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Quality control with the LBR iisy cobot in the plastics industry

Every boss wants a flexible, fast, and meticulous employee – and that's precisely what Bastian Fest of FMO Surface found when he was introduced to KUKA's latest collaborative robot, the LBR iisy. Together with its human counterparts, this collaborative robot checks Data Matrix codes for quality and completeness, as part of their quality management system.

Flexible and simple: everything is iisy

At a recent trade fair in Kassel, Bastian Fest, Managing Director of FMO Surface GmbH & Co. KG, met KUKA sales engineer Robert Korte. Robert introduced Bastian to the LBR iisy collaborative robot who was immediately convinced of the cobot's many advantages. After taking a closer look at the LBR iisy at KUKA’s branch office in Siegen, Fest went away and made the decision to purchase the robot – something he did easily and conveniently via KUKA Marketplace, the online digital customer portal. “The LBR iisy collaborative robot combines several factors that met many of our requirements: its flexibility, its ease of programming, and its suitability for collaborative operation. These are the main reasons we bought it, even without knowing initially where exactly within our quality management system we wanted to use it,” said Fest of this seemingly unusual approach.

When it comes to robot programming, Fest describes himself as an absolute beginner, despite completing a training course at one of KUKA's accredited training colleges when he purchased his very first KUKA robot - a KR CYBERTECH industrial robot, some four years earlier. But this was all the more reason for him to be delighted with this new collaborative robot. The LBR iisy is so easy to use, it provides even novice robot programmers, with little to no previous programming experience, to thrive within robotics, even outside of typical manufacturing scenarios. Furthermore, the cobot ensures safe operation in shared workspaces, with no need for protective fencing.

Quality inspection with the LBR iisy – a novelty in the plastics industry.

Automation in the plastics industry

FMO Surface, a family-owned company that specializes in finishing plastics, was founded in 1999 in Lemgo, in the region of East Westphalia-Lippe, Germany and currently employs around 75 people. The company's customers come from a wide range of manufacturing industries, including automotive, electronics, aerospace, and mechanical engineering. Manufacturers that produce bicycles and household appliances also make use of FMO Surface’s services.

Bastian Fest, Managing Director of FMO Surface in Lemgo, sees many advantages to the utilisation of automation in quality management in the plastics industry. Photo: KUKA Group

FMO Surface's collaboration with KUKA began with the purchase of a KR CYBERTECH nano (KR 10 R1420), that was used for palletising and to tend a laser system. Two years later, FMO Surface added another industrial robot from the KR CYBERTECH series to turn over, measure and laser plastic parts prior to finishing. “Automation plays an important role for a medium-sized company like ours, particularly in view of the ongoing shortage of skilled workers” explained Bastian Fest. The purchase of the LBR iisy in March 2022 compliments the company's current industrial robotics portfolio.

The LBR iisy collaborative robot finds a place in QC!

 Approximately seven million plastic bus connectors are laser-marked with eight-digit Data Matrix codes (DMC) at their facility every year, before being installed in controllers. Therefore FMO Surface recognised they needed to automate various related processes, for quality assurance reasons. The company quickly found an ideal application for its new LBR iisy collaborative robot colleague, in bus connector quality control. Because multiple components are marked with a DMC and are eventually dependent on one another, process reliability and quality assurance is of utmost importance for the onward traceability of an entire module as part of FMO's customer focus approach. For this reason, the integrity of the Data Matrix codes, both readability and code completeness, require special attention within the QC process, the likes of which were previously undertaken manually by human employees at FMO Surface, using hand-held scanners.

Checking freshly laser-marked Data Matrix codes for completeness and readability: a case of QC for the LBR iisy robot at FMO Surface. Source: KUKA Group

The LBR iisy took over this quality assurance task, within a collaborative application, just before the start of spring 2022. The cobot now works hand in hand with laser department foremen like Tim Hertz. “We save an enormous amount of time using the LBR iisy collaborative robot, because we are no longer required to scan each component individually," Hertz reported. “If the cobot reports a fault or identifies a defect, we don’t have to open a cage or stop an entire production system; we simply remove the defective part and replace it.” This approach to quality inspection helps FMO to keep the cost of production and finishing down, which from a process approach, aligns with their ambitions of delivering consistent customer satisfaction and quality assurance guarantees.

Bastian Fest has found a reliable and flexible quality assurance employee in the LBR iisy. Photo: KUKA Group

What companies need: “Easy integration is a requirement”

Companies such as FMO Surface are finding it increasingly difficult to attract employees to undertake monotonous yet essential tasks such as checking Data Matrix codes – this trend, known as the skills gap, is not just impacting the plastics industry but almost every international manufacturing sector. The LBR iisy was easy to train in automated quality control and quickly integrate into FMO's quality management process. Quite iisy, in fact! “It took us just 30 minutes to unpack and install the robot and perform initial programming,” said Bastian Fest.

