Flexible Feeder Solves Assembly Challenge

Flexible Feeder Solves Assembly Challenge
Assembly Magazine October 2021
By: Gurpreet Bhoot

Medbio is an ISO 13485:2016-certified contract manufacturer of medical devices and injection-molded plastic parts. Headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, the company operates six manufacturing locations throughout Michigan and New York. The company has more than 100 molding presses, ranging in size from 17 tons to 440 tons, contained in an ISO Class 8 clean room. The company also has a micro-molding press contained in a modular, ISO Class 7 clean room. The company’s headquarters facility alone contains four modular, ISO Class 7 clean rooms for assembling and packaging finished products.

Recently, Medbio needed a more efficient way to install threaded brass inserts into injection-molded bosses. Operators were performing the assembly manually and found it challenging to complete accurately and consistently because the inserts are small, and the top and bottom diameters of the inserts are similar. Moreover, the work was repetitive and dull, and Medbio wanted to use its skilled operators more effectively.

The problem, however, was that the company had been unable to find an effective way to automate the process of feeding the inserts, since it was a high-mix operation. In past projects, engineers encountered jamming issues when using bowl feeders to supply the inserts.

Engineered Vision, an Epson Automate Elite Gold partner in Plain City, OH, solved the problem with its Flex-Bot flexible feeding and assembly system.

Unlike bowl feeders, which are designed to feed one part in a high-volume operation, Flex-Bot can accommodate multiple parts and orientations using robots for the pick and place operation. The versatile system can feed metal, plastic or rubber parts. It handles simple and complex parts, ranging from 5 to 40 millimeters in size. Multiaxis vibration technology optimizes part control, singulation and part flipping.

The workhorse of the Flex-Bot system is Epson Robot’s T3 all-in-one SCARA robot with built-in controller. Compact and lightweight, the T3 offers a variety of integrated options, including vision guidance and the IntelliFlex Feeding System, which enables the Flex-Bot system to seamlessly and effectively singulate parts for pick-up.

Flex-Bot is also fully integrated with the intuitive Epson RC+ development software, which makes setup and configuration easy. The point-and-click software interface minimizes program development time from weeks to only days.

“Flex-Bot is a breakthrough system, solving the challenge of high-mix part feeding,” says Seth Brewer, head of business development at Engineered Vision. “Our partnership with Epson Robots has enabled us to deliver greater value and versatility through Flex-Bot and other automation systems, and these innovations are helping our customers make progress toward a more efficient and productive future.”

Flex-Bot can be used as a stand-alone system or integrated with existing equipment. Leveraging IntelliFlex’s vibratory and

smart auto-tuning technology, the system can quickly adapt to different parts and assemblies from job to job. Fast changeover allows Flex-Bot to integrate easily into manufacturing lines that produce multiple products of different shapes and sizes.

In addition to high-mix part feeding, Flex-Bot can also be used for assembly, kitting, tray loading and material handling.

Productivity Improvement

Even before deployment to full production, Flex-Bot has delivered promising results for Medbio. Quality has improved, and with Flex-Bot operating at an average cycle time of 33 seconds per eight-part placements, the company anticipates ROI within two years.

Flex-Bot has also been able to help Medbio meet one of its primary goals for the project: to free its operators from repetitive tasks. The easy-to-use operator interface has even inspired some enthusiasm for previously mundane work.

Additionally, Engineered Vision points out that partnering with Epson has given its team the ability to standardize on a hardware and software platform. This advantage has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in engineering hours required to develop a custom application—and those savings are passed on to the customer.

“The Flex-Bot system provides the functionality and performance we need,” says Jerry Gorrell, director of engineering and Medbio. “And with Epson’s RC+ Development Software, the user interface is very intuitive and easy to use. Our experience has been very positive, and we would definitely use Epson and Engineered Vision again for future automation applications.”