The filtration specialists at Mann+Hummel have implemented a pilot project at the Speyer plant, introducing a robot application that combines a cobot, a vision sensor from SensoPart and automation software to achieve a flexible production method. The aim was to find a simple solution that would also serve as a model for further future automation, as MEPCA discovered.
Based in Ludwigsburg, Germany, Mann+Hummel is a global filtration specialist which employs 20,000 people at 80 locations worldwide. The Speyer plant manufactures industrial filters, so-called air/oil separators, as well as air filters for the construction sector and agricultural machinery. The different product versions and quantities to be manufactured are highly variable, which has meant that conventional automation solutions with robots have only been used in isolated cases until now. The aim of the pilot project, which began in 2018, was to develop a flexible automation strategy suited to the high-mix, low-volume production method in use at the plant.
For the pilot application, Mann+Hummel chose a step that had hitherto been executed manually. In this process, air/oil separators are supplied in a pallet cage, partially sorted and stacked in several separate layers. The cobot uses a suction gripper to seize one or two units from the pallet cage and places them on a conveyor belt, which then transports the filters to a screen-printing machine. The position of these parts is detected by a vision sensor installed securely above the pallet cage. As there are different air/oil separator variants, it was essential that the detection process could be easily adapted to changing models. Mann+Hummel also placed great emphasis on the robustness of the process, as external influences cannot be excluded during production.
Vision sensor and robot programming suite
The system finally selected by Mann+Hummel consists of a cobot from Universal Robots, a vision sensor from SensoPart’s VISOR Robotic series, specially designed for robot applications, and the Robot Programming Suite (RPS) from ArtiMinds. Thanks to the graphical user interface, the desired sequence of tasks can be put together from pre-programmed function modules using drag & drop. In the next step, the user configures the parameters of the individual sub-processes, either in the software’s simulation environment or directly on the actual robot. Finally, the RPS automatically generates the source code for the specific robot system. No manual programming is required.
In addition to teaching in the robot’s movement patterns, just a few image processing settings are needed in the VISOR configuration software, which has several different detector types to enable product recognition even in difficult conditions. VISOR Robotic offers an image resolution of up to 5MP, as well as extensive configuration options. The detection results can be transmitted to the robot via special interface modules.
At Mann+Hummel, ArtiMinds RPS plays the role of the interface to all hardware components, significantly minimising setup and programming effort. If required, a force-torque sensor, for example, can also be integrated into the overall system alongside the vision sensor. Prior testing of the application is possible thanks to simulation. The configured robot program can be tested in advance in the Artiminds RPS 3D-simulation environment. A CAD model of the pallet cage has therefore been integrated to prevent unwanted contact or collisions between the robot and the cage.
No more need for complex programming
The result is a transparent and robust robot application, which also fully complies with the flexibility demanded. In the event of a product changeover, the factory employees can easily adapt the automation process. Modifications can be made either online, directly on the robot, or offline. The robot program generated with ArtiMinds RPS then runs autonomously on the controller in the robot’s original source code, without writing a single additional line of code.
Sascha Mummert, Technology and Process Engineer at Mann+Hummel, summarised: “The successful implementation of our pilot plant in Speyer has proven that with suitable components and the right software, even complex robot applications can be flexibly executed by our company’s employees.”
Seamless integration of the cobot and vision sensor, aided by ArtiMinds RPS software, was decisive for the success of this pilot project. The know-how acquired during the setup of this sensor-guided robot application is highly valued and will serve as a model for further automation solutions – in Speyer and other Mann+Hummel plants. Once an application has been developed in ArtiMinds RPS, it is easily transferred to other robot systems, where it can be implemented very quickly.