Benefits of Flexible Part Feeding
Integrators who manufacture assembly automation
and OEM’s who need equipment to manufacture assemblies are faced with
a very large challenge of how to get the parts into the assembly machines
for the assembly process, minimize workcell requirements, and keep costs down.
Whether there is a need to increase productivity, reduce costs or add product
variants, flexible part feeding systems are well suited to improve applications
that have complex parts and sustain frequent part changes. Applications include
small parts assembly (mechanical and electrical), material handling, and packaging.
Traditional Part Feeding Processes
Feeding parts into an assembly process is traditionally done using a
variety of methods. Some parts are presented scattered in multiple orientations
in boxes or in bins, and can be heavy or awkward to lift, position, and orientate
into a workcell. In other processes, parts are fed using feeders such as vibratory
bowl feeders, gravity fed part tubes, as stacked or fixtured material, by
being manually loaded onto kitted pallets, and by using dedicated tooling.
These methods can cause high costs, large floor space requirements, be unflexible,
and difficult to maintain. It can also be a challenge to ensure parts enter
the assembly process undamaged, in the correct orientation, and in the most
cost effective manner. The detailed and cumbersome processes used in these
traditional methods can cause extensive waste and prove inefficient over time.
In many traditional part feeding processes, manual operations are required
when feeding parts from one point to another. Many times these parts are difficult
to move by hand because of their size or shape. They can cause significant
downtime due to varying factors such as complex workcells, mistakes, or injuries.
Lower yields can occur due to human error in cases where the wrong parts are
placed into a station, which can lead to damaged tooling. The more parts are
handled and fixtured, the more chance there is to damage the part before the
assembly process. The labor to install, integrate and maintain dedicated tooling
can also be expensive.
Space is also limited in an assembly workcell, and consolidating the
number of assembly steps performed without altering workcell footprint can
be cost effective. For traditional part feeding processing, adding multiple
operations to one workcell can lead to costly tooling, and a complex and congested
assembly workspace. This can result in longer downtime and difficult repairs
if there are any issues. Quality suffers when it isn't easy to refine a process
or adjust parameters that cannot be discretely controlled. Flexible Part Feeding
solves these process issues effectively and efficiently.
Benefits of Flexible Part Feeding Over Traditional Part Feeding Methods
|Traditional Part Feeding
||Flexible Part Feeding
|Processes distributed to multiple workcells
||Consolidated processes — same workcell footprint
||Randomly placed parts with no costly fixtures
|Frequent costly part changes
||Using vision allows for simple/minimal cost part changes
|High cost manual or fixed tooling for part feeding
||Low cost automatic part feeding
|Multiple part orientations presented in boxes or bins can be difficult
||Using vision, the robot can find parts in any orientation
||Robots can handle parts easily
Flexible Part Feeding is right for
Loading machine tools as part of unattended operations
Feeding parts into an assembly line
Picking and packing food from a moving conveyor
Picking parts from boxes/bins as part of an assembly operation
Sorting easily tangled items
Consumer electronics and small part assembly
Other applications can include:
Medical device assembly
Solar wafer handling
What is Flexible Part Feeding?
A flexible part feeder can be a system
used to feed (or load) parts into a manufacturing
process. The best kind of intelligent flexible feeder system includes a feeder,
a vision system to locate the part for the next process, and a robot. This
type of system can overcome the high cost of traditional parts feeding by
loading a wide variety of parts in varying sizes, shapes and orientations,
and singulate them onto a conveyor for example. The advantages of a flexible
part feeder is that you can present many different parts into an assembly
process through the same part feeding mechanism and let the vision system
determine what parts to pick and how to pick them.
Flexible Part Feeding Robotic System
A good automatic flexible part feeding system will eliminate the task
of part orientation/positioning for automated pickup. Parts feeders:
Can be automatic feeders such as bulk, vibration, brush, carpet,
bowl, or step feeders.
Allow for multiple part shapes to be fed.
Eliminate jamming due to fixturing and tooling designed to
crowd the part.
Allow for more tolerance for parts that have a wide tolerance
band. (Traditionally it is difficult to fixture parts that vary from part
Support efficient singulation where parts that are not singulated
sufficiently can be recirculated.
FANUC America uses iRVision®
for part location. iRVision® is Integrated
Robot Vision which is the integration of a camera interface built into the
robot controller. One or more cameras can be attached to the robot, or they
can be in a remote location. In traditional processes, if you want the robot
to manipulate every workpiece in the same way, you need to place every workpiece
at exactly the same position. iRVision®
is a visual sensor system designed to eliminate such restrictions. iRVision® measures the position of each workpiece
by using cameras, and it adjusts the robot motion so that the robot can manipulate
the workpiece in the same way as programmed even if the position of the workpiece
is different from the workpiece position set when the robot program was taught.
All of the application-specific tools developed to simplify the use of the
camera as a guidance, identification, or inspection tool are integrated with
Can handle multiple parts at one time.
Reduces floor space.
Makes part changeovers a breeze.
Can identify parts in multiple orientations.
Can identify parts in 2D or 3D.
Can error proof the parts as they enter assembly, as well
as the assembly itself.
Can increase throughput.
