One of the key features of the Factory of the Future is the shift from a task-centric factory environment to a more flexible worker-centric one. In this scenario, ABB – a pioneer in building smart factories of the future – has transformed its oldest robot factory into a more collaborative workplace, to increase automation and create a safer environment for employees manufacturing large robots.
ABB manufactures robots in Västerås, Sweden; Shanghai, China and Auburn Hills, US. The Vasteras facility was established in 1974 and was ABB’s first robot factory. Here, the company produces a wide range of robots – from small robots used for assembling electronics to those large enough to lift a car chassis in one go. ABB currently offers about 20 different robot models and over 90 variations of these are being used for different types of industrial production. Since 1974 ABB has installed more than 400,000 robots around the world.
As well as assembling robots, market-leading controllers, which are the brain of the robot system and track motion products and positioners, Vasteras is now a hotbed for research and innovation in robotics.
In 2017, ABB, responding to a growing demand for its robots decided to boost productivity and flexibility on its production line using its latest collaborative robot technology. Four IRB 6700 and two IRB 8700 robots equipped with SafeMove and safety scanners were installed on the production line.
“We needed to increase our capacity and flexibility to meet customer demand, and at the same time we wanted to improve the safety and ergonomics for our workers”, said Claes Bengtsson, the Manager of Production Operations in ABB’s Västerås factory.
“The biggest element in the transformation was to introduce a production process where humans and robots work closely together.”
At the Vasteras factory, ABB has enhanced its robots with two of its market-leading robotic software technologies to add a dimension to safety and efficiency.
SafeMove to increase delivery capacity
In this factory transformation the robots were equipped with sensors and SafeMove, ABB’s safety software that makes industrial robots collaborative, to achieve a safe working environment for humans and industrial robots without extra protective measures or fences. ABB’s SafeMove software transforms industrial robots into collaborative robots that work safely alongside humans, by using configurable electronic motion detection and prevention measures which restrict a robot’s speed, motion and position when a person comes near.
The production line has many installed sensors, both on the floor and in the roof, and also light curtains for each robot cell that safeguard humans while collaborating with robots. This installation is also very cost-effective as it does not need the same level of physical barriers such as gates and fences as traditional large robots require.
“Letting humans and robots work together on an open surface was the best way to create the flexibility we wanted. The cell's open floor plan in combination with the possibility of changing the work distribution between humans, robots and driverless trucks makes the cell very flexible both in capacity and regarding types of robot arms to handle,” said Maria Malmport, Production Manager, ABB Supply Unit Sweden.
Making work at ABB more rewarding
The SafeMove installation also greatly improves the ergonomics in the factory as operators no longer need to handle heavy weights and perform risky movements. ABB’s robots can not only perform such tasks with ease and efficiency, but also do it repeatedly, without tiring.
RobotStudio to save time and money
In 2018, ABB equipped all its robots at the Vasteras factory with its computer-based toolbox programming software, RobotStudio. The offline virtual commissioning software offers a complete digital replica or a “digital twin” - of physical assets or systems, allowing the user to understand the inner workings of the production line. Users can create, simulate and test a complete robot installation in a virtual 3D environment without having to disturb their actual production line. In a world where manufacturing is becoming increasingly complex, RobotStudio helps companies quickly test out new robots, products lines or production processes without any surprises during actual operations. This not only simplifies the production process but also reduces the time to market.
The revamp of the Vasteras factory was fully developed on RobotStudio before physical implementation. This helped the company save money by avoiding costly real-world mistakes and also enabled ABB to complete the renovation in a short time.