Minco Manufacturing Inc. (Colorado Springs, CO), a subsidiary of Katun Corp. (Minneapolis) refurbishes drum units, and manufactures picker fingers and Teflon-coated fuser rollers for copiers-as many as 260,000 per month. Like many precision manufacturers, Minco faces a host of challenges, including maintaining the high quality of its products and ensuring it has the necessary qualified workforce to conduct operations.

Also like many U.S. manufacturers, the company is struggling to keep costs under control to avoid having to outsource work to lower-cost labor markets abroad.

In the early 1990s, Minco began using robots to load and unload some of its automated lathe cells. In recent years, it has purchased 16 additional robots from Stäubli Corp. (Duncan, SC), thanks to the success of those earlier installations.

At one cell, three separate RX130 robots work in concert, with two of the robots feeding parts to four end-finishing lathes, while a middle robot services a fifth finishing lathe. All that remains for the cell's human operator is to stage the raw material, remove full transfer totes of finished parts and perform quality checks. Previously, when Minco's workers had to feed parts manually, the chore would consume 10 to 12 man-hours per shift.

Because of the robots' efficiency, Minco has been able to both reduce the number of lathes it employs in its cells and free up additional floor space. The company has since been able to use its "extra" lathes to create a new cell.

In terms of quality, because the robots have a repeatability of ±0.02 millimeter, they are able to fixture the parts very precisely. In fact, this repeatability surpasses that required by Minco's manufacturing specifications.

Because of the success it has experienced up to this point, Minco continues to look at new applications for its robots. Among other factors, the fuser rollers the company produces weight up to 8 pounds, and due to operator fatigue, production often begins to drop near the end of a shift. Minco is also looking at integrating robots into its paint shop and packaging station.

According to Minco engineers, robots can be especially useful in this latter application, because it is critical that the rollers are neither nicked nor scratched at the later stages of the production process. As is the case with throughput, worker fatigue is a factor in product damage. But, robots never tire.

Ultimately, according to Minco, introducing robots to its manufacturing processes has resulted in a net increase in jobs, because they are helping to keep the business in the United States.

For more on automated assembly and material handling, call 864-433-1980, visit www.staubli.com or eInquiry 4.

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