The highend plumbing fixture manufacturer needed robot arm that could be positioned for multiple tasks and work with people and no safety cages It was impressed with its own immediate productivity increase

Multifaceted Shop, Multi-Function Robot

Aug. 1, 2013
Flexible environment, flexible robot CNC milling, tube bending Advanced force control

Before RSS Manufacturing & Phylrich put its Universal Robots UR5 robot to work, the task of manually bending 1,500 workpieces on a tube bender would take three days. With its new UR5 device, the same job now takes four hours.

RSS Manufacturing & Phylrich manufactures plumbing fixtures and fittings for faucets in Costa Mesa, Calif. It is a highly specialized, short-run operation with turnaround time as quick as 24 hours. CEO Geoff Escalette explained that his company deployed a UR5 because it needed an inexpensive automation solution that could be moved easily between CNC machines, assembly lines, and tube benders.

The Universal Robot arm was integrated with a CNC to machine an order for 700 valves, making it possible to produce three shifts’ worth of finished pieces over a two-shift period.

It purchased the UR robot through a distributor, Sparkem Technology, in San Diego. Philip Hollingsworth, Sparkem’s senior applications engineer, explained that his distribution area in Southern California has shown significant interest in the collaborative robotic arms.

“My biggest challenge at the moment is getting the robot in front of as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time,” Hollingsworth said.

“We were quickly impressed with the UR5’s performance and ease of use,” said Escalette. “In a flexible environment like ours, we need a flexible robot: One that can work without safety cages, is portable, and can be reprogrammed quickly.” 

RSS Manufacturing & Phylrich settled on the UR5 to fulfill that need. CEO Geoff Escalette explained that his company deployed the robot because it needed an inexpensive automation solution that could be moved easily between CNC machines, assembly lines, and tube benders.

In addition to the tube-bending function, the robot arm was integrated in the milling cycle with a Hurco CNC machine to execute a monthly order for 700 valves. “Our CNC machine normally produces 400 valves per month with two shifts, so we would have been forced to buy another machine even if we put a third shift on,” Escalette explained. “With the higher run-rate using the UR5, none of this was necessary.”

The California company put the UR-robot to work 24/7 and met the order in 11 days, while opening up 30% more capacity on the existing machinery.

Simple Set-Up, Easy Programming

In this particular case, Escalette estimated the ROI for the UR5 to be a couple of months. At its current configuration, being moved to various machines, the ROI is estimated at six months.

Total setup time, including all programming and tooling, took eight hours. The shop’s automation and integration specialist emphasized the ease of programming with the tablet interface: “If you can write a to-do list, you can program this robot,” he said.

Total setup time -- including all programming and tooling -- took eight hours. Moving the robot from one application to the next now takes about 30 minutes. The external cost of integrating the robot in production was minimal, as the company’s safety assessment determined the collaborative robot would be able to operate without guarding.

“I’ve worked with other robotic models in the past. It’s one thing to say it’s easy to program a robot, another is to integrate it into a real application,” said Shane Strange, automation and integration specialist with RSS Manufacturing & Phylrich. “But with the UR it really was easy. If you can write a to-do list, you can program this robot.”

From a programming stand point, the tablet interface is one of the most significant benefits of the UR robot:

“You’re right there with the robot, troubleshooting as you go. It saves a lot of time when you don’t have to go back to the office, run simulations, go back out on the floor, boot it up, and watch in real time what it’s going to look like,” continued Strange, who now performs all these actions directly from the handheld touch screen that comes with the UR robot.

The next job the UR5 will perform at RSS Manufacturing is a buffing and polishing assignment.

“What also got us excited about the UR robots is their ability to exert a certain amount of pressure through the advanced force control feature,” said CEO Geoff Escalette. “It’s very hard to find employees that can manually polish brass fittings applying the right amount of pressure. Now we can use the robot for this task.”

RSS & Phylrich is expecting a 200% company growth rate next year.

“The whole premise of our company is to stay competitive and bring manufacturing back to the U.S. The UR5 robot fits perfectly within that master plan,” said Escalette.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)