ABB Robots handle ceramic tiles |

ABB Robots handle ceramic tiles

ABB Robots handle ceramic tiles
June 29, 2007 - In the conservative ceramic mosaic tile industry, manufacturing innovation is often shunned. However, ABB Robotics in collaboration with the Italian Engineering consultancy EMC, has developed a robotic solution for the production of ceramics that is winning over previously reticent tile makers. Apart from providing necessary automation the system has also reduced costs by eliminating the need for paper and mesh backing as well as templates.

The project facing EMC and ABB Robotics was to help mosaic cutters, who produce the mosaics in squares or in strips held together by either expensive mesh or cheaper paper backing. EMC was asked if it could develop an alternative to this backing for mosaics.

The assembly of the small squares of tile had traditionally been done by hand. EMC’s brief was to remove this manual element while retaining both quality and accuracy. The company’s design team developed a robotic solution based on ABB’s IRB340 FlexPicker robot, known affectionately by EMC’s engineers as ‘Moses.’

ABB’s FlexPicker delta robot is the optimal, flexible robot solution for high-speed pick and place. It is the fastest robot in the world, with 150 picks per minute and a payload up to 2 kilograms, and being top mounted, the delta robots require minimal floor space.

The Flexpicker assembles and manipulates tiles and mosaics; prepares tiles for gluing and applies a new type of adhesive to hold the tiles during subsequent phases of transportation and application.

The global ceramic-tile industry is worth around €20 billion and is expected to grow to about €35 billion in the next decade. EU countries, notably Italy and Spain, are responsible for more than half of world revenues today but are projected to lose more than 10 percent of that market share by 2015. The result is that European manufacturers cannot afford complacency and must compete more aggressively to retain share of the global growth. Hence, there is a far greater imperative to streamline and automate manufacturing, overcoming previous traditionalist views.

Two years ago ABB Robotics approached EMC with a request to develop robotics applications in the ceramic tiles industry. EMC’s name is an acronym for its focus: engineering, manufacturing and consulting for robotic applications. Marco Corti, who started the company in 2001 in Italy manages the technical aspects of the consultancy, while Paolo Durio heads up the commercial side. Ceramics was an industry unknown to Corti, who had to come to terms with the fact that innovation was viewed with scepticism and suspicion. Even though robotics provide performance, flexibility and simplicity in production - all of which are requisites for the competitive future of the ceramic tile industry – there was still the need to come up with a solution that was palatable to the market.

Both Corti and Durio have had about 20 years of business experience, with Corti’s devoted almost exclusively to robotics. “You could say that ABB Robotics was responsible for growing the robotics market in Italy,” states Corti, an engineer with a fascination for robotics.

Meanwhile in the process of developing Moses, EMC realised the need for a new gluing method to maximize the flexibility of robotic handling. “Working with partners, we devised a new system to glue the mosaic tiles together,” recalls Corti. “We had to develop a new adhesive and deploy a second robot to apply it, which we called the sticking machine. The FlexPicker places the tiles onto a sticky sheet of plastic, which holds them stable. Then they pass under the sticking machine, where special glue is applied that holds the tiles together. The outcome was so outstanding that we could eliminate the use of paper backing, mesh and templates altogether.”

So successful has the new system become in the Italian ceramics industry that the Moses has belied any concerns expressed about industry uptake. “This solution has become one of the most important parts of our business, and now represents one-third of our revenue,” said Durio.

ABB is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve their performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs about 108,000 people.

ABB is a leading supplier of industrial robots - also providing robot software, peripheral equipment, modular manufacturing cells and service for tasks such as welding, handling, assembly, painting and finishing, picking, packing, palletizing and machine tending. Key markets include automotive, plastics, metal fabrication, foundry, electronics, pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries. A strong solutions focus helps manufacturers improve productivity, product quality and worker safety. ABB has installed more than 150,000 robots worldwide.
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