When asked about the most dreaded tasks on the manufacturing floor, many teams point to sanding, grinding, or polishing. These unforgiving tasks can be tedious, time-consuming, and hazardous, leading to respiratory illnesses and repetitive motion injuries. In today’s economic climate, finding workers willing to perform these taxing jobs can be challenging. Yet, they are often necessary when assembling metal, composite, or other parts into manufactured products.
But what if this sanding, grinding, and finishing work could be automated? Manufacturing teams in multiple industries, from aerospace to oil and gas, are finding relief in the form of new collaborative robots (cobots), like Kane Robotics’ GRIT ST and GRIT XL, that can sand off coatings, grind welds, or polish metal finishes in half the time and more safely than humans.
Kane’s cobots are easy to integrate into manufacturing operations due to their low price point, small footprint, and simple reprogrammable interface. This automation reduces healthcare costs by avoiding repetitive motion injuries for workers and saves time and money on constantly hiring new employees for these dull, strenuous, and dangerous tasks.
The concept for Kane’s cobot solutions started with a request for automation that could free skilled workers from wearing protective suits to sand aerospace parts for hours on end. The solution had to be lightweight, mobile, compatible with 110V electrical sockets, simple to use, versatile for multiple tasks, affordable, and safe.
Kane engineers took on the job. The design aimed to replicate the motions used by humans when sanding, so Kane configured a robotic arm mounted on a mobile cart or larger chassis with customizable end-of-arm tools that met the sanding job specifications. With a choice of a small (30”x30” up to 6’x14’), large (30”x30” up to 6’x 14’ with 7th axis available), or vertical platform, the GRIT solution is a cobot alternative to human sanding and grinding equipped with preprogrammed instructions based on client specifications and sensors to ensure safe operation. Designed for the aerospace industry, GRIT is now used in oil and gas, EV assembly, and other manufacturing.
Kane’s design is purposefully simple. While some automation designers attempt to automate all activities associated with a manufacturing project, Kane emphasizes the core tasks of making the cobot sand, grind, or polish more efficiently and safely than a human could.
“We can add the bells and whistles, the extra functionality, later,” Kane COO Alan Hiken tells clients. “At the end of the day, unnecessary design can overcomplicate things. We keep it simple and solve the main pain point.”
Kane engineers designed the GRIT cobot solution to be simple in functionality and operability. By making it mobile and 110V-compatible, GRIT operates on a manufacturing shop floor in almost any location. Unlike traditional industrial automation, GRIT is small, lightweight, and reconfigurable for multiple purposes by changing the position of the mounting, the attachments for loading and holding parts, and the end-of-arm tools.
GRIT’s modular design combines off-the-shelf robotic arms, end effectors, end-of-arm tools, and abrasives into one preprogrammed turnkey solution, avoiding the need to reinvent the entire solution for each customer. As a result, GRIT can be up and running within 1-2 days of delivery.
GRIT’s hardware is easily modified to meet individual specifications, make the solution easier to use, or comply with unique safety regulations. Safety features, like GRIT’s auto-stop sensors, can be augmented with light screens or other safety measures.
For one aerospace client, Bell Helicopter, Kane designed a safer way for the GRIT system to grab, hold, and flip a specific rotor blade while sanding.
Operating instructions are tailored to meet client’s unique specifications. To preprogram GRIT, Kane engineers initiate the process with a CAD model design, running simulations to determine the robotic arm’s path, speed of movement, degree of pressure, and end-of-arm tool rotation speed. Afterward, they load the program onto the cobot and conduct tests to identify the exact motions and suitable abrasive media necessary to achieve the desired finish.
While designed ready-to-use, the standard GRIT ST or GRIT XL solutions are configured in collaboration with clients by Kane’s domain expert engineers to arrive at the optimal sanding, grinding, or finishing cobot solution.
Oil and gas equipment manufacturer Summit Casing Equipment recently contracted Kane Robotics to design a cobot solution that grinds welds on centralizers — metal parts that line an oil well pipe and center the well casing in the borehole.
Kane engineers selected the appropriate robotic arm, table size, height, and orientation to handle the centralizers. They mounted the robot’s pedestal on the righthand side of GRIT’s 4-wheel base and designed fixtures to hold the centralizers in place.
Kane designed, built, and tested the GRIT ST prototype, built customized production fixturing, delivered the cobot system, and had it up and running within five months from the initial request.
After grinding welds on 35,000 centralizers, Summit Casing noticed some wear on the fixturing. Kane engineers replaced it with hardened steel fixtures. They also redesigned a support piece to be five inches higher and better aligned with the fixtures so the operator can more easily slide the centralizer into place.
Learning from the applied use of the initial design, Kane redesigned parts of the GRIT ST cobot solution, resulting in wear resistance, faster processes, and enhanced usability for human technicians.
With GRIT, Summit is processing nearly twice as many centralizers per shift as their technicians did previously.
Kane’s design of the GRIT cobot solution offers a practical and simple way to automate tedious and debilitating sanding, grinding, and finishing work, providing manufacturers with a 50-80 percent improvement in productivity. In addition to saving time and expense, this versatile solution frees up skilled workers to perform higher-order tasks, reduces injuries, and decreases healthcare costs.
This article was written by John Spruce, CEO of Kane Robotics (Austin, TX). For more information, visit here .