Keihin IPT Mfg. Inc. (Greenfield, IN) manufactures automotive air and fuel-line components, and is no stranger to the use of flexible automation, having implemented its first robotic die-casting system in 1988. The company now has approximately 950 employees and 28 robots. The latter are used in a variety of die-casting, machining, sealing and assembly applications.

In late 2006, the company upgraded the line it uses to add heat inserts and collars to plastic intake manifolds by installing a series of five HP20, six-axis robots from Motoman Inc. (West Carrollton, OH). The cells making up the line run year-round, 24 hours a day, 5 days a week. The line completes a new intake manifold in 32 seconds.

Before the addition of the robots, the line required four operators performing a series of loading and unloading operations manually. But, with the robots, a single operator can tend the entire line, providing a direct labor savings of nine people per day. As a result, the five robots were able to pay for themselves in just seven months.

In addition to the five robots and their NX100 controllers, the line includes a loading conveyor; seven custom assembly machines that install nine heat inserts and 12 collars onto each manifold; another custom assembly machine that places four gaskets onto each manifold; and an exit conveyor. Dane Systems LLC performed all systems integration work. Each six-axis robot is equipped with a pneumatic parallel gripper and handles one part at a time.

The eight stations that make up the line are arranged in a “U” to save floor space. In operation, the first robot unloads the fixtured parts from the infeed conveyor and loads them into the first station. The robots then take turns cycling the parts through the rest of the stations that comprise the line, with the last robot loading the finished assemblies onto an outfeed conveyor. An Allen-Bradley Control Logix PLC controls the entire line via Devicenet and Ethernet.

“The benefits to implementing the robot cells were decreasing our labor cost for the product and utilizing skilled operators in more difficult assembly tasks. The robots also create flexibility for us, as we can use them for future processes as the current product phases out, unlike dedicated machine tooling or a custom gantry system,” Miller says. “We were very pleased with the expertise of the Dane staff. By working together with Dane early in the project, we were able to install, debug and have the system up and running in one week.”

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