Assembly in Action: Robots Clear Machining Bottleneck

Morrill Motors Inc. manufactures electric motors and motor accessories used in a wide range of applications and products, including supermarket display cases, beer coolers, commercial ice machines and beverage dispensers. 

Morrill Motors Inc. (Erwin, TN) manufactures electric motors and motor accessories used in a wide range of applications and products, including supermarket display cases, beer coolers, commercial ice machines and beverage dispensers. 

As part of its continuous improvement efforts, the 60-year-old company recently decided to do something about a bottleneck that was taking place in one of its machining stations immediate prior to motor assembly.

Specifically, the company was using one operator to load and unload motor housings onto a multi-spindle machining system, and a second operator to load the housings onto a single-spindle machine to finish the housings’ backsides.

This arrangement caused a number of problems in terms of productivity and product quality, due to the fact that the company’s operators did not always load the parts correctly. The process was also slow, to the point where the company found itself almost continuously running extra shifts to keep up with demand.

Finally, the company was worried about the possibility of worker injury. Operators had to reach inside the machines to load and unload the parts. On occasion, an operator would be sprayed by the machines’ coolant, which could cause skin irritation.

“Inconsistent loading styles from shift to shift slowed production. Sometimes the hand-loaded parts were not oriented correctly. Much of the time, 4,000 to 5,000 parts were tied up in the bottlenecked line. Productivity was flat,” says plant manager Shannon Vaughn, summing up the situation.

To solve the problem, Morrill’s engineers installed a six-axis RX130 robot from Stäubli Robotics (Duncan, SC) to load and unload the parts. The result was an immediate increase in both productivity and quality, to the point where the machining station has ceased to be a source of problems.

“Thanks to Stäubli Robotics, our throughput jumped 25 percent, raising part production from a low of 2,500 to a steady 3,700 parts a day. Instead of 4,000 parts in the line, there are typically just 10,” Vaughn says. He adds that overtime costs have also nearly disappeared.

“Before we automated, we had been running three shifts every day, six days a week,” Vaughn says. “Now we’ve been able to shut our doors on Saturday. That saved a lot of overhead, and the five-day work week meant a happier workforce.”

Morrill Motors process engineer Kevin Penland adds that the company was able to integrate the new system with minimal effort. The company has since purchased a second robot, and is planning on implementing yet more automation down the road.

“After taking [Stäubli’s] robotics integration training, we were able to do all integration internally. That saved the $80,000 it would have cost to use a third-party systems integrator,” Penland says. “It is very user friendly. We had it up and running ourselves. Stäubli technicians just came out to do a final check with us.”

For more on robotics, call 864-433-1980 or visit

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