FMO Surface employees can quickly train the cobot in quality management. Photo: KUKA Group

With the aid of the KUKA smartPAD pro and the KR C5 micro robot controller, even employees with little to no experience of robot programming can operate and train the cobot. “The LBR iisy uses the new iiQKA.OS operating system, which makes it easy to install, configure, and program,” explained KUKA's Robert Korte. The collaborative machine is not only is up and running in just a few minutes but easily adapts to new challenges as efficiently and quickly as it is to set up. This is an enormous advantage for Fest: “We don’t have robot engineers here, so the ease of integration of automation is a key requirement for us". All the more important for FMO is the machine is used within their quality management system.

The LBR iisy runs on the basis of the new iiQKA.OS operating system, which makes it easy to install, configure and program.

Robert Korte, sales engineer at KUKA

How does the cobot perform quality inspection on Data Matrix codes?

Equipped with dual Keyence cameras, the LBR iisy cobot checks the integrity of Data Matrix codes. Each tray that slides under the LBR iisy contains 200 plastic parts. “The first step of the process is to spot check the quality of the codes on the basis of 20 parts,” explains foreman Tim Hertz. “If everything is OK, the cobot moves over the tray again to check that all 200 parts are present and all of the codes are readable.” One of the two cameras carries out the quality inspection task using applicable software, while the second camera assesses the matrix codes for completeness. If the robot finds either a poor-quality or incomplete code, it will stop and identify the affected bus connector. The robot's human colleague will then replace the defect part with a good part; the LBR iisy will then undertake a further examination and release the tray upon a satisfactory second check. This human-robot collaboration ensures maximum quality control and efficiency, but ultimately ensures customer satisfaction due to no defect on the products that leave FMO's facility thanks to their quality management.

Human-robot collaboration with ease and efficiency: the LBR iisy scans the codes quickly and reliably for optimum quality control. Photo: KUKA Group

Speeding up processes, relieving employees of monotonous work and protecting customers

This type of quality control for DMCs was much more time consuming in the past, says Tim Hertz. “To check for completeness, we had to scan each part individually. An employee had to remove all the components from the tray, scan them, and then put them all back again." Now, with the LBR iisy robot on the job, the inspection and quality assurance processes are much faster and more precise.

According to Bastian Fest, the customer – an automation company – specifically wanted an automated solution because installing a flawed bus connector in its controllers could prove costly. Bastian Fest reported, “The bus connector becomes the very first part of the controller. It is soldered, screwed onto a circuit board and the whole controller is built around it. So, if the Data Matrix code is poor, who will notice? The shipping department!” At the point the substandard part is despatched, the damage can be considerable.

The LBR iisy provides support where it can at FMO Surface. Photo: KUKA Group

This product gives me great flexibility. It makes no difference to the robot whether I mount a suction cup, a gripper or a camera on the front, but it enables me to cover my entire spectrum.

Bastian Fest, Managing Director at FMO Surface

Cobot with all-around qualities

 Today, safe collaboration between humans and robots in the plastics industry can work for many tasks, including production as well as finishing. The LBR iisy can integrate into existing processes, and be reprogrammed just as easily for operation in new tasks when required. Whether it's loading machines, or performing pick-and-place, packaging or handling tasks, the LBR iisy has everything under control. “The LBR iisy’s integrated cable routing and energy supply system enable quick and easy tool changing.” Robert Korte added. "For new applications, FMO Surface can equip the collaborative robot with additional accessories at any time from the KUKA Marketplace. For Bastian Fest, this provides a real bonus: “This product gives me great flexibility. It makes no difference to the robot whether I mount a suction cup, a gripper or a camera on the front, it enables me to cover my entire spectrum.”

Collaborative robots can provide employees with relief in almost any industry. Following the LBR iiwa, KUKA introduced the LBR iisy, prompting high interest in the three versions now available. Photo: KUKA Group

Safe human-robot collaboration

Managing Director Fest emphasized how the employees at FMO Surface were enthusiastic for their new colleague right away, and were receptive to FMO further integrating robotics into their processes. Robert Korte explained: “Thanks to its many safety features, it can collaborate with people in a single workspace.” Equipped with sensitive joint torque sensors on all six axes, the LBR iisy reacts immediately to the slightest contact and offers certified collision protection. This makes it the ideal work assistant in any modern production facility.
Bastian Fest already plans to further automate existing manual processes. He notes that in the near future, the cobot could also provide valuable support in pad printing services. Furthermore, larger versions of the LBR iisy with payload capacities of 11 and 15 kilograms are high on his wish list.


A well-coordinated team: Tim Hertz, the new LBR iisy, the KUKA smartPAD pro, the KR C5 micro small robot controller and the iiQKA ecosystem. Photo: KUKA Group

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