FMO Surface, a family-owned company that specializes in finishing plastics, was founded in 1999 in Lemgo, Germany and employs 75 people. The company’s customers come from a variety of industries, including automotive, electronics, aerospace and mechanical engineering. Manufacturers that produce bicycles and household appliances also make use of FMO Surface’s services.
Because approximately seven million plastic bus connectors are laser-marked with eight-digit data matrix codes (DMC) here every year before being installed in controllers, FMO Surface began to automate various related processes several years ago. Companies such as FMO Surface find it increasingly difficult to attract human employees for monotonous yet demanding tasks such as checking DMCs.
It found a job for its new LBR iisy, a collaborative robot arm from KUKA, in bus connector quality control. Because multiple components are marked with a DMC and are dependent on one another, reliability is of decisive importance for the traceability of an entire module. For this reason, the readability and completeness of the Data Matrix codes require special quality control attention, previously carried out manually with a scanner by human employees at FMO Surface.
“We save an enormous amount of time using the LBR iisy because we no longer have to scan each part individually,” said Tim Hertz, laser department foreman, FMO Surface. “And if the cobot reports a fault, we don’t have to open a cage or stop an entire system; we simply remove the defective part and replace it.” This type of quality inspection helps keep the price of production and finishing down.
Equipped with dual Keyence cameras, the LBR iisy cobot checks DMCs. Each tray that slides under the LBR iisy contains 200 plastic parts. One camera carries out the quality inspection with associated software, while the second camera assesses codes for completeness.
“The first step spot checks the quality of the codes on the basis of 20 parts,” explained Hertz. “If everything is OK, the cobot moves over the tray again to check whether all 200 parts are present and all codes are readable.”
If the robot finds an issue with a code, it stops and points out the affected bus connector. A human colleague then replaces the faulty part; the robot checks the tray again and ideally releases it. This human-robot collaboration ensures maximum safety and efficiency.
With the aid of the KUKA smartPAD pro and the KR C5 microrobot controller, even employees with virtually no experience in robot programming can operate and train the cobot.
“The LBR iisy runs on the basis of the new iiQKA.OS operating system, which makes it easy to install, configure and program,” said KUKA’s Robert Korte. The cobot not only is up and running in just a few minutes but can adapt to new challenges equally quickly. That’s an enormous advantage for Fest: “We don’t have engineers here, so ease of integration is all the more important.”
Bastian Fest, managing director of FMO Surface, met Korte at a trade show and learned about the advantages of the LBR iisy collaborative robot. Fest then took a closer look at the LBR iisy at KUKA’s branch office in Siegen and decided to purchase it.
“The LBR iisy combines several factors that we require: flexibility, ease of programming and suitability for collaborative operation. That is why we purchased it, even without actually knowing where exactly we wanted to use it,” said Fest of this seemingly unusual approach.
The employees at FMO Surface were enthusiastic about the new colleague right away.
“Thanks to the safety features, collaboration with people in a single workspace is possible,” said KUKA sales engineer Robert Korte.
In the past, this type of quality control for DMCs was much more time-consuming. “When checking for completeness, we had to scan each part individually,” said Hertz. For this, an employee had to take the components out of the tray and subsequently put them back again. Today, with the LBR iisy, this task is performed much faster and more precisely.
FMO said the LBR iisy cobot could also provide valuable services in pad printing in the near future. Furthermore, the company hopes to make use of the larger versions of the LBR iisy with their payload capacities of 11 and 15 kilograms.
FMO Surface has also collaborated with KUKA on using a KR CYBERTECH nano (KR 10 R1420) robot arm for palletizing and to tend a laser system. Two years later, FMO Surface added another industrial robot from the KR CYBERTECH series to turn over, measure and laser plastic parts to be finished.
“Particularly in view of the shortage of skilled workers, automation plays an important role for a medium-sized company like ours,” said FMO Surface.