Factory automation & robotics

Dresspacks & cables – robot-powered entertainment dazzles on the high seas

As they look to attract a younger generation of passengers, cruise lines are setting new standards for high-tech, action-packed entertainment that rivals Las Vegas. One leading cruise line is making waves with a colossal robotic screen system equipped with dresspacks and cables from LEONI.

The heart of the ship is a multi-level entertainment space offering a breathtaking 270° panoramic view of the ocean. Gigantic floor-to-ceiling glass walls that span almost three decks at the cruise ship’s stern combine to form a surface that is over 30 meters long and 6 meters high. This surface can be used as a projector screen and turned into a massive viewing area. With a 12K resolution (11,520 x 2,160 pixels), the surface creates a stunning backdrop that can be used by the varied and versatile entertainment program that takes place on the dynamic stage before it.

Center-stage when showtime comes is the robotic screen entertainment system, made possible by the combined efforts of the cruise line, Robotic Arts, ABB Robotics, and LEONI. A gantry system consisting of six ABB IRB 6620 robots — equipped with LEONI dresspacks and cables and tipping the scales at 8.2 metric tons — is used to control the attached user-programmable screens. And since every robot has six axes, there’s plenty to control. What’s more, each robot can also move from left to right and up and down. So there are in fact a total of 48 axes that need to be coordinated and synchronized for each sequence of movement.

What, then, was LEONI’s contribution to this groundbreaking project? For a total of three vessels, LEONI supplied all of the black dresspack systems (axis 1 to 6), the SLS line retract systems, and the robot’s fiber optic and power cables. Four of our companies were involved in the project: LEONI Engineering Products and Services as the coordinating company; LEONI Elocab; LEONI Fiber Optics; and LEONI protec cable systems, which equipped the six robots with dresspacks locally and delivered them directly to the shipyard. Careful planning was essential, since there was only a small window of time for supplying the machinery before the vessel’s primary deck was closed.

The combination of robots and screens now powers a kind of entertainment never seen before, where the robotic screens themselves become performers, interacting with dancers, acrobats, and vocalists to deliver a high-speed, energy-packed show. With the vessel’s inaugural season now complete, it’s clear that the robotic screen entertainment project has been a complete success. And LEONI is part of this spectacular show on the high seas.

Dresspacks – boosting uptime for automotive laser welding

In the race to meet fuel economy regulations, the automotive industry is turning to aluminum more frequently because of the material’s lightweight, fuel-efficient properties. Fabricating Full vehicle aluminum body frames often relies on automated laser welding, but one of the many challenges with this process is selecting a cable management system that tolerates the robots’ repetitive motion.

Mercedes-Benz has seven robotic workcells in one of its manufacturing facilities that fabricate aluminum automotive frames using laser welding. The fiber-optic cables that delivered power to the laser head to weld the aluminum together had been experiencing problems withstanding the trajectory of the robot and its very-high-duty-cycle performance. As a result, every three months, technicians had to assess, repair or replace a broken cable.

“Laser welding systems are delicate, and when something fails, there’s a tremendous cost in both downtime and components,” says Dave Jack, Technical Sales Engineer for the Robotic Solutions Group at LEONI Engineering Products & Services, Inc. (Lake Orion, MI).

To prevent further downtime and reduce component costs, Mercedes-Benz approached LEONI for a solution. The company introduced the automaker to the LSH 3, an umbilical system, or dress pack, of integrated cables and hoses servicing the robot’s end-of-arm tooling.

As part of a one-year test run, LEONI installed a single umbilical application in December 2014 that protected all the umbilicals – air, water, fiber optic laser delivery, etc. – for one robotic workcell. The cable operated until December 2015 without any need for replacement, resulting in 100% uptime and a return on investment within one year.

Based on the success of the test run, Mercedes-Benz wanted to apply the dress pack to the six remaining work cells. To further improve the design, Mercedes engineers asked LEONI to develop a dual LSH 3 umbilical system. The first umbilical provides all the power, communications, cooling water, and air to the robot’s end-of-arm tooling. The second umbilical run the fiber optics separately to ease mean time to repair should the cable go down.

