Robotics Lead The Charge At Kiwi Lock Maker

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Relatively high labour costs and geographic remoteness mean that to remain competitive on an international scale, manufacturing companies in New Zealand need to deliver products to market faster, with the highest level of quality, while keeping costs down.

Relatively high labour costs and geographic remoteness mean that to remain competitive on an international scale, manufacturing companies in New Zealand need to deliver products to market faster, with the highest level of quality, while keeping costs down.

Such was the case for Assa Abloy, described as the global leader in door and window opening solutions. Looking to increase output and ensure delivery on its promise of two-day lead time, as well as solve an employee health and safety challenge, Assa Abloy NZ deployed Universal Robots’ UR5 collaborative robot arm. The UR5 performs repetitive tasks such as picking, packing and screwing on the company’s Auckland lock bodies production line.

The UR5 has automated key manufacturing processes, such as the picking and placing of screws, relieving employees of repetitive tasks and ensuring a smooth production flow. Since the installation of the UR5, Assa Abloy NZ says that it has seen improvements in productivity, quality and most importantly, employee health and safety.

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY: FLEXIBILITY AND EASE-OF-USE

The New Zealand operation is part of Assa Abloy’s global business which specialises in door opening solutions and has been servicing the market for more than 50 years.

To kick off the industrial robot selection process, Assa Abloy brought three different robotic arm suppliers onsite and evaluated each one while they performed the same activities.

“The scalability and easy programming of the UR5 was unmatched. It also offered the flexibility to perform the varied tasks we needed at an affordable price,” says Marc Simkin, manufacturing engineer manager, Assa Abloy NZ.

He says ease-of-use is a key benefit delivered by Universal Robots, with flagship features such as easy programming. A graphical user interface with a ‘teach’ function enables an operator to show the robot arm how a movement should be performed. The user-friendly interface allows staff to drag and drop the routines to automate programming. This means the UR5 can be reprogrammed and deployed for different tasks within minutes without prior knowledge on programming or robotic engineering.

Assa Abloy engaged Design Energy, a distributor for Universal Robots, to help integrate the UR5 and train the manufacturing team on how to advance the UR5 on the production line.

“We even decided to have a bit of fun – the lock bodies team had a naming competition and we named the UR5 ‘Victoria’. With this, Victoria becomes one of us – she’s like another co-worker,” says Simkin.

UR5 HELPS WORKPLACE HEALTH AND SAFETY CHALLENGES

Assa Abloy’s initial reason for implementing an automated solution was to relieve production staff from the “onerous physical tasks of assembling locks and screwing face plates”. But the company says that in contrast to traditional robotic solutions, Universal Robots’ small and lightweight robotic arms actually work safely alongside staff (subject to risk assessment).

The UR5’s state-of-the-art force limit safety feature automatically prevents the robot from operating when movement is interrupted. The UR5 doesn’t exert a force greater than the limit specified in the adjustable safety settings, which can be set from 100-250 newtons.

Prior to deploying the UR5, operational staff were rotated every two hours, due to the demands of repetitive wrist and shoulder movements. By automating the final step on the lock bodies production line, the UR5 has relieved operators of work hazards. Knowing that, employees can work in very close proximity to the UR5 without safety guarding.

Staff reaction to Victoria has been extremely positive and they have upskilled as a result of ‘cobot’ integration. New roles are being created for the team which are more focused on quality and process monitoring of material supply, compared to the role of a traditional assembly worker.

“We’re so pleased to see the team’s sense of pride in the new skills they’ve developed as a result of operating Victoria. Permanent staff have taken on the responsibility of mentoring temporary staff on how to work with Victoria,” says Mataio Goding, production manager, Assa Abloy NZ.

QUALITY, CONSISTENCY DELIVERS COST SAVINGS

Assa Abloy NZ says that the UR5 ensures there’s no variation during the final assembly stage, improving consistency of its product.

The UR5 enables the company to deliver on its operational strategy of ‘any colour, any key, any time’ – producing any key or lock, in any colour – with a two-day turnaround. This provides a competitive advantage with automation traditionally and previously only relevant for large scale production.

“We have seen improvement in quality as a result of a more consistent assembly process,” says Goding.

Automating repetitive tasks and improved consistency of output means less time and resources are required on the production line. The company says that staff can be redeployed into more value-added tasks, driving efficiency across the business. It expects to see a cost saving within the next 12 months, which will pay for the UR5.

Based on the success of Victoria’s installation and commissioning, Assa Abloy NZ is developing another process that involves two UR5s producing door hinges, with 22 different variants of product.

“Our traditional approach to automation wasn’t cost effective for our manufacturing environment and it was hard to justify. New cobot technology like Universal Robots has opened the door for us to apply this technology in areas we previously thought impossible,” says Simkin.

Assa Abloy is automating not just for the now, but setting itself up for the future where staff and robots intertwine within production processes.

The company is proof of pudding that robots are no longer relegated to simply mass scale production processes, nor is New Zealand any different to what manufacturers throughout the world are and should be implementing.

Times are changing, and Assa Abloy NZ has changed with them – for the good.

 

ABOUT ASSA ABLOY

Assa Abloy is a global leader in door opening solutions, dedicated to satisfying end user needs for security, safety and convenience. Since its formation in 1994, Assa Abloy has grown from a regional company into an international group with about 47,000 employees, operations in more than 70 countries and sales of SEK 71 billion. In the fast-growing electromechanical security segment, the Group has a leading position in areas such as access control, identification technology, entrance automation and hotel security.

 

ABOUT DESIGN ENERGY

Design Energy is a New Zealand business which specialises in the development and commissioning of equipment solutions which solve problems, deliver productivity gains and enhance its customers’ business. Founded in 2007, Design Energy handles everything from process engineering consultation to machine design, through to the supply and service of full turn-key systems. Design Energy partnered with Universal Robots to deliver quality robotic and automation solutions to some of the country’s leading producers and manufacturers. 

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