Precision spreading of glue beads on an assembly line for a new product prototype, which includes an advanced sensor battery component that necessitates design changes on a rapid schedule.
The long glue beads need to follow the shape of the matchbox-sized piece very precisely in three dimensions, which, when combined with the rapid setting time of the glue, makes the task extremely difficult to accomplish by hand.
The ABB IRB 14050 Single-arm YuMi®, designed specifically for small parts assembly processes with close range interaction with people, automates the task of applying glue to the product. The cobot picks up the work piece from a jig, spreads the glue with the aid of an external glue dispenser, and sets the product down in the same place. The cobot can carry out the intricate task faster and with greater repeatability than a human, speeding up production while allowing skilled workers to be deployed elsewhere.
Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, have been gaining ground rapidly over the last several years alongside traditional industrial robotics. ABB has recently expanded its cobot offering with new products that include the Single-arm YuMi cobot, designed specifically for the production needs of small parts assembly processes. The product has been taken into use at GE Healthcare's prototype assembly line in Helsinki, Finland.
GE Healthcare is a leading global medical technology, diagnostics and digital solutions innovator, with over 100 years of healthcare industry experience and around 50,000 employees globally. Local subsidiary GE Healthcare Finland is one of the company's leading product development hubs for patient monitoring. Equipment manufactured at GE Healthcare's facility in Helsinki includes patient monitors as well as gas measurement modules used in ventilators and anesthesia delivery solutions. Most of the factory's production is exported globally.
GE Healthcare's new product assembly line builds prototypes of products that are in development. Currently, the production line is working on a major development project for a new product that includes an advanced sensor battery component that required design changes on a rapid schedule.
"We needed to add a gluing step to the assembly process that was extremely difficult to carry out manually", says Teemu Äärynen, AME (Advanced Manufacturing Engineering) Program Leader, GE Healthcare Finland. "A cobot solution was the ideal way to automate this task, and we were able to program the cobot for prototype assembly very quickly."
On the product line, the ABB Single-arm YuMi cobot is responsible for spreading the glue bead as part of the assembly of the component. The cobot picks up the work piece from a jig, spreads the glue with the aid of an external glue dispenser, and sets the product down in the same place. The long glue bead needs to follow the shape of the matchbox-sized piece very precisely in three dimensions, which, when combined with the rapid setting time of the glue, makes the task extremely difficult to accomplish by hand.
The ABB IRB 14050 Single-arm YuMi® is a one-armed version of the dual-arm ABB IRB 14000 YuMi cobot that was introduced in 2015. The extremely compact seven-axis cobot weighs only 9.5 kg and can be mounted at any angle. The robot was specifically created for the needs of small parts assembly processes including consumer electronics and consumer goods. The easy-to-program cobot is designed for safe close-range interaction with people, and helps to reduce entry barriers for new potential robot users, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises.
GE Healthcare is already using the dual-arm YuMi cobot on other product assembly tasks, so the decision to build a new cobot station was easy. The application is designed by Finnish company Roboco, specializing in cobot solutions.
"GE Healthcare's Single-arm YuMi setup is a great example of the possibilities of cobot technology. A solution can be developed very quickly to address a work step that is not feasible by hand, and the cobot can be utilized flexibly on other tasks later on," notes Oskari Hakaluoto, CEO, Roboco.
Collaboration is the future
Cobots are not expected to replace traditional industrial robots, which still have their own clear usage needs. However, cobots open up extensive possibilities for automating tasks and processes that would not be feasible with traditional solutions. "Compact, safe collaborative robots also make it possible for small and medium-sized companies to benefit from the possibilities of robotization with a relatively modest initial investment," says Oskari Hakaluoto from Roboco.
Roboco is a member of ABB's Value Provider program. "In addition to its in-house expertise, ABB has a network of innovative and capable partners who can work with us and the end client to develop flexible cobot solutions to meet any production need", says Product Manager Juha Mainio from ABB. "The solution that Roboco has built for GE Healthcare is one of the first applications of the Single-arm YuMi cobot in Finland, and the cobot almost works as another employee on the assembly line."
Fast return on investment
GE Healthcare's new product is nearing the mass production stage, and the new Single-arm YuMi cobot is in regular use on the manufacturing line. "The cobot is extremely easy to reprogram, whenever we need to make any updates to the product or the manufacturing process. Even in half an hour, we can get some major changes done to the code," says Teemu Äärynen from GE Healthcare. "The fast deployment and flexibility of the solution have really brought a great deal of added value to our product development."
According to Äärynen, the collaborative features of the Single-arm YuMi have been very popular with employees. "It's really easy to start using a cobot, since you don't need heavy safety solutions around the machine. This made it possible for us to get the machine working on our prototype line immediately."
The cobot system has been a great investment for GE Healthcare. "Not only can the cobot automate a work step that a person couldn't accomplish, but also the solution saves a lot of our employees' time for other tasks. This improves the productivity of our assembly and is reflected to our end customers in the price of the product. The recouping time for this investment has been remarkably fast, well under one year," says Äärynen.