In recent years, the volume of samples in Schott's lab has increased by more than 30%, posing several challenges for this specialty glass and glass-ceramic specialist. The company needed more capacity to test so many samples in the time available. However, additional measuring equipment and personnel would only have limited space in the limited laboratory space. In addition, it took the employees a lot of time to load the measuring device. A measurement takes between three and 15 minutes, after which the employees have to interrupt other activities in order to insert a new sample. This is where the idea of automating the measuring process first came up.
Finding a suitable solution
"We put a lot of time and effort into selecting a suitable automation solution," recalls Dr. Engel. "The solution had to be space-saving and be able to work right next to the laboratory technicians. A conventional industrial robot was out of the question: it would have needed an additional protective enclosure, and there is no room for that". There was also another difficulty: the measuring device, a so-called transmission spectrometer, which records the optical properties of the glass, is extremely sensitive. Inserting the samples in such a way that the expensive device is not damaged requires great sensitivity. "After looking at solutions from various manufacturers, we finally found what we were looking for in OnRobot," reports Dr. Engel.
Schott decided on an application in which an RG2-FT gripper from OnRobot is mounted on a collaborating robot arm. The special thing about the electric two-finger gripper is that both force/torque sensors and optical sensors are located in its fingertips. These enable him to "think along": The sensors feed their process data back to the robot arm, which adjusts its course accordingly. This enables the gripper to precisely meter the force applied to the arm. This gives the application as a whole the necessary sensitivity to load the spectrometer with millimeter precision. Also the fingertips got customized. They consist of aluminum and are coated with foam rubber to grab the individual glass samples perfectly.
Lab workers directly benefit from automation
Now the application not only runs through the nights, but also during the weekend. As a result, the application has handled most of the samples before the laboratory employees come into work. Therefore, the laboratory technicians directly benefit from the application. They do not need to insert the glass samples into the spectrometer manually – they can focus on elaborate test reports. Dr. Engel is satisfied with the pilot project: "With the application we can work much more efficiently and relieve our employees," he sums up. Thanks to the rapid integration and smooth processes, the application also promises a rapid ROI: "We expect the purchase to pay for itself within five to six months".
During optical measurement, staff used to manually insert lab devices into a spectrometer, which measures the transmission of the glass. With an increase in samples that needed testing in the lab, they had to ensure that quality standards and efficiency levels were maintained with the same number of staff. They recognized that the monotonous measumrent process is rather stressful for employees, so they looked for an automated solution.
Successfully handles fragile samples
The biggest challenge was that the automation solution needed to provide enough sensitivity to handle the fragile samples and equipe the delicate measurement device with milimeter precision without damaging it. The OnRobot solution features an RG2-FT gripper mounted on collaborative robot arm. It is capable of handling highly delicate glass samples without damaging them. Due to elaborated sensors, it can handle task that previously could not be automated. The result was that the automated process reduced costs up to 40%, and it paid for itself in five to six months. It now runs nights and weekends, relieving employees of a redundant task. The company plans to introduce it into other areas in the future.
Written by Vikram Kumar, General Manager for Europe, Middle East & Africa, Vikram Kumar, OnRobot.