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Sunday, December 09, 2012

ABB Robotics Helps Ceramic Tile Manufacturers Automate

The Problem
European ceramic-tile manufacturers, especially Italian and Spanish manufacturers, account for over half of the 20 billion pound ceramic-tile industry, but markets are rapidly changing. These European companies were in danger of losing more than 10% of that market by 2015 if they don’t change the way they produce their product. Many of these companies have traditionally arranged their tiles by hand and were unwilling to change.
The ABB Robotics Solution
ABB Robotics, a supplier of industrial robots, and EMC, an Italian firm that focuses on robotic applications and engineering, manufacturing, and consulting, collaborated and developed a robotic system that would help automate ceramic-tile manufacturing. The robotic system was centered around ABB’s IRB340 FlexPicker robot.  This robot was ideal because it is very fast at 150 picks per minute and can handle large payloads, up to 2 kilograms.  Also, the IRB340 is top-mounted, resulting in more floor space.
The new robotic system was developed to replace the old method of arranging tiles. The old method involved arranging the tiles into mosaics by hand and applying either expensive mesh or cheap paper backing to keep the mosaic together. EMC worked with other developers to address the mesh/paper problem and developed a new adhesive to keep the tiles together. The application of the new adhesive called for another industrial robot to be integrated. The ABB IRB340 placed the ceramic-tiles onto a sticky sheet to hold the pieces in place before the new robot applied the adhesive. The new process using industrial automation not only improved productivity and efficiency with these manufacturers, but it became so popular that it now accounts for one-third of EMC’s revenue. EMC executives claim that the developments by ABB Robotics in Italy are directly responsible for the growth of robotics in that country.