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Cutting-edge technology for knives: automated grinding and polishing with robots

More than 20 years ago, when knife manufacturer Liow-Shye sought ways to optimize sharpening its high-quality Atlantic Chef kitchen knives, the Taiwanese company purchased its first KUKA robot. Now that automated grinding and polishing with robots has become an established process, Liow-Shye has benefited from many years of support by KUKA Taiwan.


Customized solution: decades of trust in KUKA

A good kitchen knife must fit well in the chef's hand, with optimal balance and a perfectly sharpened blade that retains its cutting edge for years. Since 1977, Liow-Shye Enterprise Co. in Taiwan has perfected these qualities under the Atlantic Chef brand. For more than 20 years, this manufacturer with about 160 employees has relied on German steel and German robotics: specifically, on automation solutions from KUKA. “We bought our first KUKA robot in 1999 and it’s still running today,” said Liow-Shye General Manager James Chang. Now, more than 30 polishing and grinding KUKA robots grind, engrave and polish Atlantic Chef knives.

Highly automated: KR CYBERTECH robots grind and polish Atlantic Chef knives. 

Optimal surfaces for kitchen tools

Blade polishing once presented significant challenges for Liow-Shye. Results varied depending on which employee ground and polished the knives. “These processes are key factors in production of high-quality knives, so we decided to automate them,” Chang stated.
Even before KUKA established its Taiwan subsidiary 22 years ago, Liow-Shye had opted for automation solutions from the Augsburg-based technology company. Once KUKA had a local presence in Taiwan, the cooperation intensified. “Liow-Shye was very interested in working with our engineers to improve their products,” noted Alina Tsai, Country Service Manager at KUKA Automation Taiwan.

Together with KUKA, Liow-Shye was looking for a fast, flexible solution that delivered high-quality results.

Blade grinding and polishing of the blades are key factors in producing high-quality knives, so we decided to automate them.

James Chang, General Manager at Liow-Shye

Industrial robots automatically polish the surface

No sooner said than done. Several KR CYBERTECH robots now grind and polish the knife blades. This industrial robot model works on all types of knives for both Western and Japanese cuisines. For this operation, the robot arm grips the steel knife and holds it against the grinding machine. The grinding robot performs its work at a specific angle, depending on the desired blade edge – with appropriate repetitions and the necessary pressure.
Since the implementation of automated surface machining, Liow-Shye has benefited from highly stable product quality. “Automation has enabled us to reduce defect rates and material consumption significantly,” James Chang emphasized.
 

From coarse to fine – the grippers know exactly how best to machine the knives.

KR CYBERTECH in action producing sharp, finely polished knives

Really fine and highly customized: at Liow-Shye, robots automatically machine knife surfaces.

Grinding, polishing and even more automated machining

Once blades are ground and polished, a KR AGILUS etches a logo into the steel. Similar to a stamping process, the robot arm uses a special tool to press the desired shape into the steel precisely and with consistent quality. The robot requires little space and can deliver the necessary precision quickly. Thanks to lifetime lubrication of its gear units, the robot also requires no change of lubricant and very little maintenance, which guarantees continuous productivity.

A perfect surface for every knife

Blade shapes, thicknesses and weights vary. The robots receive specific work orders to meet the requirements for each type of knife the Taiwanese company produces. With help from the KUKA smartPAD and software, grinding and polishing robots meet these individualized requirements. Each knife requires unique grinding to produce fine or serrated edges to cut fish, tomatoes or meat, or curved paring knives and wide chopping blades. 

Knife blades go through processing without a scratch.

In each case, robots must receive appropriate information, and deal with different types of materials and handles. The software enables the robots to apply different motion types (LIN/P to P) for each knife in every production step. The results achieve high repeatability and path accuracy, along with the necessary pressure to grind various materials.

KUKA Taiwan has supported production automation at Liow-Shye for many years, and we continue working together to keep optimizing the process.

Alina Tsai, Country Service Manager at KUKA Automation Taiwan

Technological pioneer in the industry

“KUKA Taiwan has supported production automation at Liow-Shye for many years, and we continue working together to keep optimizing the process,” stated Alina Tsai. By incorporating automation into the company at an early stage and cooperating with KUKA, Liow-Shye has become one of the industry’s technological leaders.  

The Liow-Shye team has built up a lot of expertise over the years and aims to improve production step by step.

Comprehensive service for durable robotics elements

Sustainability is essential. Just as with the first robot commissioned back in 1999, the goal is for robots to last as long as possible and adapt to new challenges. To achieve durability and adaptability, James Chang and his team benefit from real-time maintenance directly on site as well as regularly schedule inspections, repairs and maintenance. “Not only have KUKA and Liow-Shye developed a customer-supplier relationship over the years, but we have become industry partners,” Chang emphasized. “Whether it’s spare parts or software support, KUKA always provides us with the right timely assistance, enabling us to use our robots for 20 years.”
KUKA Taiwan always addresses industrial requirements, and offers support for automated machining from initial automation concept through robot programming, including robot simulation, application implementation, customer training and after-sales services such as maintenance packages. “Our global experience in a wide range of industries enables us to provide our customers with optimal support in the form of suitable automation solutions and technologies,” said Alec Lin, CEO of KUKA Automation in Taiwan.

For optimal results, Liow-Shye no longer needs polishers who process blades material. James Chang shows KUKA how the robots work.

Further ideas for the next step

James Chang is a believer in the automation Liow-Shye has implemented jointly with KUKA. “KUKA robots offer the right stiffness and durability for our needs, plus the software works stably,” he summarized. He aims to continue developing new solutions with KUKA in the future and to automate production further.
Although robots already handle virtually all of the polishing, grinding and engraving chores, employees still perform some processes manually, such as packaging. Chang noted that “We already are considering which other parts of production robots can take over.” KUKA Taiwan is there to assist Liow-Shye in this endeavor at all times.

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