Winner: The Dulux Group and Robotic Automation P/L
Project: Robotic Compositing, Handling & Stocking System
Location: Dandenong South, Victoria
A robotic system developed by the Dulux Group and Robotic Automation was implemented to assist workers handling hazardous powders. The Dulux Group is a manufacturer and marketer of products that protect, maintain and enhance the spaces and places for life and work.
The challenge arose on account of the need for several complex powder ingredients for a customised powder-coat process. This required the Dulux Group staff to handle and decant loose, heavy bags of powders, in different sizes weighing 20-25 kg each.
The existing powder handling process resulted in a hazardous work environment saturated with fine powder dust that hangs in the air. This dust presents a respiratory danger to staff and has the potential to reach combustible intensities.
When settled, the dust can render the floor slippery, staff were required to wear hot and uncomfortable respirators, bodysuits and other safety wear while at the same time working accurately with each powder ingredient to composite the correct coating product type in the exact colour/shade specified by the customer.
According to Dulux, the work was tiring, uncomfortable, hazardous and repetitive. The compositing process was accumulating a number of concerns mistakes in batch compositing, workplace injuries, labour costs.
Due to limitations and inefficiencies of the current production, an onerous minimum batch size of custom orders had to placed on customers to ensure profitability.
The Dulux Group wished to explore the potential for an automated solution to address these concerns. This solution could also concentrate all this custom-production in their new facility in Dandenong.
Category sponsor Dave Delany (L), Managing Director, ifm efector presents the trophy to Colin Wells, Managing Director, Robotic Automation.
Dulux and Robotic Automation worked together to develop a Centralised Make-up Facility, which consisted of the Major Materials Robotic Loading System, the Minor Materials Robotic Loading system and a SCADA system.
The SCADA system governs the total solution and takes each unique batch order via a database management system connected to Dulux Group’s SAP setup. HMI touch-screens are used as the interface.
When the process begins, the SAP system pushes the production schedule down to the database. From here, the production managers can manipulate the batches to run.
The recipes are pushed to the control system which checks the stock of each ingredient powder stored in either dispensing hoppers or as sacks on pallets and then outputs a loading plan to the robots.
These robots were enhanced with extra body and sealing protection to safely work in combustible ‘Zone 21’ hazardous environment.
According to Robotic Automation these three Robotic Chefs set about their tasks to stock, handle, pour, mix or more basically cook up a perfect powder-coating product to order.
Speaking of the win during the awards night, Colin Wells, managing director of Robotic Automation, said combining consistency with automation was a big challenge.
“We faced the challenge of getting many different ingredients to all mix up in exactly the right recipe for somebody’s paint, in any part of the country, so when it’s slapped on a wall, it’s the same colour as the others. That’s the challenge, trying to do that automatically.”
The tasks of these robots include fetching sacks of ingredient powder from pallet racks. The Fetching Robot has been fitted with a vacuum gripping tool specially designed to seal and lift even these dusty and irregular surfaces, plus a side-mounted holding table so that it can pick and store several bags before delivering them to the Major Materials Load Station.
As the robot fetches sacks from each pallet, the Control System is automatically updated with the balance of each powder stock. At the Major Materials station, the Loading Robot receives each sack from the Fetching Robot.
Using a custom-designed End-of-Arm Tool (EOAT), this robot slits them open and carefully pours the powder from each into their respective storage hoppers, 130 of them in total.
The Mixing Robot then fetches and tends between the three mixing machines and a large rack of 130 different ingredient hoppers which are ready for use in custom orders. This comprises the Minor Materials Loading Station.
Finally, the robot delivers finished pails of coating mix back to the Loading Robot. To receive them, this robot automatically changes its sack-decanting EOAT to a pail-gripping EOAT.
It raises the pails, and empties them into the main, completed-batch hopper. As a result the robotic system, it has improved safety by redeploying nine employees (over three shifts per day) from a hazardous and uncomfortable work environment.
It has eliminated OH&S incidents in the process, labour and management costs have been reduced, as has the staff turn over rate.
The judges said: “This is a well engineered solution to improve productivity and workplace safety. It redeployed workers out of hazardous work areas. This is a good implementation of automated manufacturing delivering tangible benefits."
Check out all the Finalists in the Automotive and Manufacturing category.
The 2011 Zenith Automotive and Manufacturing Award is sponsored by ifm efector.
ifm efector is a German-based manufacturer of high quality and innovative sensors and controls for industrial automation, providing the right combination of German engineering and local service and support. From inductive and flow sensors to pressure and temperature sensors, from an individual sensor to a complete system solution, you will find sensor and control products to suit your requirements.