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Quality control with the LBR iisy cobot in the plastics industry

Every boss wants a flexible, fast, meticulous employee – and that's precisely what Bastian Fest of FMO Surface found in the KUKA LBR iisy. Hand in hand with its human team, this cobot now checks Data Matrix codes for quality and completeness.


Flexible and simple: everything is iisy

At a trade fair in Kassel, Bastian Fest, Managing Director of FMO Surface GmbH & Co. KG, met KUKA sales engineer Robert Korte, who introduced him to the LBR iisy collaborative robot and immediately convinced Fest of the cobot's advantages. Fest then took a closer look at the LBR iisy at KUKA’s branch office in Siegen and decided to purchase it – easily and conveniently via the KUKA Marketplace. “The LBR iisy combines several factors that we require: flexibility, ease of programming and suitability for collaborative operation. That is why we purchased it, even without actually knowing where exactly we wanted to use it,” said Fest of this seemingly unusual approach. 

When it comes to robot programming, Fest describes himself as a beginner. Although he completed a training course at KUKA College when he purchased his first KUKA robot, that was a KR CYBERTECH industrial robot four years earlier. All the more reason for him to be delighted with this new cobot, with ease of use that enables even novice programmers to thrive with robotics. Furthermore, the cobot ensures safety – with no 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, and currently employs 75 people. The company's customers come from a wide range of 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 automation advantages in the plastics industry. Photo: KUKA Group
FMO Surface's collaboration with KUKA began with a KR CYBERTECH nano (KR 10 R1420), used for palletizing 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 to be finished. “Particularly in view of the shortage of skilled workers, automation plays an important role for a medium-sized company like ours,” explained Bastian Fest. The LBR iisy then joined the company's robot portfolio in March 2022.

The LBR iisy collaborative robot finds its task

Because approximately seven million plastic bus connectors are laser-marked with eight-digit Data Matrix codes (DMC) here every year before being installed in controllers, FMO Surface began to automate various related processes several years ago. The company quickly found an ideal job for its new LBR iisy robot colleague in bus connector quality control. Because multiple components are marked with a DMC and are dependent on one another, reliability is of decisive importance for the traceability of an entire module. For this reason, the readability and completeness of the Data Matrix codes require special quality control attention, previously carried out manually with a scanner by human employees at FMO Surface.

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

The LBR iisy took over this task 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 because we no longer have to scan each part individually," Hertz reported. “And if the cobot reports a fault, we don’t have to open a cage or stop an entire system; we simply remove the defective part and replace it.” This type of quality inspection helps keep the price of production and finishing down.

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

What companies need: “Easy integration desired”

Companies such as FMO Surface find it increasingly difficult to attract human employees for monotonous yet demanding tasks such as checking Data Matrix codes – and not just in the plastics industry but in almost every sector. The LBR iisy was easy to train in automated quality control. 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. Photo: KUKA Group
With the aid of the KUKA smartPAD pro and the KR C5 micro robot controller, even employees with virtually no experience of robot programming can operate and train the cobot. “The LBR iisy runs on the basis of the new iiQKA.OS operating system, which makes it easy to install, configure and program,” explained KUKA's Robert Korte. The cobot not only is up and running in just a few minutes but can adapt to new challenges equally quickly. That's an enormous advantage for Fest: “We don’t have engineers here, so ease of integration is all the more important.”

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 the cobot performs quality inspection on Data Matrix codes

Equipped with dual Keyence cameras, the LBR iisy cobot checks Data Matrix codes. Each tray that slides under the LBR iisy contains 200 plastic parts. “The first step spot checks the quality of the codes on the basis of 20 parts,” explained foreman Tim Hertz. “If everything is OK, the cobot moves over the tray again to check whether all 200 parts are present and all codes are readable.” One camera carries out the quality inspection with associated software while the second camera assesses codes for completeness. If the robot finds a poor-quality or incomplete code, it stops and points out the affected bus connector. A human colleague then replaces the faulty part; the robot checks the tray again and ideally releases it. This human-robot collaboration ensures maximum safety and efficiency.

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

Speeding up processes, relieving employees of work and protecting customers

In the past, Tim Hertz noted, this type of quality control for DMCs was much more time consuming. “To check for completeness, we had to scan each part individually,” said Hertz. An employee had to remove the components from the tray and then put them back again. Now, with the LBR iisy on the job, inspection and quality assurance 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 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 that point, the damage is 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 just as easily as it can be reprogrammed for new tasks. Whether it's loading machines, or performing all kinds of 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 cobot at any time with additional accessories 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, but 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

The employees at FMO Surface voiced complete enthusiasm for their new colleague right away, Managing Director Fest emphasized. Robert Korte explained: “Thanks to its 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 assistant in any production facility.
Bastian Fest already plans to automate further processes. He notes that in the near future, the cobot also could provide valuable services in pad printing. 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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