These new beams can be produced at up to 600 ft/min, so it's an interesting area for automation. Mills have typically had five to six people climbing over the loads to staple them, which caused accidents and worker compensation issues. Automation gave them an opportunity to use these workers in different roles, away from non-value added functions. Now they are part of running the monitors, controls, and systems required to keep production running at that fast rate.
With increased communication and coordination between the robots, the product is coming off the line and final layup is approximately 80 ft lengths. Then it moves into an in-process area where, according to the load request for beams, they are cut into 12 ft to 60 ft beams.
The system doesn't know until it goes through the final saw operation and is fed out, whether it will be wrapping a 12 ft, 30 ft, 40 ft, or 60 ft length. But by calculating in real-time the length of the film required to wrap that specific load, the system is able to receive the information on whether it will be converted into a bundle of 40 ft or 60 ft beams.
Concern for worker safety when climbing on the wood to stretch the wrapping led to development of the new robotic system. Robots now bring in each piece, accurately measure and stretch the wrapping to match the piece size, apply the sealant, and stack the wood for distribution. (Source: PRE-TEC)
The system uses one FANUC Robotics M710iC/70 robot, two M16iB/10L robots, and one M20iA/10L robot to complete the process. Previously, four or five people worked on the manual system. While one worker remains in place providing system maintenance, the remaining workers have been moved to more value-added, non-hazardous maintenance positions.
A unique feature that the system offers is its carousel arrangement with four different rolls for different-sized beams. This simplifies the load changeover significantly from manual operation and workers directly involved with the process. It makes it much faster and safer to keep up with products coming in from the layup line. The higher level of automation also helps to reduce scrap and maximize yields, along with loads that were scrapped because they didn't get wrapped properly.
In the past, lines could be delayed in the process because they weren't wrapped right by the individuals, or workers were not available and ready for the next wrapping operation. An indirect impact of the automation is the consistency it brought to the operations by increasing throughput and quality. We typically find customers looking for a system payback that is two years or under, but the majority of projects are at least half of that time.
Al, thanks for a great article. I didn't realize robots were being used in the wood industry, but they're being deployed in so many more areas all the time it shouldn't be a surprise. It makes a lot of sense in this one, considering all the hazards to humans.
It seems that robotics is definitely branching into a much wider variety of applications. This one is natural because safety is such a concern but robots are also increasing productivity in many applications with the ability to achieve much more precise motion and more complicated motions than in the past.
Agree.I recently visited a Japanese welding manufacturer Nagoya- Wel where they are beginning to integrate robotics with their automotive welding systems. Robotics do play a key role in manfacturing safety and the applications are becoming more diverse in solving assembly processes in industrial factories.
Save lives and cost jobs. I know this is cliche to say. I know that millions of elevator operators were out of a job once automatic lifts came into play, and they moved on. But this sort of development moved money from people to the robotics manufacturers. In many cases, the works are not trained to maintain the device, just let go. Either evolve or get out of the way is the sentiment.
That said, saving our lives is the point of first world living. However, I would like to see tech of this sort reach places where safety is of no concern. Places where breathing masks as just shirts tied around people's faces. Saving lives in a highly regulated industrial country is like adding a pillow top to a soft mattress. Since there is no money in protecting 2nd and 3rd world workers, we will not see this type of innovation in those countries.
JamesCAnder, you must have a back that's in really good shape. I've been buying mattresses with pillow-tops for a couple decades, because my back isn't and needs all the help it can get. Seriously, though, just because people in industrialized countries have overall better protection than those in third-world countries doesn't mean they don't need more. But I think you're right that those protections should be extended to everyone.
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