Tomenson Machine Works is a third-generation, family-owned manufacturer of precision hydraulic manifolds used in a variety of machinery across the agricultural, mining, and construction industries. Founded in 1977 by Thomas Roake, the Chicago-based company has become a world leader in hydraulic manifolds with the products now considered a “gold standard” in the industry. The company turned to automation for its pin stamping application to improve quality, profitability, and worker satisfaction. An OnRobot RG6 gripper and Universal Robots UR3 cobot arm handle dozens of part sizes and sets up Tomenson for automation in potential applications such as machine tending, deburring, and packaging.
When Tomenson looked at repetitive tasks ripe for automation, the task of placing parts in a pin stamper for engraving was low-hanging fruit. It was having difficulty finding employees to staff this station.
“Operating the engraver is tedious. It’s not something people go by and say, ‘Yay, I’m going to go run the engraver for eight hours,’” said Geoffrey Rose, secondary operations lead and quality supervisor at Tomenson.
This was Tomenson’s first foray into automation, and it needed a flexible gripper that could handle hundreds of part sizes that go through the pin stamper. “No one in the company had ever dealt with collaborative robots or anything of this manner, especially not Geoffrey, who’s doing the programming every day and running the system,” said Tomenson operations manager Alex Roake.
Tomenson chose OnRobot’s RG6 gripper because it could handle the variety of parts without extra programming or machining of extra end effectors.
“As soon as you plug the RG6 in, it works. Programming the pin stamper is actually much harder than programming the gripper,” said Alex Roake. “For the entire system, it took us maybe a couple of weeks, but for the gripper specifically, less than a day.”
The pin stamping application requires the gripper to handle as many as 30 different parts to-date, but programming a new part is as little as five to 10 minutes since the robot can use the same basic code for every part and the gripper senses when it grasps the part, no matter what size it is.
Brian Einzig, automation specialist with FPE Automation, advised Tomenson on the system. “Whereas we normally see the one gripper, one part, we now see the flexibility that the OnRobot’s grippers offer customers. It’s a customized tool out of the box,” he said. “Before they were using maybe a two-jaw gripper for one part and a three-jaw gripper for another part, now we’re seeing the RG6 can do multiple parts for multiple jobs.”
“The biggest difference since we brought in automation and the gripper was that we’ve seen a huge reduction in misloads,” said Zach Roake, quality and post-production manager at Tomenson “I would say we’ve seen about a 40 percent reduction in misloads coming from engraving the wrong side or in the wrong direction since we’ve incorporated the system.”
Profit margins have also improved, especially on smaller products. “Before this system and the gripper, we definitely had lower profit margins on these small blocks,” said Alex Roake. “Now when we see a small block, we’re not afraid to quote it because we know handling thousands and thousands of these will be done by the robot, not a human, which makes us less fearful of quoting very high-volume small parts.” By easily automating the small parts with the gripper and robot, we’re able to save engineering hours while also reallocating workers to focus on bigger parts with complex processes and longer cycles that require more attention.
Case Study Breakdown
|Company||Tomenson Machine Works|
|Challenges||Improving pin stamping process|
|Cobot||Universal Robots UR3|
|Value Drivers||Flexible, collaborative, easy programming|
|Results||40% reduction in misloads; increated profits; improved employee satisfaction|
The easy programming and implementation of the RG6 gripper has allowed for fast response to customer needs. “Say it’s a Thursday and we get a hot order,” said Rose. “We’ll get the job set up and it’ll be on the saw, and on Friday I can have second shift run the robot, just loading and unloading it. By Monday, we’re already shipping the parts to the customer. It gives us a lot of flexibility to respond to market demands and on-time deliveries, as well as just ease-of-use around the shop.”
Tomenson expects a fast return on its investment by replacing a first-shift operator with the robot and gripper, estimating 13-month return on the gripper for a single shift. Alex adds, “If we’re calculating the fact that we can now run our gripper on first and second shift, the number would be roughly half—so around six to seven months we will get our return on investment.”
An additional benefit is increased employee satisfaction and excitement about the new technologies across the company. The process before automation was a human operator loading the pin stamp machine one part at a time, standing or sitting at a stool and using a foot pedal to activate the pin stamp, all day long.
With the repetitive operation automated and staff moved to more valuable tasks, Tomenson also saw savings in where operators need to be deployed. “Now we load a conveyor that can run for around 45 minutes, and then just keep continuously loading and unloading the conveyor,” said Alex Roake. “Since we are able to let it run unattended for around 45 minutes, we’re able to use the same person to run the line saw and the robot, as opposed to having two separate people. In terms of cost-saving, it’s basically equivalent to one operator.”
Tomenson is looking at other opportunities for collaborative automation. “Now that we have a successful application with the OnRobot RG6 gripper, we have looked into other possibilities in post-production or shipping or even loading up the CNC machines,” said Alex Roake. “The ease of programming is what leads us to be confident in this decision that we can carry over to other departments, because we don’t need to hire an extra programmer, but can use our existing work force.”