The need for composite materials is rising in many Industries and robotics has come to the rescue. Equipment in industries such as sports, construction and transportation need composite materials. Composite manufacturing is challenging but with the flexibility of industrial robots, it gets easier.
Human workers would find an environment filled with resins and solvents unhealthy to work in. Robots do not have such concerns. Moreover, robots would increase capacity working with fiber enforced materials whereas humans could suffer from health complications.
The best solution would be to have manufacturing robots take over such challenging environments and save the human workforce from potential health issues.
Composite Parts Manufacturing Processes
Manufacturing robots in composite processing are programmed with the necessary skills to produce great composite parts.
Forming and Processing
Composite materials consist of fiber reinforcement in a matrix or a binder. This is cured and then shaped into a mold. Resin or gel coating is sprayed over the mold. Spraying by hand would be a tedious and lengthy process and the consistency would not be uniform.
With a six-axis robot, the spraying can be done fast and with a uniform consistency. The products would therefore be exactly the same and there would be little chance of any rejects. All that is needed is for the end-effectors to be appropriate to handle the materials being sprayed.
Robots will be able to:
- Lift and place fabric sheets placing them into a mold
- Unload cured products
- Place the cured products on racks or hooks for transport
Once composite bonding is done, the finishing operations begin. They involve:
Human workers would need to wear protective gear for protection against dust. Furthermore, the process is slow and hard when performed manually.
Robots are more effective here because, for starters, they will not need the heavy protective gear. Secondly, their throughput is much higher than that of human workers. The benefits include protecting humans from exposure and saving the company money since protective equipment is not needed.
Robots are also able to detect via sensors any changes in the processing. These changes may occur due to tool wear or part variation. The robots are able to adjust as needed.
Drilling is done to put holes needed for attachments. It is crucial to get the drilling done accurately. Drilling is a repetitive process that would tire a human worker fast and the margin for error due to exhaustion and bored is very high. Robots are better suited to this kind of task.
Painting and Finishing
As mentioned earlier, humans may not be able to apply or spray paint or vanish as consistently as a robot would. Robots are programmed to follow three-dimensional paths and to keep the spray head at a constant distance from the product.
This way, you are assured that coverage will be uniform all over. In addition, you will have a less messy work area and avoid contact with solvent hazards.
Benefits of Flexibility in Robots
Flexible manufacturing robots provide a great alternative to the expensive hard automation implementation. A flexible robot is able to switch between molds if there is a change in product lines, the robot is simply reconfigured for the new task when a new program is loaded.
This means that there is no need to purchase hard automation equipment and that the Return on Investment (ROI) will be good and fast.
Robots in composite manufacturing come with a number of benefits. For instance, robots do not get tired and they can therefore work for long periods. Furthermore, they never break for lunch or coffee. Bots also don’t err, or create waste, and most importantly, they are precise. Human beings cannot claim to have any of these qualities by virtue of being human.
Composite bonding is not what would be referred to as motivating work. It is repetitive and has potential health hazards. Finding labor is also an issue. Robots provide solutions to all these problems.