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To be effective, research and development (R&D) projects require close collaboration and knowledge exchange between universities and private companies. The consortium consisting of 4 research institutions and 5 companies introduced to the manufacturers the new reconfigurable assembly workcell, ReconCell. The team of researchers and business experts took a challenge of creating a new, fully reconfigurable autonomous robotic workcell for fast setup of automated assembly processes in small- and medium manufacturing enterprises (SMEs).
Fast-changing production needs challenge manufacturing companies
Dealing with the fast-changing production needs and manufacturing a product with different design qualities imply a frequent necessity of changing the tools and fixtures on the production site. This is not only time consuming but also very costly, especially for SMEs that often manufacture and assembly small volumes of different products or customize them to their clients’ needs. A company can easily spend €85.000 or more on one reconfiguration process. This raises a need for a new, completely flexible and reconfigurable robot workcell that could easily adapt to assembling different kinds of manufactured parts. The solution has to be easy to use, quick to set up, productive, and flexible.
Knowledge sharing is the key. Once the researchers, engineers, and companies defined the potential for the development of the new autonomous workcell, the consortium applied for funding from the European programme, Horizon 2020 under the I4MS initiative in February 2015, and received the support for the new ReconCell project. The partners knew each other’s competencies well from the previous projects and collaborations. The work was divided according to each partner’s specialization.
While the ReconCell was carefully designed and developed, Blue Ocean Robotics was responsible for defining the product roadmap consisting of industry and business analysis, and contacting the potential users of the new solutions in order to fully understand their needs and requirements. This was a crucial step towards creating a solution that would be a precise response to the challenges faced by the manufacturers dealing with the parts assembling and long change-over time between the batches of products. The information acquired from the market allowed implementing desired improvements during the early stage of the development. Based on the market analysis, Blue Ocean Robotics created a business model defining the benefits that the ReconCell will bring to the SMEs. Blue Ocean Robotics also used their experience to commercialize the new workcell. Based on mapping different buying-selling behaviors on the industry market, the company has already co-created INHANCER, a new collaborative web-based digital platform to support the complex selling process. INHANCER will increase lead generation and collect feedback from potential customers or development collaborators about the new robotic solution.
The ReconCell consortium is in the process of conducting the experiments involving three companies dealing with parts assembling – Elvez, Logicdata and Precizika Metal, and is now holding an open call for other companies interested in participating in the testing process. The tests aim at optimizing the functioning of ReconCell. So far, the results showed that ReconCell can provide a lot of savings in building and storing new tools and fixtures for parts assembly while maintaining the same production capacity. ReconCell makes the assembly process easier and reduces change-over time by 20% for completely new assembly process and up to 40% for a predefined ones. ReconCell also facilitates flexibility in terms of handling variety of items what reduces the lead time. It gathers and stores the data about the work and based on that can optimize the assembly process. Future developments will allow multiple ReconCells to generate big data enabling companies to create real Industry 4.0 manufacturing plants.
ReconCell use cases proved that this is an innovative, completely reconfigurable workcell for the manufacturers that features:
Easy to use technology
Product quality control
Flexibility of the product
Flexibility of volume
Big data enabling companies to create real Industry 4.0 manufacturing plants
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