iCobot: technical assistant for sensor production
Robots that work interactively with humans. Controlled by sensors - and with a face of its own? Sounds like the future - which is actually happening: for example at the Frauscher sensor production in St. Marienkirchen near Schärding.
If you want to develop sustainable solutions, you have to use them yourself. Frauscher does this, for example, in the sensor production department at its location in Austria. A collaborative robot ("Cobot" for short) has been in use there since the end of 2018. It takes over routine tasks that have tied up human resources so far. Thereby, his “real” colleages get additional support, instead of being replaced. Mario Haselböck, head of the Tools department, explains the background.
In the Tools department, we are constantly looking at ways to support and improve Frauscher's production processes. For this purpose, we develop databases and programs as well as test equipment and associated software in-house. As a result, we are also involved in the introduction of new plants. The new Cobot is certainly a highlight with regard to the last one.
Man and machine
Collaborative robots have been continuously developed since the presentation of the first prototypes in 1996. Modern devices are equipped with sensors and can perform various tasks in the direct environment of people. Special protective devices, such as fences, are no longer required. This opens up a flexible and very broad field of application - such as in our production. There, a Cobot now works right next to his human colleagues.
Cobot: a welcome relief
The workplace of our mechanical assistant is located at a high-grade corundum blasting plant. Here sensor housings are blasted and serial numbers are engraved. Until now, housings had to be brought to this machine manually – a monotonous job that took time and tied up resources unnecessarily. The colleagues in sensor production do not always work at the same place: they accompany a batch of sensors through the production process. This means that they can continue to work elsewhere if the loading of the blasting plant is automated. Against this background, a solution had to be found.
Compact and smart!
First approaches for possible solutions were discussed about two years ago. We were thinking, for example, of installing robots between the workstations while simultaneously rearranging the systems. That would have meant a lot of effort, of course, so we dropped the idea again. In the Tools department, we then looked at other possibilities – and came across the Cobot technology. High flexibility and comparatively simple programmability became beating arguments.
A robot goes to apprenticeship
Our colleagues were also immediately enthusiastic. After a delivery time of only one week, our Cobot could already be sent to the "apprenticeship": In the programming process, the robot is shown the paths it has to travel. The software "remembers" these movements and the robot can repeat them automatically. The implementation of this labour facilitating measure has thus been greatly simplified. In the coming weeks and months, various improvements are planned to automate the process of blasting and engraving the housings to such an extent that the system can perform the tasks completely independently during the day.
A reliable colleague
As a company that manufactures components for railway operations, safety and conformity with applicable standards and regulations were of course very important. The processes that the Cobot performs were defined accordingly: During the work steps it carries out, it does not come into contact with any sensitive components. Apart from that, Frauscher has long been using a test database that we developed and operate ourselves. All products are subject to continuous testing. The results and serial number are stored in this database, which maximizes transparency and traceability.
By the way, we also build test equipment for in-house testing of electronic components. These are developed together with new solutions and products. This increases our flexibility in reacting to specific requirements as a company – with consistently high quality and safety!