The economic viability of its new marine pump and legislation on the use of heavy fuels in international waters has increased production demand exponentially for Separator Spares International (UK) Ltd. To maintain its competitiveness and meet demand the Isle of Wight based manufacturer has installed its first robot, a Kawasaki R Series, to load and unload parts from two 4 axes twin spindle milling machines.
Supplying large ships, SSI specialises in the manufacture and supply of spare parts for pumps and other essential components. Evolving from a supplier of "˜O' rings to a manufacturer of high-precision pumps, made to its own design, has given SSI a strong reputation for highly efficient products at competitive prices.
Mark Pacy, a member of the SSI production team explains: "We used to buy all our rotors in while we were developing our own designs and had one 4 axes machine centre to perfect our own manufacturing process. Once we had proven the design and process we knew that demand would exceed the single machine so a duplicate was procured with the intention of automating the loading and unloading.
"No robotics skills existed in our company; we were complete novices, so we went out to several leading robot suppliers for help. Kawasaki Robotics offered the same work envelope arm as everyone else but had the benefit of an extra 5Kg payload which we required. From the first contact we had support in the form of 3D model software for our own system and simulations to prove capability."
SSI wanted to undertake as much of the project as possible and use it as a learning curve in robotics; to support this process they were provided with a list of approved Kawasaki support engineers to assist as required. Alan Thompson, SSI's Machine Shop Foreman, explains: "We thought the machine interface and robot integration was a "˜black art' but the engineer quickly completed all requirements. The whole process was more straight-forward than we thought it would be with continual support available from Kawasaki."
Space was at a particular premium at SSI and initial layouts positioned the machines opposite each other; Kawasaki suggested that a side-by-side machine positioning with the robot gaining access through the side access panels would allow faster setup times for tooling. This allowed an optimum 1.2m space for the robot to work in to include component racks and gauging.
The cell is able to handle six variants of rotor which are loaded into magazines to allow for totally unmanned production at night. A single gripper design allows handling of all variants from 15mm to 38mm diameter.
Alan continues: "Our approach to everything was to keep it simple. The gripper saves us changeover time and the magazines and programme selection are all we need to address during set-up. Utilising the robot to the full we use it to slide open and shut the side access door of each machine to avoid using actuators and should a jam occur in the gravity-fed magazine the robot can operate a slide hammer to vibrate the two magazine locations. Gauging is also managed by the robot on every component prior to loading."
Mark Pacy believes they have proved it is well within their capability to implement further robot installations and get it right. He says: "Payback is looking to be particularly good on the robot and although it's too early to be precise we expect it to be under a year; we are already looking at the next operation downstream from the first cell.
"In summary the robot has proved to be a "˜no brainer' solution for SSI; it's helped us to increase production and, as a result, to take on more people to keep the robot fed. And, as for our business, it has ensured we are the most competitive supplier in the World."
More information about Kawasaki robots can be found at www.kawasakirobot.co.uk.