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20/02/2017 Robotic assembly of customised screw conveyors?

Van Beek, Drunen, the Netherlands, is participating in a research project in association with other organisations including TNO, coöperatie Brainport Industries as well as the Fontys and Avans Colleges to investigate the extent to which customised manufacture of machines can be automated. In other words: Can a robot tighten the screw connections of a non-standard machine, for example a screw conveyor? SMEs are said to be focusing more and more on customised work and this requires systems that can be quickly adjusted for new conditions. Within its already largely automated work preparation phase, the company already has the CAD product information of each customer-specific machine available; the next step is also to use this information to control a cobot or robot. The acceptance of automation on the shop floor is another aspect being investigated: are operators afraid of losing their jobs, or does robotisation mean that only monotonous work is left?
 
At Van Beek everyone is reported to be positive and motivated about the project. Operations manager Eric de Jong commented that his staff is understandably proud of good workmanship. “You hear often enough that someone has received a compliment for good welding work, but there is not much glory in tightening a nut. If automation is possible, we are always interested in this.” The challenge for automatically tightening nuts and bolts at Van Beek is that the company is not a mass producer. If a company makes thousands of cars, it soon becomes profitable to make a machine that can carry out the same operation thousands of times. But Van Beek customises every screw conveyor. As a result the form and size are often different and the bolts are always in a different position. www.van-beek.nl 
 
 
Researchers on the Van Beek shop floor compare the merits of automation versus manual labour; for many years the company’s credo has been: ‘automated where possible, hand-made where necessary’
 

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