Special to ASSEMBLY
by WAYNE RILEY
Seattle, WA, June 23, 2011 - It is heartening to learn that organizations like Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. provide meaningful employment for those who are vision-impaired or who have other physical limitations. And it is equally -- inspiring when such a business organization engages in the successful – and profitable --- manufacture of equipment like a sophisticated trenching tool intended for use by the U.S. military as well as various relief agencies.
That is exactly what is happening at Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle, WA, where they manufacture just such a device.
One of the keys to this firm’s business success is that this organization chose the Custom Robotics group of PRE-TEC, a division of the Willamette Valley Company to design, supply, and install an advanced robotic finishing cell that is operated by sight-impaired workers.
The newly-installed cell has become part of the assembly line for Lighthouse’s E-Tool, an entrenching device for use in often-hostile environments where efficiency and reliability are paramount. The cell is built around a Fanuc Six Axis Robot Arm, which selects a shovel blade from inventory in a cart, takes it through a four-step grinding process, and then places it in a second cart which transports it to the next work station.
Explains Douglas Hintz, Special Projects Coordinator for Lighthouse for the Blind, “Our new robotic finishing cell improves throughput and quality and contributes to overall cost containment, while being very user-friendly for our employees, all of whom are vision-impaired or otherwise physically challenged. PRE-TEC was able to provide a robotic finishing cell with audio and enhanced visual monitors that ensure our associates maintain productivity and top quality in the grinding and finishing stages of production.”
“Lighthouse for the Blind is a successful business that happens to employ handicapped workers, and we have built a reputation for producing sought-after, well made equipment delivered on time. The new robotic cells help ensure our profitability, product quality and that the products are available when they are supposed to be,” Hintz said.
Adds Rufus Burton, Marketing Manager for PRE-TEC’s Custom Robotics group, “It is very rewarding for PRE-TEC to be able to provide a state-of-the-art manufacturing cell that accommodates the needs of these employees to productively produce sophisticated, in-demand equipment. This is very important to the company, and important for the workforce, who provides a high-quality product while receiving competitive wages.”
PRE-TEC offers automation engineers products, systems, and advanced technology that provide manufacturing and assembly techniques that meet and exceed goals for speed, accuracy, flexibility, and optimal throughput in all types of manufacturing and assembly environments. The PRE-TEC Custom Robotics group supplies multi-axis robot arms, custom built end-of-arm tooling, conveyance systems and more, including advanced robotic systems and manufacturing cells for automation engineering, finishing, and material handling.
The Lighthouse for the Blind Inc. is a 501(c) (3) social enterprise dedicated to generating opportunities for independence and self-sufficiency for adults who are blind or otherwise physically-challenged. Lighthouse provides a comprehensive range of training programs and career development opportunities. While manufacturing operations are self-funded, Lighthouse welcomes philanthropic contributions for training programs and other initiatives. More information can be found at www.seattlelighthouse.org.
PRE-TEC is a company founded nearly thirty years ago out of the need for parent company Willamette Valley Company, for a sophisticated system for metering chemical products. When a suitable supplier could not be found to provide the necessary engineering and integration, PRE-TEC was formed to provide precisely those services, and more. Since then, PRE-TEC has engineered more than 165 robotic systems for a wide range of industries and products, and has become one of the largest such companies in North America. The company’s web address is www.PRE-TEC.com
An extended foray into the world of robotics with PRE-TEC's Custom Robotics Division yielded the opportunity to develop and publish story on how robotics allows Lighthouse for the Blind to provide meaningful manufacturing work for the visually impaired. It was a pleasure researching and preparing the story, the magazine editor loved it and accolades for ASSEMBLY's great coverage. Stories like this don't come along every day, and congratulations to PRE-TEC for making it happen.
Special to ADHESIVES & SEALANTS INDUSTRY
A-DEC TURNS TO ROBOTICS FOR SAFETY, CONSISTENT ADHESIVE QUALITY AND TO BOOST PRODUCTIVITY'
By: FRED KAAS,
Manufacturing Engineer, Special Projects
NEWBERG, OR, December 20, 2012 – The adhesives industry has long played an important role in the manufacture of dental equipment. The use of strong-bonding adhesives has enabled A-dec, Inc. to assemble various components reliably and economically. Based in Newberg, Oregon, A-dec is one of the largest dental equipment manufacturers in the world, and recently enhanced its gluing and assembly operation with the introduction of an advanced robotic gluing and assembly system.
The integration of the robotic system to the manufacturing flow has allowed A-dec to optimize its manufacturing process in an effort to leverage the capabilities of automation. By automating that which was previously a manual operation, A-dec has been able to improve upon the quality of its parts by eliminating variability within the process. Improved throughput and overall yield represent additional benefits resulting from the integration of the robotic cell into A-dec assembly process.
A-dec turned to automation not only as an efficient means of enhancing the adhesive application and assembly process, but also as a means of reducing the risk of injury due to repetitive assembly processes. With the help of its efficient new robotic system, the company realized a net gain on two counts: enhanced product quality and improved productivity.
A-dec was fortunate to be able to turn to another Oregon-based firm, PRE-TEC, located in Eugene, to help develop the robotic solution needed. PRE-TEC had previously designed and built A-dec’s first robot cell, which transitioned A-dec away from labor-intensive operations. PRE-TEC provided A-dec with a next generation robotic solution that could handle the assembly of two different product families and all the parts (seats, backs and neck rests) needed for building the respective upholstery systems.
