After working with Airline to design, manufacture, and install a custom workcell, Microlab, a Wireless Telecom Group Company, took its cycle time from 20 minutes (using a batch production system) all the way down to just two minutes (using a one-piece flow system). Furthermore, after originally calculating a 24-month ROI for its new workcell, Microlab was thrilled to realize it in only 13 months.
The project involved plenty of collaboration between Microlab and Airline’s team of engineers to develop a system that gave the customer complete control over every aspect of the assembly process. The custom workcell was laid out on the Airline production floor to ensure proper assembly and troubleshooting prior to installation at Microlab’s facility.
Having the products and equipment you need is a must for any organization. That’s not exactly a secret. However, you can augment efficiency through workcell solutions tailor made for the way manufacturing lines run. An earlier blog post examined how Airline collaborated with Microlab, a Wireless Telecom Group Company to deliver a totally customized lean manufacturing workcell within budget, with minimal downtime and a quicker ROI than anyone could have predicted. This post takes a closer look at this workcell in action and demonstrates how customization is truly the key to productivity. You can also watch a video of the tour on our Youtube channel.
Go With the Automated Flow
Designing and building a customized lean manufacturing workcell allows a company to connect all of those individual processes into a seamless, semi-automated production flow, eliminating aspects of waste as products go from one process to another. Automated and manual processes work seamlessly to decrease cycle time and minimize other forms of waste while increasing efficiency.
Unlike batch production, wherein uniform products are assembled in large quantities based on a single set of criteria, a lean manufacturing flow allows greater control over individual product units while still maintaining efficiency. Pivoting from batch production to a one-piece flow provides companies like Microlab the flexibility to customize and modify their products for specific customers and its specifications.
For Microlab, transitioning to one-piece flow meant attaching a new automated system to the manual system. A motorized pallet system was developed to transport the workpiece units linearly from one phase of the process to the next. Airline provided seven lean manufacturing workstations complete with LED lighting, keyboard trays, monitor arms, printer stands and shelves to upgrade the manual part of the system. Microlab’s six-axis cobot was integrated into the new automated system for screw insertion. A lift-and-locate module from Bosch Rexroth was used to accurately position the workpiece pallet (+/- .002) to ensure proper and repeatable screw insertion.
Once the screws are in place, the unit is transferred to the electrical test where an employee checks for parameters that Microlab’s customers expect and require.
After electrical testing, the unit is transferred via the workcell’s automated pallet system to Microlab’s PIM testing department. Once the unit is tested and passes, the employee pushes a release button, opening an escapement, sending the unit to the sealing area.
In the past, Microlab completed its sealing process 100% manually. Airline provided another Bosch Rexroth lift-and-locate module for this process to work in conjunction with Microlab’s three-axis Cartesian robot. The robot precisely dispenses a path of sealant to the required part on the pallet.
After sealing, the unit is automatically brought to a curing conveyor that uses ultraviolet light to cure the compound in 30 seconds. After curing, the pallet is conveyed to the labeling workstation where a product label is applied. The final product is then placed onto a transfer cart before being sent off to packaging.
Each individual station is controlled by a touchscreen panel HMI (Human Machine Interface). This gives Microlab personnel total control over the entire lean workcell from one central location. Individual stations can be bypassed when not required for certain products.
Pneumatics and Other Capabilities
The Microlab workcell relies heavily on pneumatics. It was essential to develop a compressed air distribution system to deliver air to the lift-and-locate modules, pneumatic presses, sealing robot and air guns. Airline was able to implement Ingersoll Rand’s Simpl-Air piping and fitting system, which uses aluminum pipe, quick-connect fittings and air distribution manifolds. In addition to its functionality and low maintenance, Microlab was thrilled that the end product added an aesthetically pleasing element to the shop floor.
Everything in its place and a place for everything. Airline provided work carts for Microlab’s “supermarket,” a centrally located staging area in the middle of the lean cell, which decreased setup and breakdown time.
Building Your Perfect Lean Manufacturing Workcell
Developing and installing Microlab’s lean manufacturing workcell yielded dramatic results. The automated flow reduced cycle time from 20 minutes to just two. Microlab calculated a 24-month return on investment. However, the workcell only needed 13 months for this ROI, becoming profitable much quicker than anyone anticipated.
Through a collaborative design process, Airline worked with Microlab to get a sense of the entire workflow, from customized workstations and pallet conveyor systems with lift-and-locate functionality to the HMI control system. Airline was also able to build the workcell in-house before delivery to Microlab. This allowed both Airline engineers and the customer to visualize exactly what it would look like and how it would operate before arriving on Microlab’s floor. The pre-delivery assembly ensured that installation at Microlab was quick and caused minimal downtime. In fact, Microlab personnel noted how smoothly they were able to transition to the new automated flow.
Airline’s lean manufacturing systems
allow companies the flexibility to customize automated work flows and ensure production happens as efficiently as possible.