The Mechatronic Assembly Line Looks at “Batch 1”

The collaboration between Novotic and Bonfiglioli Mechatronic Research, “neighbours” in the Hub 4.0 of Trentino Sviluppo in Rovereto, has led to
the creation of a 40 m line for the full assembly of a planetary gearbox. A machine – designed to work micro-batches, thus ensuring the highest production flexibility – which relies on both automatic and manual stations and uses MiR mobile robots for component handling and feeding.

di Giorgia Stella

This is a story of more or less random, more or less programmed encounters, which led to the creation of a conceptually innovative assembly line, which we had the opportunity to see last September 6 in Rovereto, in the province of Trento. The most significant of these encounters, of course, happened between Novotic, a Trentino-based company founded in 1998 and specializing in process automation and robotics, and Bonfiglioli, a leading brand in the production of gearboxes and components for motion control. Also, every encounter happen in some place. In this case, we are talking about the Hub 4.0 of Trentino Sviluppo in Rovereto, a mechatronics centre conceived to bring together companies with a strong propensity for innovation. The project presented during the event pushed the provincial councillor for Economic Development, Research and Employment, Achille Spinelli, to talk about “a real case study, which contains all the elements that we consider important to enhance in the future of the Mechatronics Hub, namely the collaboration with schools to promote the professionalization and employment of young people”.

The line is forty meters long
“Our goal – said Graziano Passerini, founder of Novotic, talking about the history of his company – was twofold. On the one hand, we wanted to build highly innovative plants. On the other, we were studying systems that would allow existing lines to be revised so that, instead of being abandoned, they could remain competitive in a market that is rapidly and continuously evolving”. Novotic, too, has evolved over time, from two to the current 11 employees and, above all, moving its headquarters to the aforementioned Hub 4.0. This followed another encounter, fortuitous but decisive, which took place, according to Chief Technology Officer Manuel Todesco, “during a day addressed to students at the Marconi technical school in Rovereto. There, I met the people from Trentino Sviluppo”. A dialogue then began that led to the establishment of Novotic in the “L body” of the Mechatronics Hub, where Bonfiglioli Mechatronic Research is also located.
The dialogue between the two “neighbours” resulted in the manufacturing of a customized automatic planetary gearboxes assembly line. The 40 m long line is made of 6 robots, 5 electric presses, 4 ergonomic manual stations, 12 mobile robots, 11 control systems and has an intuitive graphic user interface.

Assembling micro-batches, up to even one gearbox per model
“The line we have built for Bonfiglioli carries out the full assembly of a planetary gearbox”, says Manuel Todesco, CTO at Novotic, whom we met in Rovereto. “The start is a loading station totally interfaced with the Bonfiglioli management system: from the point of view of Industry 4.0, therefore, it is possible to draw on all the data necessary for the machine set up. In this station, the operator loads the loose components for the production of the gearbox”.
Moving along the line counter-clockwise, we see that the components are handled by means of MiR mobile robots, distributed by K.L.AI.N.robotics, until the various stages of the assembly process. “Along the line, operations carried out manually in ergonomic work stations, adjustable benches and human-machine interfaces alternate with automatic stations that involve the use of robots, electric presses and control systems connected to the main server for the machine parameterization. The complexity of the line – adds Mr Todesco – is due to the need to assemble micro-batches, even up to a single gearbox per model. The line, in short, is re-parametrized each time, without requiring setup times or affecting the throughput of neither machine nor production”.

Tracing the component throughout its life
The automatic stations along the line are equipped with robots and presses, which have the task of creating the sub-assemblies before reaching the finished product. The system is able to completely trace back the production process, thus allowing for quality control. Therefore, it is possible to create a data storage, on the user’s management system, reporting all the information collected during the process.
Before being available for logistics, the gearbox is laser marked and provided with a unique serial code that distinguishes it from the rest of Bonfiglioli’s product range. The company therefore has the possibility of tracking the component throughout its life and for
its use. “The component assembled on the line we have created – adds Mr Todesco – is completely checked and can therefore reach the quality control and logistics departments before being sent to the final customer. The line has been designed to work in make-to-order mode, thus setting the parameters autonomously and avoiding loss of time or additional costs”.