By: Flexxbotics, August 2022
Universal Robot meet CNC.
CNC meet Universal Robot.
RDS – Product Centric Machining
RDS, located in Newport NH, is a high precision machine shop host to over 50 CNC machines and 25+ employees. They specialize in high-precision machined components using unique materials like Ultem Polyetherimide, Magnesium, Stainless Steel, Titanium, and High Specification Aluminum in aerospace applications where weight reduction and experience with these materials is highly valued. RDS has advanced meteorology capabilities with numerous CMM’s that allows them to hold the most complex and delicate parts while meeting extreme tolerance requirements.
RDS’s specialized abilities and experience attract large aerospace customers such as L3, BAE, FLIR and General Dynamics to trust and use their components. “The foundation of our partnership with key customers is our ability to make whatever complex parts they challenge us with and to deliver them on time and with peerless quality” – RDS Ownership Team
What do we want? Labor! When do we want it? Yesterday!
RDS like many other precision machine shops lacked the labor needed to fulfill the ever increasing demand of the aerospace industry. Their problem was not having enough machines to run parts, but rather not having enough people to run those machines. While using overtime for current machinists provided a temporary relief, they needed a more sustainable and cost effective operational plan to compete against offshore firms.
RDS needed a solution that could supplement their limited labor resources, execute infeed and out feed of machined parts repeatedly/reliably, and run lights out on all three shifts. Furthermore they needed this solution ASAP and didn’t have the time or resources to waste waiting for this solution to get integrated into their process.
Universal Robots, FlexxCNC™ and FlexxReference™ walk into a machine shop…
Like any good automation project, you need to determine the desired business outcome, scope the budget/timing, ensure technical feasibility and assign an internal champion. RDS chose their 5 Axis Fanuc Robo Drill mill as the best machine to begin automating and put Tim Cheney CNC Programmer as lead on the project. Axis New England, a leader in providing automation solutions to the Northeast, helped identify the best components for RDS’s CNC application. They landed on a Universal Robots UR10e with parallel plate grippers, a solenoid driven auto chuck, a pneumatic vise, the FlexxCNC™, the FlexxReference™ and a mobile multilayered mobile tray to run their round cylindrical stock out of.
“Often the biggest hurdle for a robot deployment is: ‘How do we communicate with the machine?’ With FlexxCNC™ we did not have to worry about that at all. Flexxbotics took care of everything.”
– Jake Tomkinson Automation Engineer Axis New England
Seeing as RDS already had the solenoid chuck, pneumatic vise and palletization kit all set beforehand, the FlexxCNC™ was really the missing piece that brought together the cell. Flexxbotics and RDS started by evaluating the connection options present in the machine, and determined that FOCAS 2 was the best approach. The FlexxCNC™ connected to the UR10e and Fanuc Robodrill over ethernet and also connected discrete input outputs (DIO) to the solenoid chuck, pneumatic vise and start/stop cycle button.
Using the FlexxCNC™, the whole process took under 4 hours, giving RDS the ability to build a truly lights out cobot program that loaded parts, opened/closed the door using the arm, ran a g-code program cycle and detected its end effectively in order to retrieve the part. Compared to standard integration methods, which would normally take one week or more this is a substantial improvement with the FlexxCNC™. Additionally FlexxCNC™’s intuitive no-code programming within Universal Robot’s Polyscope, allowed Tim to easily pick up the necessary controls to create new programs on his own with some simple training.
“The FlexxCNC™ greatly accelerated the integration of our Universal Robot on our Fanuc Robodrill. In under half a day, I was fully connected to my CNC machine and building robot programs. I can now run g-code and all peripheral control from my robot using polyscope” – Tim Cheney Jr, CNC Programmer at RDS Machine
Because RDS also integrated the FlexxReference™, a 6 degree mechanical/software cobot offset tool, and a mobile cart in their setup, the UR10e could easily be repurposed in under 15 minutes to other machines in their shop. The FlexxCNC™ has a library of CNC controllers that it is compatible with including Okuma, Haas, Fanuc and Mazak. Using the Flexx Reference and FlexxCNC™ combined, Tim and the RDS team could have the UR10e could automate any one of their machines in just under 4 hours and could repurpose the cobot between each machine in under 15 minutes.
With plans to obtain two more cobots along with the FlexxReference™ and FlexxCNC™ before the end of the year, RDS will continue to build out their dynamic cobot fleet and fight against the current labor shortages.