“They estimated they would save at least an hour in maintenance time by enabling easier access with the second separate dress pack,“ Jack says.

The technicians haven’t had a chance to confirm their projections, however, because the umbilicals have experienced no failures since installation in December 2015. Additionally, the original umbilical application installed in December 2014 continues to operate flawlessly.

The LSH 3 dress packs accomplish 100% uptime because they are designed with zero load on the connecting points at the end of arm tooling and have good minimal band radius maintained on the components. The LSH 3’s front retract system allows the dress pack to pull the required slack and return it to a relaxed position. That means no loops are hanging out to get caught on tooling. The LSH 3’s design results in the least amount of wear on the umbilical systems.

LEONI technicians and the Mercedes-Benz robotic workcell programmers collaborated to set mechanical parameters on the dress pack itself. “Every LSH 3 is application-driven based on the type of program variables that are in place, such as force, weight, speed and cycles,” Jack says. “We optimized the system by working together.”

Once LEONI set up the first robot with the dual umbilical system, the Mercedes-Benz team successfully installed the dress packs on the six other robotic workcells. The project resulted in a “win-win situation that lasts a year or better with no single component replacement or downtime event,” Jack says.

Machine Vision – development of mobile QA testbed

fischer Automotive Systems, a global manufacturer of kinematic cup holders and various automotive interior trim parts, was tasked with molding seven different styles of interlocking parts that form a center console for an innovative auto manufacturer focused on pushing the envelope in technology, styling, and customer satisfaction.

Manufactured on multiple injection molding lines, the parts required high quality for dimensional tolerances, repeatable shape and consistency, accurate interlocking features and subcomponents, validation of intricate safety interlocking details, and seamless interaction of moving parts.

To accurately meet these requirements, fischer selected a high-end machine vision inspection system from Keyence. The system, which comprises 16 cameras all the way up to 21 megapixels, aligns with fischer’s priority to incorporate Industry 4.0 types of systems with advanced automation and cutting-edge technology. However, the technical expertise necessary to integrate the machine vision components into fischer’s production environment surpassed the capabilities of the machine builder who provided the manufacturing equipment.

In response, fischer reached out to machine vision integrating experts at LEONI EPS Machine Vision Solutions group. “The overall goal of the project was to incorporate a quality inspection system that provided repeatable measurements for all of the required inspections that would not be subjective or impacted by variation,” says Andy Reed, Technical Sales, Vision for LEONI.

LEONI develops mobile QA testbed

Upon balancing the customer’s inspection and budget requirements, LEONI developed an off-line quality bench with dedicated inspection stations for each of the seven part types for eight total parts. Each station has a dedicated part nest, operator interface, and array of cameras, lighting, and sensor technology to perform required inspections — 81 in all — specific to each part. One station is configured to inspect two parts at once, as they are required to be assembled in pairs for a left-hand and right-hand implementation. The vision system inspects parts up to 18 inches long looking down to ± .1 mm deviation.

The inspection data is collected from the cameras into a programmable logic controller (PLC) and fed to a statistical process control (SPC) analysis package. SPC is a methodology that measures both manufacturing process capability, as well as part quality and repeatability, with the ultimate goal of continual process improvement and total quality control.

Even though the machine vision system is in its infancy, it already is garnering praise and attention. fischer Automotive has demonstrated the system’s capabilities to delegations from several OEM automotive companies with impressive results. Detailed information on the system has been sent to the company’s global headquarters in Horb, Germany, for future development and implementation in upcoming production launches.

“This was a quality initiative for fischer Automotive Systems to prove to their end customer that they can assure them with a fully documented, automated data collection system using a repeatable, objective inspection approach,” Reed says. “LEONI Machine Vision Solutions delivered exactly what the customer wanted.”

Machine Vision – tire and wheel inspection

Colored tire & wheel assemblies confound proprietary machine vision system

A manufacturer of automotive tire and rim assemblies asked LEONI's Machine Vision Solutions group's integrators to develop a reconfigurable machine vision system that could perform tire and wheel inspection of different colors for a variety of tire models, look for defects on both parts, confirm the correct tire was to be installed on the rim based on production data from the plant network, and verify the assembly afterward.

