Bringing industry up to speed with latest technological developments

RoboHelix, a Sydney-based design and manufacturing company, specialises in industrial robotic innovation. CEO, Hayel Smair, speaks to Manufacturers’ Monthly about how his team is looking to bring the industry up to speed with the latest technological developments.

While starting out in a Sydney garage in late 2015, RoboHelix now exports globally. The company’s rapid development saw it win in the Outstanding Startup category at this year’s Endeavour Awards, which recognises manufacturing excellence. The company takes the name of its flagship product, the world’s first robotic flight-forming machine.

RoboHelix’s founder and CEO, Hayel Smair, said he started the company as a response to what he saw as major deficiencies within the flight manufacturing industry. What was most evident, he said, was that the sector had failed to innovate and keep up to speed with advances in technology.

“The flight manufacturing industry has been stuck in the same process for over 100 years, with traditional machines used to produce flights using a hydraulic press system which forces them into shape using dyes or dye plates. This manufacturing process has been around since the industrial revolution,” Smair told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

Smair said his background in robotics made him aware of the opportunities for innovation in flight production. “When we started RoboHelix, I took a fresh look at the design and pretty much started the design from a blank slate where I looked at it from a totally different angle than traditional manufacturers would have,” he said. “And that’s how the RoboHelix machine came about as an eight-axis robotic flight-forming machine.”

Smair began by closely looking into how a flight is produced from a flat blank to a helical flight, analysing these movements. “I realised there are certain movements that a flight takes when it is transformed in shape from the disc to helical flight,” he explained. “The RoboHelix machine was created to mimic these mathematically defined natural movements. The machine then reproduces these movements to form a flight.

“The machine also predicts the spring-back of the material being formed and automatically compensates for this by seamlessly driving the servo motors on each axis to a new trajectory giving you a precise flight without worrying about any of material spring-back.”

Traditional flight-forming machines use dyes that correspond to either the pitch and/or the size of the flight. To provide for variation in flights, these machines need many of these expensive and bulky dyes that are heavy and hard to handle. Tooling and setup time often take half an hour to an hour depending on the size of the dye; in almost all cases they have to be lifted in to position using an overhead crane. And, if these dyes get damaged, they need to be repaired or replaced.

The importance of safety

Smair explained that the major advantage of the RoboHelix over traditional flight-forming machines was its flexibility, speed of operation and lack of additional tooling. “You no longer need all those dyes and all the tooling and setup time,” he said. “That helps cut time and costs, whilst having a superior end-product.”

And, further, unlike older methods, the effective operation of the RoboHelix is not dependent upon highly-skilled and experienced workers. “With traditional machines, you need an experienced operator to adjust the dyes and tweak the blank. With the RoboHelix machine, on the other hand, after half an hour of learning the interface anyone can process a flight; you don’t need an experienced person to operate the machine. That’s another key advantage,” said Smair.

“While, traditionally, flight forming is quite a specialised skill, anyone can operate a RoboHelix machine. All that expertise is within the machine. It’s extremely accurate, with movements in each axis down to one hundredth of a millimetre.”

Eliminating dyes from flight production also increases the safety of the process. With traditional flight-forming machines, the operator must continually rotate the blank with their hands while the machine is pressing the blank into shape, meaning their fingers are always millimetres away from the edge of the dyes.

“We have customers who had accidents where their machine operators lost their fingers whilst operating traditional machines. There was no other alternative method to forming flights until the RoboHelix came on the scene,” Smair said. “Our machines eliminate these risks as it has absolutely no interaction between operator and machine during the forming process.”

Partnering for success

While RoboHelix carries out all its research and development (R&D) and design in-house, the company works with several key partner companies in NSW that have expertise in manufacturing like CNC machining and sheet metal fabrication to help produce the machines.

“When we started manufacturing in the early days, we wanted to find the best partners for the particular tasks that we needed. In Australia, there are good manufacturing companies out there, and when you build a solid partnership with a company you are building it for the long-term and not just for one-off jobs”.

“Trying to do absolutely everything in-house is not beneficial: it will cost you more in the long run and the quality will suffer. Building a precise robotic eight-axes machine is not an easy task. There’s lots of heavy-duty welding, stress relieving, advance CNC machining, so you need to have large machines and facilities – it helps having the right partners.”

RoboHelix keeps a tight control on the machine quality, sending its partners detailed drawings and tolerance 3D CAD models; quality and tolerances check is done first by the manufacturing partner and then RoboHelix carries out its own quality control when receiving any of the parts. “This guarantees that everything is built to our standards,” Smair said. “All the designs on the machine are modular, and the good thing about being modular is that you can easily adapt any customisation into the design without changing any of the base units.”

This also enables production to be carried out in parallel via multiple manufacturing partners – thus reducing production time – before finally being assembled at RoboHelix assembly plant. “We’re now in a stage of expansion, we have started the process of moving into a new assembly plant. Previously, we had subleased some floorspace from one of our manufacturing partners, but now we’re looking into having a fully-fledged assembly line due to the high demand for the RoboHelix machines” said Smair.

While for the time-being, RoboHelix is continuing to develop its flight-forming machines, the team is also looking to add more products in the industrial manufacturing space, which Smair said tends to lag behind in technology compared to other sectors where processes and products are quickly integrated into new forms of technology.

Smair said the three core aspects the company will focus on going forward are robotics, cloud-based integration and artificial intelligence. “Australian manufacturing has to think about using more advanced systems to keep up with the rest of the world. We can’t just stick with what’s already existing out there, we have to innovate,” Smair said.

Nominations for the Endeavour Awards 2019 are now open. To submit a nomination visit www.endeavourawards.com.au.