Wisconsin Fabricator Adjusts on the Fly -- Because They Had To

In the contract machining and fabrication business, change is a fact of life. For Wisconsin-based WST Fab, a large customer order unexpectedly fell through on the day the company received its new cobot from Universal Robots, which was to be used in a machine tending system that was specifically designed for that part. So, what did they do?

Since UR Certified Systems Integrator (CSI) PCC Robotics focuses on "handing over the keys" to the customer with full knowledge transfer, the WST Fab team didn’t miss a beat. Within days, they were able to reprogram the cobot, adapt the versatile fixturing, and 3D-print new grippers, and can now run a dozen different parts on the system.

The Business Transformation

WST Fab had explored traditional automation but needed the versatility of cobots that can be moved or redeployed as business demands change. The cobot also allows them to fully utilize existing equipment, while a traditional robot would have required a dedicated CNC machine that could only run certain parts. Charlie Lenn, general manager at WST Fab says, "From a cost standpoint, to invest $550,000 into an industrial robot that’s in a fixed position versus probably a third of the cost for a heavier-duty cobot that we can then move somewhere else if we need to, it just feels a lot safer."

VIDEO: Ease of Programming Extends Cobot Use after Drop in Customer Order

Timm Abel, WST Fab operations manager, adds, "We can put a cobot in place, do this job, and pull everything out, and have the same machine we had before we started. And this is in a matter of hours, not days. That's how we’ll grow our business in the robot world -- versatility."

Based on its experience with the Universal Robots’ UR10e machine tending cobot, WST Fab continues to push its automation goals. The availability of UR’s bigger, faster, and stronger cobots gives them even more options to handle larger or unwieldy parts in the future. Lenn explains, "We're always asking ourselves what more can it do? How can we challenge it? Can we ask PCC for bigger, stronger, faster cobots, so that we can use them in other applications?" He adds, "I bet you we talk weekly about what can we automate. Can we use a cobot on the press brake? Can we use it on a turning center? Where is the next spot for it?"

How They Did It

Maximizing Efficiency with PCC Robotics and UR10e Cobots

The WST Fab team had worked closely with PCC Robotics to plan for the complete machine tending system. It included the UR10e cobot, end-of-arm tooling, system base, staging for raw materials and finished parts, as well as full integration with the CNC machine. PCC Robotics ensures that each customer is fully trained, using both the online UR Academy modules as well as onsite instruction.

Tyler Schuh, WST Fab manufacturing engineer says, "Working with the UR, if you first look at the pendant and you don't know anything about it, it's a little scary. But then you start playing with it, and it's so easy to learn. I trained two other people how to do basic setups already, and I'd guarantee if I go back to them now, they can make simple programs and they'd figure it out just like I did. It's amazingly simple and easy to work with."

Dan Carney, general manager of PCC Robotics says, "To see what Tyler did, not only to pivot that first week and make something happen, but to take that and run with it over the course of months, execute a number of different geometries, different work holding, different gripper fingers, seeing a staging solution that was completely redesigned on the fly. It's the way it should be every time. It's a testament to how we've designed our business, and it's a testament to Universal Robots' programming environment."

Complete Package

PCC Robotics delivered a completely integrated system to WST Fab, including the UR10e cobot, end-of-arm tooling, system base, staging for raw materials and finished parts, as well as full integration with CNC machine.

Universal staging and fixturing design from PCC Robotics allowed WST Fab to easily pivot to new parts and processes when customer demand changed.

3D Printed Grippers

WST Fab was able to quickly adapt the system to new parts and processes using 3D-printed grippers.

Dual grippers help optimize machine utilization by unloading a finished part and loading a new raw part in one action.

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