Reduces or eliminates fixturing costs.
iRVision® is also capable of
tracking and identifying parts as they are moving down a conveyed line. This
is extremely useful in a Flexible Part Feeding operation. Flex Part Feeding
is not possible without an adaptive picking process that can locate parts
as they are being presented to the assembly process. You also need an efficient
method to change the pick location if necessary. Vision Guidance with a camera
is the primary tool used to locate and adapt pick position for FANUC robots
based on randomly located parts feeding into an assembly process. Without
a tool like iRVision®, flex-feeding
is essentially impossible.
The primary criteria for a camera based flex feeding solution to work
is to have the ability to take a group of parts and singulate them so that
the camera or vision system can identify each part individually, locate the
part, and than send a location to a robot so the robot can pick them individually
off a conveyer, table, or from a bin (structured or mixed).
Robots are critical to an efficient and effective part feeding process
as well because now that the parts can be presented easily in many different
positions and orientations, you need the flexibility of a robot system to
be able to pick the parts. The robot advances parts picked in correct orientation
through to assembly. By having multiple parts be presented to a process through
the same part feeding mechanism, you can save on expensive floor space. You
can also save on a vastly reduced need for fixed, dedicated tooling, and your
assembly area is less cluttered enabling you to maintain the process easily
and add additional processes to the same workcell if necessary.
Flexible Part Feeding Application Examples
Loading Machine Tools as part of Unattended Operations
An M-10iA robot can be used to load
randomly placed parts into a machine tool. Parts are later removed after they
are machined and placed on an outbound conveyor in preparation for assembly.
Loading Randomly Placed Parts from a Belt Conveyor
In another application, an LR Mate 200iC
robot equipped with iRVision® is used
to find randomly placed cylindrical parts to be placed into a machine tool.
Using iRVision® to Machine Random
The parts are then machined precisely as they are prepared for assembly.
Feeding Produce onto a Conveyor
Robots are an effective tool in the food processing
and packaging industry. Some FANUC Robots are specifically designed to meet
the stringent requirements in the food industry as they have enclosed rust-free
construction that can withstand sanitizers used to prevent food contamination.
In one application example, lettuce
heads are first dropped randomly on a conveyor.
Randomly Placed Heads of Lettuce
After the lettuce heads are singulated,
a vision system measures the shape and form of the lettuce and determines
where to cut the root.
Singulating Lettuce Heads
iRVision® Used to Measure Lettuce
The FANUC LR Mate 200iB
robot helps to perform a second check on the lettuce head to determine its
size. If it passes the final test, the lettuce head is then placed successfully
into plastic trays.
Lettuce Heads that Pass the Final Test
Picking and Assembling Motor Components
The FANUC LR Mate 200iC robot and
M-16iB robots can be used in intricate
motor assembly operations. iRVision® is used to locate the reducer shaft
and allow for pinion assembly. The M-16iB
uses iRVision® to locate screws randomly
placed in a parts feeder for assembly.
Using Vision to Locate Screws
Upon completion of assembly, the robot places the finished part onto
a rack and locates parts to assemble another motor.
Finishing the Assembly Process
Sorting Easily Tangled Parts
Wire forms can tangle easily when they fall into a box. A FANUC M-10iA robot with iRVision®
can be used to pick up wire forms that have been fed onto a conveyor using
a step feeder, and stack them neatly before placing them into a box.
Picking Up Wire Forms to Stack in a Box
iRVision® is used to find the
part on the conveyor so that the robot can pick it up. To eliminate the wire
tangling, the robot sorts the parts before stacking them in the box.
Consumer Electronic Assembly
Robots using iRVision® can assemble
consumer electronic parts such as circuit boards. Parts can be placed randomly
on the conveyor, in any orientation, and the robot, using iRVision®,
can find them for placement later into an assembly process.
Vision can be used to find highly sensitive circuit board parts of varying
sizes stacked in boxes and then use a robot to place the parts into an assembly.
Flex Feeding Circuit Boards
Multiple robots can be used to streamline the process and improve the
speed at which parts are fed.
Two LR Mate 200iC robots equipped
with 2D Vision and a rotary flexible part feeder can be used to assemble ink
pens as shown below.
iRVision® is used to pick multiple
parts of the pen from the flexible part feeder so that the robot can assemble
iRVision® Used to Identify Randomly
Placed Small Parts
The LR Mate 200iC can adapt quickly
to small lot sizes, new styles, or other modifications providing an affordable
and flexible solution for small part production.
Commercial Goods — Solar Panel Assembly/Disassembly
A FANUC M-1iA high speed parallel
link robot and an LR Mate 200iC robot can
be used to assemble and disassemble solar panels. The M-1iA
robot, equipped with iRVision® Visual
Tracking, can pick randomly located solar cells and form an array of solar
cells on an outbound conveyor.
Random Solar Cell Part Feeding
Placing Panels on an Outbound Conveyor
An LR Mate 200iC robot is used to
locate the array using iRVision® and
transfer it to the top of the solar panel for assembly. The robot then picks
a glass panel from a magazine and places it on top of the solar cell. All
of this is done without the use of expensive fixturing in a precise environment
so the solar panels are not damaged.
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