The staff were skeptical. Would the machines take our jobs?
FlexPicker ABB1_500, source ABB
But once the robots had made inroads into Swegon’s factory in Tomelilla, Sweden, the attitude of the employees quickly changed.
It was like playing the world’s most difficult version of Tetris. Hour after hour employees had to stand pressing small plastic pucks into panels by hand. It started to become a working environment problem for Swegon, which manufactures ventilation systems. It was also expensive to have people employed to perform a very simple task: to assemble the many small, round plastic nozzles in every ceiling panel in a symmetrical pattern.
Site manager Ingvar Hagström met with some skepticism when he told staff that they were going to let robots do the job. Would they take our jobs? How would quality be affected? But since last December, when the robots began working in Tomelilla, the attitude of staff has changed.
“Now the employees are very positive about the robots. Quite simply, they’re pleased to be able to avoid having to fit the nozzles by hand. And we haven’t had to lay anyone off due to the robots,” comments Ingvar Hagström.
He thought that the robots would be loud, making the factory noisier. But the fact is that it has become quieter since the robot cell started fitting the nozzles.
Swegon enlisted the help of integrator Evomatic in Karlshamn to customize a robot cell that could perform this very specific task. “What’s different is that they decided to use a so-called ‘FlexPicker’ robot (IRB 360) from ABB within the manufacturing industry,” comments Mats Pettersson at Evomatic.
“The FlexPicker is most commonly used within the food industry for picking sausages or pralines, for example, as it cannot cope with heavy items.”
However, what the FlexPicker lacks in strength, it makes up for in speed. It can handle one nozzle per second and the robot also works without interruption. The installation also includes the PickMaster software from ABB, which has been specially developed for picking random objects from conveyors. Automating production in this way was far from free, but according to site manager Ingvar Hagström, Swegon expects to make a return on their investment in three years.
The goal was for the robot cell to be able to work as hard as possible without human monitoring or intervention. Before the employees go home for the day, therefore, they fully charge the robot cell so it can continue working until there are no more panels left.