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The future of manufacturing: The Connected Assembly Line

The one thing that distinguishes the factories of today from that of yesteryears is the sheer magnitude of data that underpins a factory’s operations. Such massive factory-floor operations are hard to visualize or simplify, and OMRON’s Automation Centers (ATC) represent an attempt to showcase the latest developments – in a nutshell – in robotics and digital manufacturing.

The newly-opened Singapore ATC – in September 2017 – does all this, but also doubles up as an innovation lab, where we collaborate with leading manufacturers to develop proofs-of-concept. Click here to watch all the highlights of the official launch.

In this three-part series, we’ll give you a quick tour of the ATC and its cutting-edge solutions poised to transform existing assembly lines – providing greater productivity and agility to meet the changing demands of our increasingly digital world.

What you’re seeing here is a smart assembly line for consumer packaged goods that’s fully automated and modular. This entire setup can be reconfigured and programmed for different products, quickly and effortlessly in less than 24 hours. This flexibility means that you no longer have to create separate configurations for manufacturing, and can instead condense operations into less expansive setups, thus saving time and cost.

An operator can monitor and control all the robots involved in the assembly line from this centralised console, with just a touch of the screen as they interact and work seamlessly together, assembling not one but two drastically different products for the following demonstration: a cosmetic box and hard disk drive.

 

The OMRON LD mobile robot is the ideal platform to transport materials. Here, an LD Cart Transporter is about to dock with a tray on wheels, which will be systemically moved down the assembly line.

 

A Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm (SCARA) offers amazing precision and speed, making it a highly dependable workhorse for material handling and screw-driving. For this station, an OMRON eCobra 600, a four-axis SCARA, was deployed to assemble cosmetic boxes with pin-point accuracy on the tray. These are all crucial considerations due to the low-tolerance nature of volume production.

In terms of sheer speed, even the eCobra is no match for the Hornet, OMRON’s latest parallel robot optimised for “pick and place” applications. It is targeted at food and beverage, pharmaceutical and the healthcare industries. As you can tell, we were struggling to capture a clear shot of it in action, as it was picking up colourful tokens (e.g. eyeshadow) from a conveyer belt before placing them into the box.

A Viper s850 adds the finishing touch at the end of the assembly line. It is easily the most versatile robot from OMRON, engineered specifically for the most demanding assembly applications. The Viper delivers most of the benefits of an eCobra, plus the additional advantages provided by a six-axis articulated arm with extended reach, unlocking new possibilities to achieve shorter time to produce.

All the robots performing an entirely different task – this time round assembling a hard disk drive with no downtime, whatsoever. To enable this new level of flexibility, they support interchangeable tooling, fixtures, and “end-effectors” pictured at the lower-left corner of the photo. Businesses can now harness this ability to manufacture various variations of a product from just one assembly line.

A close-up of the brain coordinating all the robots. The key components include a programmable logic controller and high-performance robotic motion controller, as well as miscellaneous switches and relays. All these are interconnected to create a tightly integrated automation system, boasting newfound machine intelligence – leveraging data to implement predictive maintenance for instance.

In case you’re wondering what are those striking yellow components unlike their beige counterparts, those are safety devices used to detect human activity. The vertical ones are safety light curtains, while the round ones are safety laser scanners. These are the fail-safe mechanisms on top of the “kill switches” littered throughout the room, providing multiple layers of defense against workplace injuries.

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