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Fast and flexible: This is how quality control works with the LBR iisy
FMO Surface, a family business based in Lemgo, Germany, specializes in the finishing of plastic surfaces. There is more work than the 75 employees can handle – which is why FMO Surface is increasingly relying on automation, using the LBR iisy Cobot from KUKA and the iiQKA.OS operating system. Bastian Fest, Managing Director of FMO Surface, presents the application and draws a first conclusion.
7 December 2022
Reading Time: 5 min.
What does your company produce and what role does automation play in this?
FMO specializes in the field of plastic finishing. We can offer customers all coating steps, but also pad printing and much more – everything that comes after injection molding. For example, we laser six to seven million bus connectors with DataMatrix codes every year. Automation plays a very important role for us, especially in view of the shortage of skilled workers. Four years ago, we put the first KUKA robot into operation, which is responsible for equipping a laser system, among other things. The second KUKA robot, which we received two years ago, can turn, measure, and laser parts. Both belong to the KR CYBERTECH series. I have been interested in collaborative robots that work directly with humans for a long time. But in the past, prices were not attractive. At a trade fair in Kassel, I met KUKA sales engineer Robert Korte, who introduced me to the LBR iisy.
What convinced you about the Cobot?
I took a look at the LBR iisy at the KUKA plant in Siegen. Here, I convinced myself of its advantages, such as its ease of use, flexibility and safety features with regard to the employees, and decided to buy it straight away. The order was placed easily and conveniently via the Marketplace. By that time, the exact task for the Cobot in our production had not even been decided yet. As a small medium-sized company, we often don't know what tasks we'll be facing next. The LBR iisy combines various factors that we need therefore: Flexibility, easy programmability and collaborative readiness.
How did the LBR iisy find its new role in your production?
A large customer, an automation company, has given me the new task of checking the DataMatrix codes on its bus connectors. This means that all codes must be checked for their readability and also for their quality on a random basis. The customer also explicitly requested an automated solution. We developed a solution using the LBR iisy and two Keyence cameras. We also use the iiQKA.OS operating system, the small robot controller KR C5 micro and the SmartPAD pro from KUKA.
What alternatives would there have been to automation with the Cobot?
Employees could have done that. In the past, it used to be all done by hand. But it's hard to find someone to do these pick-and-place tasks. It also takes longer and is less accurate. Someone has to take the parts out of the tray, a kind of tablet, for scanning and put them back. And if something goes wrong and a bus connector with incorrect code is used, it can cost much money. That's because these bus connectors are used as the very first part of the control system. Each one is soldered, screwed onto a circuit board, and the entire control system is installed on top of it. If the DataMatrix code is bad, when will this be noticed? In the outgoing goods section! If you think of a large automation company that builds a lot of controls, you know what kind of damage can occur.
Can you describe what the quality control process looks like in detail?
First, we laser the bus connectors with the help of a robot. The laser has special software that creates 200 new codes in each cycle. Each of these is an eight-digit alphanumeric sequence of numbers. Then, for quality control, the tray with the 200 bus connectors is moved under the LBR iisy with its two cameras. In the first step, the quality of the codes is randomly checked using 20 parts. If all of them are good enough, i.e. they are rated A or B, the cobot moves over the tray again and checks whether all the codes are readable. If a part is now rated C, it is considered defect and is sorted out. If a part has a C-quality code, the LBR iisy stops and indicates which bus connector is affected. A human colleague can then replace the faulty part. We restart and run everything again until each bus connector is rated A and B.
What challenges did you face during programming and commissioning?
The LBR iisy was very easy to integrate: It only took about 30 minutes from unpacking to setting up to the first programming. And that's despite the fact that I'm not very experienced in terms of programming. I had taken a training course at KUKA College four years earlier, but that was all. Anyway, installing, configuring, and programming the LBR iisy with its iiQKA operating system was easy. The program interface is drag and drop so that almost anyone can work with it. With the aid of the KUKA smartPAD pro and the KR C5 micro robot controller, even employees with little experience of robot programming can operate the cobot and learn how to use it. This is very important, because we do not have any engineers in the company and cannot constantly hire a PLC programmer.
The LBR iisy has been in operation at FMO Surface since March 2022. What is your conclusion?
The LBR iisy saves us an enormous amount of time in quality control in the laser department and continues to run without any problems. The employees also have no fear of contact and are very satisfied because the cobot relieves them. In the meantime, a second LBR iisy has been added in the printing area. We use it to apply pad printing to returnable deposit cups. We are also currently planning to automate a laser with the LBR iisy and are currently building the robot frame for it. In addition to the easy integration and operation of the cobot, we appreciate that it is highly flexible. The LBR iisy is not interested in whether I attach a suction cup, gripper or camera to the front. I can cover my entire range of applications, and it can be reprogrammed for a wide variety of tasks. The LBR iisy's integrated cable routing and energy supply system also make tool changes quick and easy. All in all we are very satisfied.
Many decision-makers in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) still shy away from robots and automation. But those who try it often find it amazing how smoothly the integration runs and how quickly their investment pays off. This was also the case with the following SMEs, which give insights into their production.