Founded in 1983 and based in the town of Åseda in Southern Sweden, FT Produktion is a machine shop that supplies metal parts measuring up to 7.5 meters in size to a variety of industries. The company has 25 employees that hail from Sweden, Norway, Lithuania, Syria, and Thailand who work in tandem with neighboring company Profilgruppen.
To keep up with an increase in orders, FT-Produktion in 2017 made the largest investment in its history by renovating much of its machinery, which included the addition of a flexible collaborative robotics cell.
No machine shop would turn down global industry leaders like Volvo, Renault, and Scania when they come calling with orders – even if it means pushing capacity and productivity to the limit. With an annual revenue of just over $2 million, turning down new business would mean limiting FT Produktion’s growth opportunity.
“The demand for productivity continues to grow. But relevant manpower is hard to come by these days,” said Joakim Karlberg, who owns and operates the family-owned FT Produktion with his sister. “Thanks to automation, an operator can keep three or four machines running at once without stress. We try to eliminate monotonous manual tasks by roboticising the high volume production runs, giving employees more time to work on smaller runs with greater variation in their tasks.”
FT Produktion manufactures 650 different aluminium profiles and fills 7,000 orders annually, with production runs ranging from five to 150,000 units. Given the wide range of tasks and volumes, flexible automation was essential. A single robot solution must be capable of handling many different parts with minimal downtime when reconfiguring from one production run to the next.
FT Produktion’s robot cell includes a UR5 cobot from Universal Robots, two RG2 robot grippers from OnRobot and a ProFeeder from EasyRobotics. According to Universal Robots, this trio of Danish cobot solutions has now provided automated machine operation at FT Produktion for more than a year. Karlberg said the investment paid for itself in 9 months. “It’s one of the best business decisions we’ve ever made,” he said.
Since the collaborative robots cell has been up and running, a batch of 150,000 units can be manufactured in less than two months with the robots working up to 16 hours a day, five days a week. Once every 25 seconds, the RG2 gripper on the UR5 cobot removes a raw part from the ProFeeder’s parts tray in the mover and inserts it in a CNC machine. In the same robot arm movement, the other gripper takes a finished part out of the CNC machine and places it in a container. As a result, FT Produktion saves 500 hours when manufacturing a series of 150,000 parts.
In the past, an employee had to manually insert four parts at a time in a CNC machine, wait for 90 seconds, and then repeat the process for the duration of the workday. Now the solution requires just five minutes to manually fill one of the ProFeeder’s two movers. When the robot has emptied one of the mover’s parts trays, the operator removes the empty mover and clicks a filled mover into place in the ProFeeder, allowing the CNC to rapidly resume operation.
Karlberg expects to add another two cobots to FT Produktion’s facility in the next couple years. “It seems like there’s no end to this economic upswing,” he said, “and therefore no end to our bottleneck issues. So we can already see many more opportunities for improved optimization and automation.”
Another benefit of turning to automation, according to FT Produktion, is the increase in employee job satisfaction. Mikael Andersson is a machine technician at FT Produktion. One year ago, he also became a robot programmer and robot operator following two days of theoretical and hands-on training at Edströms.
“It was actually easier to use robots than I had expected. If you’re standing there all day, feeding the same machine with parts, you can feel it in every joint of your body at the end of the day,” he said. “Now my job is less monotonous and much more interesting. It’s fun to watch a robot at work. I would like to see more of them here. This cobot solution is so easy to reconfigure that even small production runs are feasible in terms of costs.”
The new generation of cobot arms also requires high-performance accessories. For example, the functionality and user-friendliness of grippers ultimately determines the scope and variety of tasks and parts that can be automated, as well as the ROI time for automation investments.
“It only takes 10 seconds to change to a different part on the robot’s display,” said Anderson. “The robots are not taking any jobs. We can fill more orders and deliver more detailed parts with higher quality when we use the robots. They have been easy to install and adjust, so we’ve been able to do it all ourselves, with just a little help over the phone from Edströms.”