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Robot 'first timer' meets exponential growth in demand

Robot 'first timer' meets exponential growth in demand

The economic viability of its new marine pump and legislation on the use of heavy fuels in international waters has increased production demand exponentially for Separator Spares International. To maintain its competitiveness and meet demand, the Isle of Wight based manufacturer has installed its first robot, a Kawasaki R Series, to load and unload parts from two 4-axis twin spindle milling machines making high precision pumps

The pump was a new design from SSI, initially produced on a single milling machine, but the company knew that once the design and production process had been proven, demand would exceed capability. So a duplicate was procured with the intention of automating the loading and unloading. "No robotics skills existed in our company; we were complete novices," says SSI's Mark Pacy. "So we went out to several leading robot suppliers for help. Kawasaki Robotics offered the same work envelope arm as everyone else but had the benefit of a an extra 5kg payload."

SSI wanted to undertake as much of the project as possible and use it as a learning curve in robotics; to support this process they were provided with a list of approved Kawasaki support engineers to assist as required. Alan Thompson, SSI's machine shop foreman, explains: "We thought the machine interface and robot integration was a 'black art' but the engineer quickly completed all requirements. The whole process was more straight-forward than we thought it would be."

Space was at a particular premium at SSI and initial layouts positioned the machines opposite each other; Kawasaki suggested that a side by side machine positioning with the robot gaining access through the side access panels would allow faster setup times for tooling. This allowed an optimum 1.2m space for the robot to work in to include component racks and gauging.

The cell is able to handle six variants of rotor which are loaded into magazines to allow for totally unmanned production at night. A single gripper design allows handling of all variants from 15mm to 38mm diameter.

Pacy believes they have proved it is well within their capability to implement further robot installations and get it right. "Payback is looking to be particularly good on the robot and we are already looking at the next operation downstream from the first cell."

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