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Tabletop Cobot Boosts Springmaker’s Productivity

Jim Lorincz
By Jim Lorincz Contributing Editor, SME Media

The International Federation of Robotics forecasts that by 2019, 1.4 million industrial robots will be installed in factories around the world. Manufacturing organizations are looking to this technology as a way to streamline operations, improve safety on the factory floor and grow their business.

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The UR3 robotic arm carefully grips the spring.

Newcomb Spring Corp., one of North America’s largest custom spring, wire form and metal stamping manufacturers, focuses on innovation in its plants, adding proprietary and purchased technologies. Recently, Newcomb Spring added robotic automation to its operations as part of the company’s continued effort to improve efficiency and quality.

The UR3 tabletop robot from Universal Robots USA Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI) was introduced at the Newcomb Spring of North Carolina facility and is currently affixed to a Wafios FMU CNC wire-forming machine. Considered a collaborative UR robot, or cobot, which can work safely alongside people without guarding, the UR3 is part of an emerging class of robots that some industry experts predict to be the largest market driver of industrial automation.

Newcomb Spring selected the UR3 for its ability to support employees by performing repetitive operations quickly, consistently, and precisely. While primarily used for spring and wire form product sorting and packaging, the unit can complete a variety of tasks in assembly and production. The robotic arm has been implemented as a collaborative tool that reduces human fatigue and errors and increases overall productivity. This allows employees to complete projects rapidly and focus on other areas of production.

“We are always striving to find new ways to better our processes and value,” said Keith Porter Jr., general manager of Newcomb Spring of North Carolina. “The UR3 is an excellent tool for precise tasks, and the machine’s programming allows it to be re-deployed for a variety of efforts, and to deliver consistent results.”

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The UR3 robotic arm is ready to take the part from the wire-forming machine.

CrossRobotics (Belmont, NC), an integrator of UR robots, worked with Newcomb Spring to implement the UR3. According to Grady Turner, applications specialist with CrossRobotics, the UR3’s ease of use allows for quick reprogramming of different parts and machines.

Recently, the UR3 was utilized on a high-volume production run of beryllium copper battery contacts. The robot was programmed to remove the component from the flexible manufacturing unit (FMU) and place it in a molded plastic tray. The precise movement of the robot provided accurate positioning and timing, allowing the robot’s gripper to grasp the part’s complex geometry and hold the battery contact just as the wire was cut without damaging the springs or creating pressure on the feeding wire. As the FMU began to coil its next component, the UR3 arm rotated and moved, placing the battery contact on a nearby plastic tray. The UR3 then returned to the FMU to collect the next part just as it was completed.

The UR3 was programmed to place parts in different cells of the plastic tray, progressing until the entire tray was filled. A Newcomb Spring employee then loaded an empty tray without interrupting production. The robotic arm improved efficiency by reducing part handling and increasing production output, because the equipment could run for long, uninterrupted periods while employees performed other tasks. In addition to loading the plastic trays, Newcomb Spring staff were often able to monitor other machines, reload wire into the FMU, conduct quality checks, and pack the filled trays into shipping boxes as spring manufacturing continued.

“By reducing part handling, as well as allowing our staff to be more productive, this robotic technology streamlines our operations,” said Porter. “It’s a great advantage for high-volume jobs and provides quality and efficiency. We’re excited to highlight our successful use of the UR3 as additional Newcomb Spring facilities integrate the technology.”

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