The existing machine vision system had difficulty distinguishing between rims of different colors. The tire and wheel inspection system was developed with proprietary software that could not be reconfigured for new product lines. As a result, the automotive parts manufacturer regularly places the older machine vision system in bypass mode.

Monochrome solution cost-effectively solves color challenges

A color camera-based machine vision solution would do a better job at differentiating between different colored rims that share the same geometry, but it also would add to the system costs. LEONI's machine vision integrators developed a monochrome machine vision system based on five Basler ACE cameras with Midwest Optical filters and a combination of Metaphase blue dome lights, and Smart Vision Lights infrared brick lights and blue linear lights that easily could distinguish between different rim colors based solely on intensity values. The machine vision cameras were used to quickly perform a number of tire and wheel inspections, including an overhead camera for tire verification by treat, another camera with a backlight to measure the tire's inner diameter, a blue dome light to identify and inspect the rim without causing hot spots or bright spots on the metal rim's surface, and another pair of cameras for verifying the final assembly.

LEONI Machine Vision Solution's tire and wheel inspection system greatly improved the accuracy of the machine vision system to differentiate between rims of different colors regardless of changes in surface texture. The new system also verified the placement of tire valve stems and greatly reduced the amount of rework, improving the relationship between the tier one and the OEM customer. The reprogrammable machine vision system, complete with technical documentation and training from LEONI, is a budget-conscience solution that empowered the customer to be in charge of their own automation systems. This will benefit the automotive parts manufacturer through greater flexibility when adding new product lines.

LEONI Machine Vision Solutions groups is an industry-leading machine vision integrator, developing color inspection, parts assembly inspection and machine tending solutions for companies in automotive, aerospace, food and beverage, consumer packaged goods (CPG), and general manufacturing markets. Please contact us for more information on how our machine vision integrator services can improve your automotive parts sorting process.

Machine Vision – improving porosity part inspection and machine tending process

Cast metal poses parts inspection, manufacturing process challenges

Cast metal parts are regularly used in automotive engine designs. These parts need to be fully sealed so that gases and liquids cannot escape. Porosity, or small voids created by gases escaping the molten metal in the cast mold, reduces the strength of the cast metal part and can mean a part cannot be sealed through coating, gasket, or other method.

A tier one automotive supplier needed LEONI Machine Vision Solutions to study, design and commission a machine vision system to improve its porosity part inspection and machine tending process. The automotive part inspection system needed to do the job of several manual inspectors while quantifying the porosity of cast metal parts with the same alacrity as human inspectors for process control.

Lighting key to automotive parts inspection solution

Creating a vision system that can identify voids or gaps in a flat surface is fairly straightforward; place the light and camera at low angles relative to the part's surface. The light will not reach the bottom of the void, and the void will appear as a dark spot on the camera's image. However, many automotive cast metal parts have curved surfaces, making porosity parts inspection and statistical analysis more complicated.

LEONI machine vision integrators realized lighting was the key to success when it came to porosity analysis on cast metal parts. After testing linear lights, dome lights, brick lights, and combinations of each from a number of vendors, machine vision integrators chose a CCS red ring light with matching bandpass filters. Engineers designed the machine vision system with the light mounted three-feet above the part, allowing for robotic machine tending of the porosity inspection station, while improving contrast between pores and metal surfaces across the curved face of the part. The customer was able to eliminate their manual automotive parts inspection system, and increase throughput by adopting this automated porosity inspection and machine tending system.

LEONI Machine Vision Solutions group is an industry-leading machine vision integrator, developing parts inspection and machine tending solutions for companies in automotive, aerospace, food and beverage, consumer packaged goods (CPG), and general manufacturing markets. Please contact us for more information on how our machine vision integrator services can improve your automotive parts sorting process.

