ABB’s YuMi cobot has quickly become an integral part of the Idral family, a company bspecializing in the design and production of electronic or timed control taps for public and industrial environments. With the introduction of YuMi, the assembly department has gained a lot in terms of safety, reliability, precision and constant performance, ensuring a 100% reliable and constant product quality result.
di Mario Lepo
Its colleagues call it Michael, because its movements remind them of Michael Jackson’s “moonwalk”. In the assembly department of Idral, a taps company on Lake Orta, the YuMi collaborative robot is the group’s “favorite”: precise, reliable and tireless, it takes on the most repetitive operations.
Functional and quality taps
“Idral has been operating on the sanitary market since 1970, developing and marketing products sold in more than 50 countries around the world, thanks to the work of almost 50 people, supported by temporary workers in periods of greatest load,” says Juergen Schweitzer, technical director of Idral SpA. “The added value of our company derives from several aspects: the internal processing of brass, the complete management of assembly and testing processes, a technical office that designs looking to the future and a customer service with telephone hotline and service centers distributed throughout the territory”.
Through wholesalers, Idral taps are made available to all plumbers and arrive in the bathrooms and toilets of buildings frequented by the public and characterized by high water consumption, from hospitals to hotels, from service stations to shopping centers, to airports. Therefore, the key to Idral’s proposal is not design, but mainly the functionality of devices that must operate in harsh conditions, with the most varied activation maneuvers, from elbow to electronic control, and always with a timed delivery duration to reduce water consumption. “Our taps are also in great demand by companies, especially abroad, where water has a high cost”, adds Mr Schweitzer.
The mechanical timed taps (the most common ones, which are activated by pressing the button and deliver water for about 15 secs) are technologically simple products that are made entirely in house by Idral, while the company from Piedmont purchases electronic model components such as batteries, sensors and solenoid valves from external suppliers. There are about 15 parts that make up a “cartridge”: these elements must be assembled in large quantities and with a high degree of precision. Hence, the need to simplify and automate assembly in order to facilitate the operators’ work. Idral has long been equipped with a classic automated assembly line, which however requires very high volumes to be used in a profitable way.
Choosing the most suitable model based on the application
The history between Idral and ABB – or rather between Idral and YuMi – begins in a context far from factory and business. Jürgen Schweitzer loves the mountains and takes part in CAI excursions. Among the people with whom he spends pleasant days on the alpine paths, there is Marco Saini, owner of Tesys Snc, an engineering company based in the province of Novara and partner of ABB. Walking along one of the many paths, Schweitzer meets Saini and Tesys, founded in 2003 and until then specializing mainly in projects for the food industry. Shortly before, Idral’s director had visited the A&T fair in Turin and had been impressed by ABB’s YuMi cobot, glimpsing its application potential in his assembly department. “In food projects, we have always used ABB robots, in particular parallel kinematic FlexPickers and small anthropomorphic classics such as IRB 1200”, says Mr Saini. “In Idral’s case, by discussing with Jürgen and evaluating their assembly needs, we immediately understood that the most suitable solution would have been a new generation collaborative robot and, therefore, we confirmed to our customer that ABB’s YuMi was a good choice. As Tesys, we have worked with several robot manufacturers, but we have a special relationship with ABB for several reasons: a support and assistance service that is always on, as well as close, attentive and rapid, and a range of machines that allows us to choose the most suitable model for any application, from Scara to anthropomorphs, from pickers to collaborators, without forcing”.
A specifically designed turnkey project
If not clear enough, the inclusion of YuMi in Idral to support “human” work has been carried out by Tesys as a “turnkey” project, with a phase of careful planning and design. “After receiving a cost estimate and investigating the issues related to Industry 4.0, Tesys implemented the project in a way that was compatible with our needs”, says Mr Schweitzer. “Initially we carried out all the tests with our pieces at Tesys, then we developed the assembly island taking care of space optimization and flexibility. YuMi is very versatile and, in the future, it can be dismantled and relocated to other lines to assemble different products simply by changing the program and possibly gripping elements”.
The whole project was carried out by Tesys following the customer’s specific requests. Thanks to the RobotStudio software, the accessibility of all points was verified and all situations were simulated before building the machine. “Thanks to our software, we were able to check the precise insertion of two components”, explains Oscar Ferrato, ABB’s Collaborative Robot Product Manager. “In another case, we checked a clamping force to choose the right screwdriver spindle to achieve the necessary torque”.
Parts procurement is manual, but in masked time
Idral is a classic example of a perfect collaborative island, where the robot potential is fully exploited. Usually, the assembly of 15 components requires 15 automatic systems to feed the pieces to the machine, with very high costs and significant footprint for the feeders. In the case of Idral, the collaborative system has reduced these costs, because the parts are fed by the operators who, in their spare moments, approaching the robot with no need to stop it – then exactly in collaborative mode – place the pieces in the loading areas. Thanks to the use of integrated cameras on the grippers, YuMi is able to change its trajectories and thus make the whole system highly flexible: the robot can pick up the components by checking their presence and integrity on the various feeders or trays, all in very compact spaces.
To accomplish these operations, YuMi has been equipped with a vision system to frame the pieces from various angles, a single camera that takes photographs from all the pick-up and assembly points, avoiding the need for multiple cameras. As for the grip, YuMi has an extremely efficient “hand”, with fingers capable to handle any piece and a vacuum generator that also makes it possible to perform vacuum grip, which is necessary, for example, to pick up a cap to be mounted on the tap.
Two arms to stabilize production quality
One of the main factors in Idral’s choice of YuMi was the dual arm configuration. “We were interested in more complex operations than a pick-and-place”, explains
Mr Schweitzer. “We manufacture over 150,000 pieces per year of that type of tap, therefore each operator should assemble a large number of them every day. This work is too demanding and repetitive, which inevitably leads to errors in terms of precision, uneven clamping force and other quality problems that we solved with the use of YuMi”.
YuMi receives a preassembled from upstream workstations (both assembly machines and workstations with human labor for particularly complex operations), moves and screws several components, positions the assemblies, checks the camera, checks the presence of the gasket, performs a quality control by scanning with its grippers and, at the end of the assembly, places the piece on a polystyrene tray which is entrusted to the staff for the following operations.
In Idral, the timing of the assembly process was already optimized and the integration of the cobot did not bring about substantial changes from this point of view. “With YuMi we have gained a lot in terms of safety, reliability, precision and consistency of performance”, says
Mr Schweitzer. “It is very important for us to be able to count on a 100% reliable and constant result”. YuMi’s qualities have dispelled all the initial fears related to the introduction of a robot in the assembly team. The new worker was received very favorably and it won the appreciation of its colleagues, together with the nickname “Michael”: the sinuous movements of its arms seem to have come out of a video by the unforgettable Jacko.