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Tool Gauge Evaluating Collaborative Robots

The "cobots" from Universal Robots promise quick, easy setup and multiple applications without the constraints of traditional industrial robots.

Aerospace parts manufacturer Tool Gauge is evaluating collaborative robots as part of its upcoming facility expansion in Tacoma, Washington. The company recently received a demonstration of the UR5 “cobot,” which is touted as an affordable and flexible robotic automation solution that can work in close proximity to humans.

According to the UR5’s manufacturer, Danish-based Universal Robots, these cobots are a drastic departure from traditional industrial robots that “usually weigh a ton, take weeks and months to program, and need to stay bolted down in cages dedicated to one task only.” The lightweight cobots can be set up a programmed for their first task in an average of half a day, according to Universal Robots. The company says no robotic programming experience is necessary for the cobots, which operate using intuitive 3D visualization, and they can be re-deployed to multiple applications without changing production layout.

Josh Mylnar, an automation specialist for Universal Robots distributor Buchanan Automation, conducted the demonstration at Tool Gauge. He says the UR5 can be mounted on a moveable cart or automated guided vehicle for deployment in multiple applications. “This is nice for machine shops or companies that do small runs of parts, as it is so easy to create a program and move the robot to a new location so that it doesn’t have to sit around collecting dust when they are running a certain part,” says Mylnar. He adds that although the number one application for these cobots is CNC machine tending, Buchanan has sold them to customers within the aerospace industry for other applications including painting and upholstery.

“As part of our 2019 Tacoma manufacturing facility expansion, we foresee using collaborative robots on injection molding machines, CNC metal machining, and in secondary operations for a wide range of applications—specifically repetitive motion work and load/unload assemblies,” says Jim Lee, sales and marketing manager for Tool Gauge. “Our three application areas will be larger presses, so we can make all interior aerospace parts, integrated paint line, and robotics themselves as a way to reduce our dependence on low-cost labor and provide a more attractive work environment for our employees.”

An additional factor for improving work environment is the safety measures the cobots employ. Mylnar says the cobots do not require traditional safeguarding such as cages because a safety system monitor’s the robot’s speed and prevents it from exceeding collaborative speeds determined via risk assessment. Electrical current is also monitored in the cobot’s servo motors, limiting their amount of torque or force. If the cobot hits a person or object unexpectedly, it will determine an unsafe condition and automatically stop.

Universal Robots

A UR10 cobot automating thermal spray repair tasks at Aircraft Tooling.

Along with the midsize UR5, Universal Robots manufactures the UR3 and UR10. The former has a lighter payload rating and a shorter reach while the latter has the highest payload and longest reach of the three cobot models. Universal Robots says other aerospace customers using these cobots include Aircraft Tooling, a Texas-based aviation repair center. Aircraft Tooling uses the UR10 to automate repair tasks involving high velocity oxygen fuel (HVOF) and plasma sprays, which improve or restore a component’s surface properties or dimensions and improve wear resistance. Universal Robots says the UR10 only took the company four hours to unpack, set up and program. Mylnar adds that the cobots have an average return on investment of 195 days, which he says is one of the fastest in the industry.

Tool Gauge plans to break ground on construction of its new facilities in the second quarter of 2018. The company hopes to complete construction by the first or second quarter of 2019.

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