reducing the cycle time and improving process repeatability.
“RARUK Automation used Shibaura Machine’s simulation software to evaluate the optimum cycle time that could be achieved,” said John Dawe, business development manager – factory automation at Oakmount Control Systems.
“The software allows CAD drawings to be integrated and therefore get real-time simulations, which in this case turned out to be faster than the manual operation.
“We’d used FlexiBowl before, but this was our first project with a SCARA robot.
“Once the simulation phase was complete we returned to our customer with the proposal, the estimated cycle time and the cost.
“They were pleased with our recommendation and placed the order.”
FlexiBowl has been designed to be compatible with any robot and vision system. A single unit can handle entire families of parts within a 1-250mm and 1-250g range.
Furthermore, the system’s lack of dedicated tooling and intuitive programming allow product changeovers in seconds.
The THP700 SCARA robot offers a 700mm reach and a maximum payload of 10kg. It is capable of up to 120 cycles per minute in 24-hour continuous operation.
Working in a cleanroom environment at Oakmount’s customer, the hopper-fed FlexiBowl feeds awkwardly shaped medical products on to the rotating flat surface of the FlexiBowl.
Oakmount positioned a camera-based vision system above the FlexiBowl’s picking area, which then instructs the robot which parts are available to pick.
The SCARA robot then picks up the medical products individually using a vacuum pad and places each one into the required plastic packaging pocket as they emerge from a thermoforming machine.
As the trays fill (five trays per row) they move along the production line to a vacuum bagging operation, after which further Oakmount-supplied vision systems confirm that the parts and labels are in place.
A single control panel – also designed and manufactured by Oakmount – oversees the entire operation.
There are two variants of the medical product that require packaging. However, the system devised by Oakmount has been purpose-designed to accommodate both with an extremely short changeover time.
According to Oakmount, the only aspects that need to change when switching products are the robot programme and the image of the part to pick.
Installed and commissioned in June 2020, the system has been running continuously since.
“Our customer has taken a big step forward with this project,” said Dawe.
“Aside from the inherent accuracy and continuous placement of parts that the system provides, our customer has been able to release their operator to undertake more technical tasks and reduce any risk of RSI due to repetitive action.
“Labour has therefore been costed out of this particular process.”