Automated ‘pick & place’ solution ends labour-intensive process

23 Mar 2021

RARUK Automation has supplied Oakmount Control Systems with a new FlexiBowl® parts feeder and Shibaura Machine SCARA robot.

The two automated systems are now working in unison at a customer of Oakmount, where they are feeding, picking and placing a medical product into individual plastic packaging trays. Previously performed by a human operative, the end user is not only enjoying a faster, more repeatable process, but has redeployed its labour resource to a more value-added task.

“The customer had seen a simple pick and place video of ours on LinkedIn, and subsequently made an enquiry,” says John Dawe, Business Development Manager – Factory Automation at Oakmount Control Systems.

“They had an extremely repetitive task that involved someone continuously placing medical products into thermoformed trays. The parts are small and awkward, and it was easy for the operative to mistakenly put two in one tray or miss a tray altogether or drop products on the floor. All these things add up and cost time. Automation was an obvious way to improve the process and make far better use of that person elsewhere.”

In the first instance, cycle-time studies of the existing operation set a goal for the proposed automated solution. Armed with this information, Oakmount teamed up with RARUK to discuss the optimum way of reducing the cycle time and improving process repeatability. The proposal consisted of a FlexiBowl® parts feeder and Shibaura Machine THP700 SCARA robot.

“Shibaura Machine’s simulation software was used to evaluate the optimum cycle-time that could be achieved. The software allows CAD drawings to be integrated and therefore get real-time simulations,” explains Mr Dawe. “We’d used FlexiBowl before, but this was our first project with a SCARA robot, so it was good to get advice from RARUK Automation.

“Once the simulation phase was complete, we returned to our customer with the proposal, the estimated cycle-time and the cost. They were pleased with our recommendation and placed the order.”

Working together in a cleanroom environment at Oakmount’s customer, the hopper fed FlexiBowl feeds the awkwardly shaped medical products on to the rotating flat surface of the FlexiBowl. A camera-based vision system was positioned above the FlexiBowl’s picking area, which then instructs the robot which parts are available to pick.

The SCARA robot then picks up the medical products individually using a vacuum pad and places each one into the required plastic packaging pocket as they emerge from the thermoforming machine. As the trays fill (five trays per row) they move along the production line to a vacuum bagging operation, after which further vision systems confirm that the parts and labels are in place. A single control panel –designed and manufactured by Oakmount – oversees the entire operation.

There are two variants of the medical product that require packaging. However, the system devised by Oakmount has been purpose-designed to accommodate both with an extremely short changeover time. The only aspects that need to change when switching products are the robot program and the image of the part to pick.

Watch a short product video on the THP700 SCARA robot here.

For more information on RARUK Automation, visit: