thyssenkrupp Bilstein Suspension is a global company known for it innovation in chassis engineering. With production facilities in Asia, Europe and North and South America, the company supplies a complete range of damping and suspension products.
thyssenkrupp Bilstein of America’s manufacturing plant in Hamilton, Ohio was facing an increase in customer demands combined with fast-changing product requirements. The company needed to keep its manufacturing processes lean and flexible and could not grow at the desired rate by simply hiring more people.
thyssenkrupp Bilstein had also made a commitment to its existing workforce to decrease ergonomically unfavorable tasks.
To address the labor shortage and expand and improve production, thyssenkrupp Bilstein’s Industry 4.0 group uses nine UR10 cobots from Universal Robots to automate hard-to-staff tasks such as CNC machine tending, manning punch and forming machines, pick-and place, assembly, and product inspection.
One of the most eye-catching applications at the plant features the James Monroe and John Quincy Adams cobots working in tandem assembling thyssenkrupp Bilstein’s Active Damping System (ADS) dampers. The multi-step cycle starts by Monroe picking up an innertube that it feeds to a punch machine and then places on a transfer fixture where Adams picks it up and loads it into a “marriage station” where it grabs an outer-tube, marries them together, and puts them on the exit chute.
Case Study Breakdown
|Company||thyssenkrupp Bilstein of America|
|Challenges||Labor shortage, production increase|
|Robots||10 UR10 cobots|
|Tasks||CNC machine tending, pick and place, assembly, quality inspection|
|Value Drivers||Collaborative, safe, ROI, easy programming, speed vs. repeatability|
|Results||Increased product quality, developed new growth avenues, increased employee satisfaction|
thyssenkrupp Bilstein uses four other UR10 cobots for quality inspection, checking the post-fill crimp and final parts assembly. “When we did the gauge inspection before, we would check two parts every one or two hours to make sure we were still where we thought, but now we have 100 percent inspection,” said Doug McIe, Manufacturing Engineer at thyssenkrupp Bilstein.
The UR10 cobot deployed in the final assembly is equipped with a Cognex camera and moves swiftly between inspection points to make sure all components are in the right position and that the label is applied correctly and is readable. “Every single part that comes is checked and if it fails, the robot actually rejects it in the process,” explained McIe.
McIe said the engineering team developing the cobot applications without having any prior robotics experience. “We started by doing simple pick-and-place tasks to get the ball rolling,” said McIe. “Next was figuring out the interface with the machines, it was a bit harder but once we got it done, it spread really quickly and we started seeing applications all over the plant that we could almost copy-paste.”
Since thyssenkrupp Bilstein started to use cobots in-house, the ROI on the UR cobots has improved. “We have projects with both longer and shorter ROIs,” said Albieri. “But our comfort zone is a payback period of about 10-14 months to justify the investment. Cobots are definitely a quicker return of investment than traditional robots.”
Freeing up labor to work on other tasks plays a significant role in delivering the fast ROI.
“The UR cobots gave us the opportunity to grow, expand, create more jobs, and move our most valuable resources— our human resources—into new projects, where the know-how was most needed,” said Albieri. “If we relied only on hiring new people, we would never be able to expand three times the size we originally had. The cobots have opened a new avenue of growth for us, while we’ve been able to retain existing workforce. No worker will lose their job to a robot.”
The Industry 4.0 team is now working on inverting two UR10 cobots on a UR+ certified 7th axis range extender from Vention, and is planning to continue the fast-paced rollout, introducing a new cobot on the shop floor every other month.
“There are just so many opportunities out there,” said Albieri. “The sky is the limit.”