Machine Vision – development of automotive parts inspection system confirming number of parts on complete automotive axel assembly

Mechanical engineering challenges undermined legacy smart camera solution

A tier 1 supplier of automotive assemblies contacted LEONI's machine vision integrators with a request to develop an automotive parts inspection system that could confirm a number of parts on a complete automotive axel assembly, including the correct brake pads; the correct caliper for the brake rotors, brake line plug and bleeder valve cap; and the proper orientation of all parts. The automotive part inspection application included a number of design challenges, including varying colors of brake pads depending on the car model as well as wheels that were free to turn, which meant the brakes could be in one of several orientations to the camera.

Unique assembly inspection retrofit solution saves production floor space

LEONI Machine Vision Solutions' answer was to replace an aging smart camera machine vision system with newer smart camera system technology that offered greater processing cabapility. The first step was to design a motion-controlled mechanical fixture that would limit axel movement to within 1.5 degrees of freedom versus 6 degrees without the fixture. Due to a lack of space in the work area, LEONI's machine vision integrators designed the fixture to mount to the door of the flexible enclosure so the workspace still would be available to workers for maintenance. This ensured the brake assemblies were facing the smart camera and workers had access to the equipment, but the white stripes painted on the brake pads to help identify them remained inconsistent.

Following an engineering feasibility study, LEONI Machine Vision Solutions group engineers designed a unique machine vision system that combined software filtering with optical filters from Midwest Optical (BP850-27, infrared filter) to preprocess images from three Basler ACE ACA780-75gm smart cameras to make the brake pads clearly visible for automated defect analysis. Finally, LEONI's machine vision integrators used the industrial data standard, OLE for Process Control (OPC), to allow the machine vision system to communicate with the axel fixture as well as upstream and downstream equipment regardless of PLC make or manufacture.

Machine vision integration, engineering skills stop false alarms

Prior to LEONI Machine Vision Solutions group's process, the existing brake inspection machine vision system was very unreliable, regularly issuing false alarms. Knowing the older assembly inspection system had difficulties doing its job, workers would visually confirm when the smart camera said there was a defect, which reduced cycle time, eventually leading workers to turn off the older machine vision system. LEONI Machine Vision Solutions group's brake assembly inspection system, which was made possible by extensive knowledge in machine vision, mechanical engineering, and PLC programming, worked perfectly to improve the automotive parts inspection process.

LEONI Machine Vision Solutions group is an industry-leading machine vision integrator, developing assembly inspection solutions for companies in automotive, aerospace, food and beverage, consumer packaged goods (CPG), and general manufacturing markets. Please contact us for more information on how our machine vision integrator services can improve your automotive parts sorting process.

Machine Vision – inspection solution to ensure proper orientation of glass panels

When a new standard or regulation goes into effect, manufacturers must find efficient ways to adapt their processes accordingly. A major home appliance manufacturer felt such pressure when it had to utilize special glass with a special film applied because of changing requirements over how much heat can radiate out of an oven’s glass window opening.

Because the coating is expensive, the company did not want to put it on both sides of the glass. To ensure the glass panel was properly oriented prior to final assembly, the company reached out to LEONI Engineering Products & Services, Inc. (LEPS), for a machine vision inspection solution.

With a turnaround time of less than two months, LEPS customized a turnkey system that integrated not only machine vision but also controls, sensors, tooling, and fixturing. Workers start the assembly process by laying down the oven door frame and putting the film-covered glass in it. Then, a Cognex camera looks for a small identifier printed on one of the film’s corners.

However, some of the doors have two layers of glass, both of which require confirmation that the coatings faced the right direction. Because the camera cannot see the bottom layer of glass on the doors, the system verifies proper placement of the film using sensors that perform an electrical resistance check of the transparent metallic coating.

Once the vision system and/or sensors confirm the glass is properly oriented, the pneumatic screw gun is activated so workers can complete the door’s final assembly.

The project marked a big win for LEPS, which has been working closely with the home appliance manufacturer over the last two years to demonstrate the benefits of machine vision and supporting technologies.

“When this opportunity came up, they felt very confident we could take on the whole project,” says Jim Reed, Technical Sales Vision Solutions, Business Unit Robotic Solutions for LEPS. “Many companies do machine vision, but not a full station with all the tooling like we provided.”

