Ticking Away at Production Times

Jan. 1, 2010
An Indian watch manufacturer uses robotic vision to double production volumes and free up labor resources for other tasks.

Based in Tamil Nadu, India, Titan Industries has manufactured more than 100 million wrist watches since its founding in 1984. Today, the company supplies watches and related components to nearly 250 showrooms and 700 after-sales service centers. Its watches are distributed throughout India as well as to the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia, Oman and the Philippines.

In Titan’s manufacturing facility, employees were manually loading parts for watch cases onto a production line where component connections were machined. Loading, unloading and machining parts was repetitious, so each operator could only work on the process for three hours at a time.

Believing that skilled employee resources could be better used elsewhere in the production facility, plant managers started to consider automating the process to free valuable human resources from this tedious step.

“After researching the options available from all of the leading automation manufacturers, we determined that a four-axis robot, combined with a vision system, might fit the bill,” recalls Ravi Chandran, senior manager at Titan’s watch case plant.

Since the process required horizontal loading, Chandran chose a four-axis robot over the more dexterous, more costly six-axis model. The self-contained robot came with software that could be used to develop customized vision guidance and inspection procedures.

“Once we installed the software and went through the help menu, we found that the programming language was similar to MS DOS version of ‘C’ software,” says Chandran. “This, coupled with the sample program and help file, made our job much easier. In all, we were up and running in a couple of weeks.”

Titan engineers designed a gripper, conveyor and additional parts for the workcell, so the company only needed to purchase the robot and vision system.

Automation Results
Since the robot attends a set of three machines, Titan was able to reduce the number of operators required from three to one employee per shift. The company runs two shifts, so automating this process freed up a total of four operators per day for other tasks.

Now that the need for manual loading is eliminated, the single operator’s only task is to set the line and inspect components. Setting the robot after setting the machine takes five minutes, thanks to a z-axis brake release switch that completes the robot setting.

Currently, one operator brings a stack of trays containing 25 to 50 components per tray, depending on the size of the parts being worked on that day. The trays are fed into the work area automatically as needed. The robot picks up a part and places it on a stage, and the vision system captures an image and orients the part. The robot then picks the component from the stage and places it into the first of three machines that complete the machining process.

As each machining process is completed, the robot moves the machined component to the next machine. Stages between the machines are used as resting points for parts while the robot unloads a part from one machine to prepare it for the next component. The robot continuously loads and unloads the parts through each of the three machines and finally unloads the completed piece from the third machine. So, the robot is continually loading and unloading parts as each piece moves from one machine to the next to complete the three-step machining process. The entire sequence takes approximately 15 seconds.

Now that the process is almost fully automated, the company’s volume in an eight-hour shift has doubled, from 750 to 1,500 pieces processed per shift.

“With doubling our production and freeing up a total of four employees to work on other projects, I would say that, through this project, we anticipate a return on investment of less than 12 months,” says Chandran. “This easily justifies using automation, and we hope to automate other processes going forward.”

Rush LaSelle is director of worldwide sales and marketing for Adept Technology Inc., a supplier of vision-guided robotic systems.

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