LJB Product Solutions
A high mix/low volume custom engineering shop, LJB Product Solutions implements OB7 to take on higher volume work by running their cnc machine nonstop, increasing productivity and efficiency while freeing up staff to work on other tasks.
Video: LJB Product Solutions' implements cobot to tend run lights out on their CNC machine, increasing productivity and freeing up their staff to work on other high value tasks.
ABOUT LJB PRODUCT SOLUTIONS
From concept to launch, LJB Product Solutions is a customer and data driven product design/development company, providing innovative engineering services to corporations and individuals in the biomedical, automotive, and aerospace industries.
Established in 2008, LJB consists of about 7 people. Together, they bring over 50 years of combined product design experience. Each team member wears several different hats to provide innovative solutions for their customers. Whether it is a turnkey product solution or supplementing a single engineering service, LJB’s integrated design process takes concepts and brings them to life – all with the end user in mind.
Working consistently with no breaks, the OB7 cobot minimizes the amount of time running a single job on LJB's HAAS mill.
HIGH MIX/LOW VOLUME SHOP FACED INCREASE DEMAND OF HIGH VOLUME JOBS
With an extensive product design background, LJB is able to provide its customers with a unique advantage by helping drive manufacturing costs and processes down through their range of custom engineering services. They have in-house machining equipment and offer a range of services including prototyping, small production runs, assembly work, designing automation and test fixturing. Having a flexible work environment where each team member can work on different projects is critical to LJB’s ability in maintaining low lead times for their customers.
“One of our key strengths is that we are very flexible, so one week we could be designing a product and the next week we could be machining a product that we just designed.” states Josh Miller, Engineering Manager of LJP Product Solutions.”
As the company grew, LJB started getting more higher volume jobs that came in runs of thousands and also had higher cycle times. They faced a situation where they did not have the time or resources for one person to stand by the machine, press a button, and monitor it through the end of the job. They also could not afford to have that machine caught up on a single job for a couple months at a time. LJB needed a solution that would enable them to keep their cnc machine running 24/7, significantly reduce the amount of time spent running the machine on a single job, and allow their team to focus on other tasks.
“What drove us to start looking at the cobot was that we're a small company. There are seven or eight of us on payroll at any given time, and we all wear different hats,” states Lucas Boesel, President of LJB Productions.
Minimizing the amount of time running a single job was one main motive for LJB to turn to collaborative robot automation. They were also starting to see an increase in these higher volume production jobs. At the same time, they were being asked to design manufacturing and assembly systems for their customers. It became clear that focusing on the automation realm of their business would allow them to increase efficiency in their production processes and meet the high demand.
After visiting the Fabtech Tradeshow in Chicago, LJB contacted Doig Corporation, their local Productive Robotics distributor in Wisconsin. There, they were introduced to Productive Robotics’ OB7 - 7 axis collaborative robot. Specifically due to its flexibility and versatility, LJB knew that it was the right cobot for their production.
Integrating OB7 with their HAAS mill and setting up the communication to their machine was straightforward and easy. LJB completed the process entirely on their own.
AUTOMATION WITH OB7
A TEAM OF 7 INTEGRATES OB7 ON THEIR OWN
The first job OB7 ran was on a production run of 1,000 drill taps for heat sinks, which required LJB to drill and tap multiple holes per part. Setting up the workcell and doing the integration was done entirely on their own. Leveraging on their product design expertise allowed them to come up with unique solutions for setting up their workcell. The entire experience was a learning opportunity, which allowed LJB to discover OB7’s unique capabilities and features.
“We are using the robot in our manufacturing as an opportunity to learn and discover what its capabilities and limitations are,” states Boesel. And part of that process in our mind, is it gave us an opportunity to learn how the robot works and then how we can integrate it in the various manufacturing environments or processes.”
Integrating OB7 with their HAAS mill was straightforward and easy with the accessories included in Productive Robotics’ cnc package. The OB7 electronic interface made it simple to set up communication with their HAAS mill and OB7. LJB also designed their own fixturing for the robot to pick up the parts and load into the machine.
To increase throughput, LJB set up a connection between OB7 and their mill to automatically open and close the door. They added a signal for OB7 to wait until the doors were fully open before proceeding into the machine. They also connected an Air Vise, a third party air vice, to the pneumatic controller to automatically clamp and unclamp the workpiece.
Teaching OB7 the actual job of loading and unloading the cnc machine involved physically maneuvering OB7 using the control handle. OB7’s 7th axis was an advantage for LJB as it provided the flexibility to position OB7 into the right place and tweak its movements so that it wouldn’t break any cutters.
“We definitely took advantage of the 7 axis flexibility of the Productive Robotics OB7. I don’t know how we would be able to do some of the stuff without it,” states Miller. “We were definitely moving every axis all over the place to wiggle it in there.”
Building out the job to add the communication signals, adjust waypoints, and create more accurate positions was done using the Productive Robotics’ control tablet. The user interface of the tablet was drastically simple, as Miller states:
“I was surprised at how simple it was to program - I almost had to simplify my thoughts for programming.”
The most challenging part was not getting the job to run, but rather presenting the parts to the robot. To accomplish this, LJB took advantage of the 7th axis and set up the robot in a position that would give them the maximum amount of reach. They also added feeding shelves to load up the pieces and set up a rail system where the robot would store the finished workpiece and it would slide down the rail ready to be cleaned or do quality checks.
With the workcell complete, it was time to put OB7 to work…
OB7 cobot freed up the LJB team from having to tend their cnc machine and put their focus on other valuable tasks in the business.
ALLEVIATING LONGER LEAD TIMES BY RUNNING OVERNIGHT
LJB was on their way to fast and flexible production with OB7 tending their HAAS mill. They can now alleviate their longer lead times by running second, third shifts, or overnight. In addition, OB7 freed up their team from having to tend their cnc machine and put their focus on other valuable tasks in the business.
“OB7 allows us to work on other things while it handles its own tasks. We take on different hats, so while the robot does its job, it opens up one of us to be working on something else.” states Boesel.
As a high mix low volume shop, having the ability to set up, run a thousand pieces, tear down and move on to the next job, is highly important. OB7 provided the ability to easily change between different jobs and minimize downtime re-engineering workstations.
“It was relatively easy for us to pivot from programming the cnc machine to programming the robot, so it just seems like it's another team member that we're utilizing to easily change from one job to the next,” states Miller.
The simple UI interface and flexibility of OB7 makes it easy to pivot from programming the cnc machine to programming the robot, allowing LJB to seamlessly change from one job to the next.
FUTURE AUTOMATION POSSIBILITIES
ONE JOB DOWN, SEVERAL MORE TO GO
A process that required some custom work, engineering, and creativity, LJB fully embraced the integration process as an opportunity to learn and discover the capabilities of OB7. The simplicity and flexibility of OB7 provided a fast, easy, cost effective solution into collaborative robot automation without the complexity and high costs associated with traditional robots. In the future, LJB plans to apply what they learned throughout the integration to help other businesses integrate cobots into their manufacturing environments or processes.
Looking ahead, LJB plans to use OB7 for machining other components for different jobs. They also plan to use OB7 in some of their assembly operations to help with the efficiencies and accuracies of those processes. Having worked on manufacturing fixtures and assembly equipment for a number of their customers, LJB sees the potential to apply cobots to optimize efficiency and quality in those areas.
The simplicity and flexibility of OB7 provides a fast, easy, cost effective solution into collaborative robot automation, opening up the door to automate other processes within LJB's production.