Since its installation six months ago, the inspection/assembly system has delivered accurate, repeatable results, allowing the manufacturer to stay nimble in the face of evolving standards and regulations.

Machine Vision – automate palletizing/depalletizing and machine-tending workcells

Need to Automate Manual Palletizing/Depalletizing Solution

A tier one automotive parts manufacturer contacted LEONI Machine Vision, looking for a machine vision integrator to design and commission a vision-guided robot workcell to automate palletizing/depalletizing and machine-tending workcells. Under the old systems, the manufacturer used two-person machine tending teams to manually load automotive engine heads from special shipping pallets into baskets for heat treatment in an industrial furnace. After the heat treatment, another team of workers would unload the baskets and place the engine heads back into the shipping containers for delivery to the automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

Because the heat treatment cycle took more time than the machine tending operations, including loading and unloading of the pallets, throughput was not a primary driver to use machine vision to automate the machine tending/palletizing/depalletizing process. However, each engine head weighed more than 30 pounds. Workers were supposed to use lift-assist equipment to load and unload both the containers and heat treatment baskets, but they often bypassed the lift-assist equipment in favor of faster operations. As a result, workers suffered from repetitive stress injuries and ultimately placed their safety at risk.

Machine vision guided robot engineering feasibility study

LEONI Machine Vision integrators performed an engineering feasibility study on the machine tending-palletizing-depalletizing workcell and determined that a single robot could perform the job of each worker team while allowing the company to go to a three-shift, 24-hour operation with lower overhead costs. The design faced several challenges, however. Neither the pallets nor the heat treatment baskets were developed with automation in mind, which meant each container/basket varied in size, shape, and volume. Engine heads arrived in shipping containers with two-by-two-inch boards used to separate layers in the container, all of which would have to be removed by the robot before the next layer of products could be loaded into the baskets.

After heat treatment, the robot would have to replace the boards in the shipping container between layers. The random location of the engine heads in the shipping containers, the board separators, and the inconsistent shape of the heat treatment baskets all meant the robot would need 2D machine vision robot guidance during the machine tending, depalletizing, basket loading, and palletizing steps. Furthermore, features on each engine head made it difficult for the industrial cameras to distinguish between the wooden separators and engine heads on lower layers, necessitating the use of laser line generators and single-camera 3D machine vision robotic guidance to fully automate the application.

Vision Guided Robot Machine Tending Reduces Manufacturing Costs

LEONI Machine Vision Solutions group engineers integrated Basler ACE acA2500-14GM industrial cameras with Schott ML-H0514MP and ML-H0814MP lenses and Midwest Optical color filters to improve image contrast above the palletizing, basket, and depalletizing stations. Each work area was illuminated with a combination of Smart Vision ODL300-470-W blue linear LED lights and ODR130-470 ring lights. Using commercial, off-the-shelf image-processing software and images from the fixed camera connected to a nearby PC, the ceiling-mounted cameras provided rough 2D robot guidance to each container/basket. For fine controls, including the removal/replacement of wood separators and the loading/unloading of each heat treatment basket, engineers mounted Basler cameras on each robot arm and used Global Laser LMV/660/50/A/1850 and Edmund Optics Stingray 640nm 35mW red laser line generators to provide visual features that could be converted into 3D location data for robot guidance using images and specialized machine vision software. LEONI was able to automate this workcell using the customer's existing - and aging - robots, which required some custom scripting for the robotic controller and unique data handling to allow the various vision systems to communicate with each robot using a single RS232 port. This solution was made possible by the specialized robotic programming and training capabilities of LEONI's Automation Systems Training business unit, as well as LEONI Machine Vision Solutions group.

LEONI Machine Vision Solutions group is an industry-leading machine vision integrator, developing machine vision robot guidance solutions for industries such as automotive, aerospace, food and beverage, consumer packaged goods (CPG), and general manufacturing to improve worker safety and reduce overhead costs. Please contact us for more information on how our machine vision integrator services can improve your automotive parts sorting process.