Metal fabricator deploys collaborative robots
A metal fabricator that began using a collaborative robot earlier this year has seen a return on investment and added a second robot to its production line.
Rapid-Line in Grand Rapids, a metal fabricator and contract manufacturer, deployed its first Baxter robot, which is a two-armed collaborative robot from Boston robot maker Rethink Robotics, in February.
Unlike some traditional robots, which perform tasks from within a cage, collaborative robots like Baxter have been designed to work safely alongside workers, including interacting with them in the form of handing over parts.
On the production line
The Baxter robot at Rapid-Line works in conjunction with the CNC milling machine to create fabricated steel parts for office furniture and panels, feeding and removing parts from the machine.
Baxter is handling more than 600 parts a day and met Rapid-Line’s return-on-investment goals in four months.
With the success of the first Baxter robot, Rapid-Line recently deployed a second Baxter robot as part of its window-assembly operation, inserting steel stamping into an aluminum extrusion for the window frame.
Mark Lindquist, president of Rapid-Line, said the company has deployed traditional robots for quite some time to perform welding and cutting tasks, but those robots are caged and inflexible in comparison with the Baxter robots.
“Our goal was to find a robot that can work safely alongside our employees and handle a variety of repetitive tasks, freeing up our team to tackle more complex jobs,” Lindquist said. “Baxter has allowed us to accomplish those goals."
Jim Lawton, Rethink Robotics' chief product and marketing officer, said the Baxter robots allow manufacturers to optimize their workforce towards “complex tasks that require the cognition, judgment and dexterity of a human worker.”
"Since Baxter is able to handle these machine tending and pick-and-place tasks, employees can be utilized where they can add more value and drive innovation,” Lawton said.
Rapid-Line has been in operation for 89 years. The metal company focuses on providing simple component parts to complete assembled products for multiple industries: transportation, furniture, medical, consumer products, military and automotive.