PRE-TEC developed and installed the flexible, automated robotic cell which meets A-dec’s particular adhesive dispensing requirements, and the robotic solution also ensured that A-dec could produce a consistent end product and increase daily production, with no compromise to worker safety. One of the initial requirements for the automated system included a flexible work cell layout that could be modified with minimal change-over time as well as being able to adapt to changing production requirements. Additionally, the system had to be built with future expansion in mind—able to accommodate future growth needs.
Robotic Cell Design
When outlining production needs to PRE-TEC during the start of the robotic project, A-dec requested that the robotic system be able to accomplish a number of complex operations, including having the ability to process parts from two different series of dental chairs. Each dental chair assembly consisted of six different components, ranging from chair backs that included a complex one-piece design, to seats, armatures and neck supports. PRE-TEC achieved this objective by configuring five different fixture locations within the robotic work cell. “License plates,” are used to assign a unique identification for each fixture.
At the beginning of each day, when the system is powered up, the robot runs a fixture identification routine that automatically scans the license plate of each fixture to determine the exact location of each fixture within the cell. The system logs the fixture information for each location to ensure that incorrect parts are not delivered to a non-corresponding Fixture ID.
To ensure production flexibility, the robotic system was configured to accommodate different fixtures. Naturally, A-dec’s goal in transitioning to an automated assembly system was to minimize variables as well as variability within the process.
A typical operation for the automated system includes the following: Scan of the fixture ID’s followed by a scan of the parts on the carousel. The operator then opens the drawer of a specific cell and loads the part. Alignment of the part is achieved with lasers. The drawer is then closed and the system is activated by pressing the start button. The robot then proceeds to pick the part and present it to the dispense nozzles of the various components—depending on the part type. Subroutines are called for each of the activities undertaken by the robot. The final step for the robot is to place the part into the cell. After releasing the part, the robot returns to the home position, awaiting the next “job” command.
Addressing Adhesive Issues
Working with adhesives required that a number of key circumstances in the assembly cell needed to be addressed. Of particular importance was the ability to accurately meter out the selected adhesive in a precise amount—if too much glue is applied to the backing, the glue could wick onto the cushion material and mar its surface, applying too little glue could compromise the integrity of the adhesive bond.
Upon initiation of the Start button, the robot moves from the system’s ‘Home” position to the fixture location on a carousel that has called it to carry out the assembly operation. The robot then picks up the end-of-arm tool associated with the fixture location that allows it to collect the appropriate plastic part that will be glued to its mating cushion. With the plastic part in its possession, the robot then moves into position under the dispense head, where the adhesive bead is then applied to the part.
A-dec had identified for PRE-TEC the specific patterns it needed the robotic system to adjust for when dispensing adhesive onto the parts. The application of adhesive had to be followed according to the desired width of the bead and its total length, which in some cases necessitated multiple passes on the part. The dispense head remains in a fixed position throughout the entire operation while the robot articulates the armature (framework) through the pre-programmed pattern, moving the part according to the geometry of each component.
Flow detecting sensors monitor dispensing heads to ensure that material flow is being achieved. Sensors are used to detect a disruption in the metering process, and if these detectors indicate a break in the flow, the process is paused until the flow is re-activated.
Once the adhesive has been applied to the plastic backing, the backing is then moved to the corresponding fixture location for final placement. Holding the plastic base in position above the cushion, the robot slowly moves in a downward direction and then presses the plastic part onto the cushion. Clamps are lowered over the plastic part, adding additional pressure to the backing and cushion, which continue to be pressed together allowing the adhesive to set.
Complete assemblies are then subjected to a final inspection prior to packaging and final shipment. With the robotic system, it takes only one individual to operate the production cell and achieve all of the diverse production requirements for the assembly — producing a seat, back, and matching neck cushion every five minutes. The robotic gluing and assembly system has allowed A-dec to keep up with the increasing demand for its products. And, equally important, the robotic system from PRE-TEC has enabled A-dec to build upon its commitment to provide a quality product while maintaining its safe working environment.
The “A-dec Way”
Shortly after starting the company, A-dec founders – Ken and Joan Austin – developed the "A-dec Way,” a written expression of their operating philosophy. The first principle, “Concern for People”, summarizes how A-dec chooses to operate, and holds true whether the people referred to are employees, doctors, dealers or suppliers.
A-dec designs, manufactures and markets high-quality dental delivery systems, hand pieces, instruments, chairs, stools, lights, cabinetry, and other accessories. The company has a total of 500,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space, and an array of advanced manufacturing systems and other special equipment used for producing simple, innovative product solutions that provide superior value for dental equipment customers. A-dec employs more than 600 at this facility.
PRE-TEC, a division of Willamette Valley Company, offers flexible automated solutions, in the form of advanced technology systems that provide process improvements able to meet expectations for speed, accuracy, flexibility, and optimal throughput in all types of manufacturing and assembly environments. PRE-TEC supplies six-axis robot arms, custom built end-of-arm tools, conveyance systems and more, in the form of manufacturing cells directed towards, finishing, material handling, and welding. PRE-TEC has engineered more than 165 robotic systems for a wide range of industries and products, and has become one of the largest integrators of robotic systems in the Western region of North America.
For more information on A-dec, visit www.a-dec.com.
For more information on PRE-TEC, visit www.pre-tec.com.
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