Novi, Mich. — Every industry has specific needs when it comes to production. Those requirements vary widely depending on the parts you are producing and the customers you are serving.
In automotive, the main needs are productivity and reliability, according to Olivier Cremoux, business development manager for North America at Stäubli Corp., the U.S. subsidiary of Switzerland's Stäubli Group. The company specializes in three core areas: connectors, such as mold clamping systems and quick-release couplings; robotics; and machinery for textile production.
"That's a big concern in the automotive market — the reliability — because they cannot have a shutdown of the production," Cremoux said during a technology days event in September at its Novi training facility and service center.
The Novi location officially opened in June 2018. It houses the company's sales, service and engineering staff who primarily support Stäubli's Tier 2 and Tier 3 automotive parts supplier customers.
"You cannot have downtime in the production," he said. "So [automotive customers] want a system to be performing at this level of productivity all the time."
During the tech days event, the company had live demonstrations of all the things its robots can do, especially parts picking, assembly and collaborative applications. Examples included automated parts handling with the new TS2 60 SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm), a TX 90L bin-picker; and a TX2touch 60, a six-axis collaborative robot showing an Asyril flex feeding application.
"The idea is really to present new solutions to the customers, to help them think out of the box. … How can I bring a little bit of automation, but still maintain some operators and collaborate with my operators?" he explained. "So we try to bring solutions, concepts, and to make them think about how they could develop their actual production process."
Collaboration — between Stäubli and its customers as well as machine to machine and machine to operator, thanks in part to Industry 4.0 connectivity — has been "really pushed by the automotive market," Cremoux said.
"Their three main requirements are: I want more productivity, meaning basically I want to get a return on investments faster on my robotic solution. I want reliability. I don't want any problems on my line — no time for that. I want more collaboration because I want to be able to combine operators and robotics working at the same time."
But if operators and robots are working side-by-side, safety becomes the No. 1 priority.
With the TX2touch, for example — Stäubli's highest version of collaboration and its safest cobot on the market, Cremoux said — the robot slows down as soon as an operator enters the working environment. It is also outfitted with a safe touch skin that can be up to 20 millimeters thick. When an operator touches the skin, the robot stops.
"If I come closer, I'm detected, and this is a safe-stop," Cremoux said while demonstrating the TX2touch's safety features.
"If I touch him, he will stop, meaning I can be working close to the robotic system. If there is a risk of damage, he will not move. If there is a risk of collision, he will stop," he explained. "It's collaboration with different safety functions."
For the plastics industry, in general, cartesian or linear robots are still used more often, especially if it's a basic or cheap part that just needs to be unloaded from an injection molding machine.
If the plastic part has added value or requires secondary processes, though, that's when five- or six-axis robots make more sense, Cremoux said. This is especially true in automotive, where parts can get complex and a higher level of quality is demanded.
"As soon as you look at automotive, you look at a little bit more complex parts with higher quality requirements. An automotive manufacturer would want his part inspected before it's shipped to him," Cremoux said. "All of this can be done, linked to the molding process. … We give the possibility for the customer to choose what does he really want and what does he need, and we guide him."