SHELBY TWP., MI – Companies looking to add robots and automation to their manufacturing operations have a new option when it comes to testing and validating processes they may want to implement.
German-based global supplier Kuka Robotics is providing space here at its North American headquarters to allow prospective customers the opportunity to try out new robotic processes without having to repurpose an existing automated operation or, in some cases, purchase robotic equipment when they have no automated processes.
Called the Metal & Arc TechCenter, the 1,600-sq.-ft. (149-sq.-m) laboratory is outfitted with several robots capable of demonstrating automated spot and arc welding and material handling.
The facility occupies dedicated space within Kuka’s 80,000-sq.-ft. (7,440-sq.-m) main building where the company works with customers to do final configuration of robots and automated production. The building also houses Kuka College, a series of workshop cells designed to train customers and educate future robotic technicians.
“The intent behind the technical center is to do joint development with customers,” says Jerry Osborn, president-Kuka Robotics US. “We have process experts and engineers that work with the companies. Either we’ll do it for them or we’ll work together with their engineers.”
For instance, Osborn says, if a company has a new part they need to weld, they can bring that part to the TechCenter where Kuka can work with them to do a feasibility study, develop a process and validate it before the company takes it into production.
Although automakers and larger Tier 1 suppliers often have their own test centers, even those companies make use of Kuka’s space at times so they don’t have to disrupt their own production to implement a change.
“Now we’re getting into different materials for cars like aluminum and some companies have never welded aluminum, so that might be an example of something we might help them with,” Osborn says.
A spot-welding cell, with a robot on a moveable track, can demonstrate welding on a body panel as well as show automated tool changing to handle different production operations with the same robot.
Nearby, three arc-welding cells, set up with Miller, Fronius and Lincoln power supplies capable of matching a customer’s own equipment, can work through processes to robotically weld parts using different combinations of welding wire and gases to achieve the best results and most efficient operation.
Sometimes, as in the case with one automaker, parts need to be modified, making them more precise and suitable for automation where a robotic welder always hits a specific location and can’t account for variances in a part as a human welder might.
The TechCenter is a regional operation serving North America, with most customers coming from the Midwest, but also from other regions and as far away as Mexico. The TechCenter also can expand into adjacent, lockable and confidential space, depending on customer needs, Osborn says.
During the six months the facility has been open, Osborn says it gets good traffic and results in positive sales for Kuka.
“Everybody makes a good robot these days, so you have to have some kind of a differentiator,” Osborn says. “When we get the customer and their parts in here, we’ve got an extremely high hit rate on getting an order.”