Flexible Feeding for a Smart Production Line

Flexible Feeding for a Smart Production Line
Flexible Feeding for a Smart Production Line

As an increasing number of industries embrace automation, vibratory feeders are becoming more widely used. They offer a quicker and more effective alternative to manual feeding but can be inflexible and complex to incorporate into existing systems. To improve on this, EPF Automation developed the Supata, an integrated flexible feeding module. The system comes equipped with a Shibaura Machine, formerly Toshiba Machine Robot, available through TM Robotics.

Vibratory feeders are used to align and feed small products and parts during the assembly and production process using gravity and vibrations. They are a common element of many operations and an effective way of automating production lines. However, they are notorious for being unreliable and rigid, and they lack the flexibility needed for an agile and adaptable production lin

To address the limitations found in standalone vibratory feeders, EPF Automation engineering has developed the Supata system. This is a fully realized robotic solution suitable for use in any industrial production setting. Its features make it good for manufacturing and production in the automotive, technical, medical, and electronics industries, where precision and speed are important.

The equipment The Supata system (figure 1) consists of feeding, vision, and robotic handling systems, and a control system/human-machine interface (HMI). It has been designed for manipulating and singularizing products and components for quick and precise assembly. Its vibratory smart feeder system consists of a vibrating table and a hopper, allowing it to handle components of various sizes, shapes, and materials that range from less than 10 mm to more than 250 mm in size and 25 g to 350 g in weight. This gives it versatility when integrating the system into new or existing production lines.

The machine’s vision system uses artificial intelligence (AI) for accurate recognition and high precision. With this technology, algorithms can identify and locate components on the vibratory plane using a camera and pass coordinates on to the robot for picking.

Figure 1: The Supata system consists of feeding, vision and robotic handling systems, and a control system/human-machine interface (HMI).

The software is straightforward for reconfiguring production changes and has integrated quality control for whatever components are handled, making it adaptable to operator requirements. The AI also can reduce the number errors, increasing productivity by 17-20%.

The system The system comes equipped with a Shibaura Machine robot as its handling system. Users can customize this by choosing six-axis, SCARA, or collaborative robots depending on their requirements. Both SCARA and six-axis robots are good for pick-and-place applications due to their large range of movement and high precision, and in the Supata, the robot can place components wherever required by the operator. SCARA robots can work at high speeds on four axes and are suited to small-scale applications that require accuracy and precision. Six-axis robots have superior directional control thanks to their articulation and movement on two additional axes and are capable of advanced movement profiles and intricate processes. Operators have control over which robot best suits their specific needs.

The control and monitoring system (CMS) is an integral part of the Supata system. Run using edge-computing technology, the machine has been developed for Industry 4.0. The CMS also allows remote connection so operators can monitor machine function from any location for access and analysis.

Integration characteristics

In terms of physical integration, the system can be configured to fit into existing workshops and production lines with ease. The chassis is tough and durable to withstand long-term use in an industrial environment and minimize the risk of damage. Moreover, it is available in different designs and sizes. Buyers can choose a fixed structure, or a versatile mobile chassis with various docking stations to meet different needs.

A key advantage of a fully integrated solution is the ability to maintain a constant cycle time, with the potential to reach one part per second. The configurable system also can handle a large range of materials and geometries and operates from a single interface, making it simple and user-friendly.

Supata is a fully engineered system. Many other suppliers can provide single components, but this is much more complex to incorporate into existing assembly lines. By supplying a modular station that contains a complete solution, it is more straightforward to integrate into new and existing lines.

Final thoughts

Modern manufacturing can be fluid, with frequent changes to products or formulations, and equipment should be as agile as possible to facilitate this. Supata can be used to produce small batches with frequent changes and is fully configurable depending on application. The straightforward, plug-and-play system is always ready to manage new products of different types from a single interface, and its AI algorithms can reduce costly errors and improve turnover significantly.

For operations requiring vibratory feeding, equipment that’s able to keep up with the demands of Industry 4.0 is more important than ever. Choosing an integrated and innovative solution can not only improve productivity and cut costs, but also help to create an agile and futureproof line.

This feature originally appeared in InTech Focus: Systems Integration 2022, the InTech Focus ebook for November 2022.

About The Author

Nigel Smith is CEO at TM Robotics. He directs the overall growth and development of TM Robotics throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Russia, and North and South America. Smith founded TM Robotics after holding several positions at Toshiba International, where he was responsible for sales, marketing, and support of its programmable logic controller (PLC) and industrial robot product range throughout EMEA. Smith’s close relationship with Toshiba Machine has enabled him to influence product updates and the creation of new robots, including end-of-arm tooling, robot mechanical structures, and new controllers for the European market

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