Standardization and Simulation

Pre-engineered work cell brings robots to more applications


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Typically, robotic work cells that automate painting and other industrial tasks have been designed and built to individual customer specifications. But as automotive industry competition increases and OEMs give more responsibility to Tier suppliers, Encore Automation (Auburn Hills, MI) recognized an opportunity to develop a pre-designed, pre-engineered robotic cell capable of handling a variety of applications.

Founded in 2006, the company says it has installed and integrated robots and bell stations in paint, powder, sealing and material-handling applications for numerous OEMs and Tier suppliers. Encore provides engineering, design, programming, robot simulations and process feasibility studies in addition to complete turnkey systems for paint and material application and dispensing, vision guidance and inspection, and material handling applications.

“Our collective experience in robotic work cell design prompted us to look at system commonalities and typical system variances,” explains president Steve Becroft. “By examining the parameters as a whole, we developed a standard robot cell design with flexible features to serve various applications.”

The result is EncorFlex, a pre-engineered and pre-packaged system based on a standard one-robot configuration and delivered on a two-piece platform that includes all hoses, piping and wiring. According to Encore, the modular system can be assembled in less than an hour on the customer floor and be running parts within 12 hr.

Encore says it produces models for robotic sealing, gluing, foam application, hot melt or painting applications. Customers choose material-handling options including shuttles, robot handlers or conveyors.

“EncorFlex lines are aimed at companies dealing with smaller to medium-sized parts such as cell phones, desks, appliances and toys, handling volumes from 20 to 1,800 parts/hr,” Becroft says.

Obvious benefits of a pre-packaged system are savings in time and money. According to Becroft, the systems can save 2–10 months in delivery and 50–65% in cost. “Our hope is that OEMs may reconsider their specification process to achieve these savings,” he says.

The company says it has experience with robotic application of a number of paint materials, including solvent- and waterborne primers, basecoat/clearcoat, multiple-component paints and single- and multicolor powder materials. Application technologies include electrostatic gun or rotary atomizer, direct-charge waterborne applicators and air-atomized guns from such equipment suppliers as ITW, Sames, Graco, EFC and Kremlin. Encore says it has also worked with a number of paint robot and paint system suppliers, including Dürr, Motoman, Fanuc, ABB, Kawasaki, Haden and Ransburg.

According to Encore, company personnel can provide turnkey robotic paint systems, from specification, configuration, layout, simulation, engineering, design, assembly and test, installation, commissioning and fine-tuning, as well as providing training and service. The company says it can design and provide automotive-quality distribution, collection, and mixing systems, in dilute or dense phase, as well as topcoat-capable powder systems and processes.

One tool Encore engineers rely on to develop robotic systems is software simulation. The company uses a physics-based, scalable robotics simulation package from DELMIA Corp. (Auburn Hills, MI) for modeling and off-line programming.

“We simulate the initial cell using a library of more than 500 robot models in addition to application-specific devices such as paint guns,” explains senior proposal engineer Sean Parke. “We develop the best end-of-arm tooling for the job, analyzing the relationship between the part and the robot to determine reach requirements and potential

According to Parke, simulation also helps Encore fine-tune cell ergonomics. “We analyze how close an operator can get to the part load device,” he says. “Within a virtual world, we know, prior to build, that the system will perform properly. This eliminates troubleshooting on the plant floor.”

Parke says the software also works as a sales tool that Encore engineers use to show customers exactly what will be delivered and to verify cycle times, throughput and other parameters. “This eliminates guesswork and allows easy analysis of ‘what-if’ scenarios, making it easier for them to justify the purchase.”

Once a system is simulated, it’s built on Encore’s floor using pre-specified standard components. All hoses, wiring and piping are installed, and robotic programming and run-off is done at Encore. Cells are typically assembled in about a week, programmed in a day and run-off the next day.

Regardless of application, systems are built on a two-piece platform with pre-existing holes for lift-truck fork insertion. One platform contains fencing, safety and material handling devices; the other, hoses, relay controls, robot controls and dispensing tools.

“The platform is key for robot-path programming,” explains Parke. “Because everything ships in place, no geometry adjustments are necessary. It arrives to the customer in the same spatial relationship


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