Trinity – engage with agile manufacturing
The shift from mass production to customized products with higher added-value in smaller batches and with short lead-times, places many EU manufacturing SMEs for new challenges. Malmar and Sirris will demonstrate the technological and economic feasibility of reconfigurable “cobotic production assistants” for the production of sheet-metal brackets. . Project results will be applicable to other European manufacturing SMEs.

Project duration: November 2021 - August 2022


Context
The shift from mass production to customized products with higher added-value in smaller batches and with short lead-times, places many EU manufacturing SMEs for new challenges. This is definitely true for Malmar, producer of sheet-metal assemblies: part variants are increasing while batch sizes are decreasing. To remain competitive (and even grow), Malmar wants to produce its customer-specific products with ultra-short lead times. To reach this goal, Malmar envisions to implement cobots to support the technical operators in their job by taking over repetitive tasks, while the operator focuses on value-adding tasks (quality control, complex operations, etc.). Given 1) the many different production processes at Malmar (e.g. laser cutting, bending, welding, polishing, tapping, assembly, etc.), 2) the job-shop environment (each product might require a different routing) and 3) higher-mix-lower-volume setting; dedicated automation or putting a fixed cobot at each machine/cell is not feasible. Instead, Malmar wants to use cobots as flexible and reconfigurable production assistants (e.g. one time at the bending machine, another time at the assembly cell). Additionally, if new products enter the portfolio (requiring new production processes), this assistant should be reconfigured efficiently.

Objective

The implementation of reconfigurable cobotic production assistants will allow Malmar to automate certain repetitive/manual tasks, so that operators can focus more on improving quality. The work environment will become more human-centered, where job content is more attractive and small series of products can be produced in a cost/time efficient way. Project results will be applicable to other European SMEs, so they can benefit equally from becoming more agile. Sirris will assure a broad dissemination of the demonstrator and the underlying building blocks.

Approach

Malmar and Sirris will demonstrate the technological and economic feasibility of reconfigurable “cobotic production assistants” for the production of sheet-metal brackets (requiring a bending, spot-welding and tapping operation). 

Although the number of cobot implementations in industry is ever increasing, they are mainly programmed and used for a dedicated operation and remain fixed at a certain machine or cell (e.g. cobotic welding, cobotic gluing, etc.). Truly flexible cobotic assistants for multiple machines are currently not applied within the manufacturing industry. Existing platforms are mainly suited for similar tasks (limited agility) or overkill for typical manufacturing SMEs. The challenges to overcome for the demonstrator of a reconfigurable cobotic production assistant are realizing:
  • A mobile platform (manually transportable) with an integrated cobot and pheripericals (i.e. tools/grippers, safety system) that can dock easily yet accurately at the different machines.
  • A universal I/O connector to digitally and securely connect the cobotic assistant and the machine (for data exchange)
  • A modular fixture for a variety of parts (without the need for repositioning/referencing at each machine)
  • A gripper/tool system for fast-changing between the specific grippers and tools at the different machines  
  • A low-level easy-to-use programming approach for the cobotic production assistant by the operators
The individual building blocks for the cobotic production assistant will be developed and tested/demonstrated in the Sirris application lab (located in Diepenbeek, Belgium). Next, those building blocks will be integrated and demonstrated in the Malmar production facility in Lithuania. The developed building blocks, proof of concepts, principles and methodologies will be made generic, so that they are applicable to other production processes (at other manufacturing SMEs).

 

Target group
SMEs that want to achieve a flexible production of smaller series.

References
Trinity

Partners
Sirris, Malmar (project leader)

Information
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