RSS Manufacturing & Phylrich is a manufacturer of high-end plumbing fixtures and fittings for decorative faucets. It specializes in short-run production, with turnaround time as quick as 24 hours.

The company operates more than 50 CNC and specialized machines at its 65,000-square-foot factory in Costa Mesa, CA. Plus, it has one robotic arm that was purchased earlier this year: the UR5 made by Universal Robots.

“Our whole premise is to stay competitive and bring manufacturing back to the United States,” says Geoff Escalette, CEO of RSS Manufacturing & Phylrich. “The UR5 fits perfectly within that master plan. It’s inexpensive automation that can be easily moved between CNC machines and assembly lines, and operated without safety guarding.”

Initially RSS used the robotic arm to shorten the milling cycle time of valves. Escalette says this occurred when the company received a monthly order for 700 valves, rather than the usual 400.

“Normally, the CNC machine produces 400 valves per month with two shifts, so we would have been forced to buy another machine even if we put a third shift on,” explains Escalette. “With the higher run-rate using the UR5, none of this was necessary.”

In that application, the robotic arm retrieved a square metal part and held it in place in the Hurco CNC machine during milling. The arm then removed the milled part, closed the machine’s safety doors, dropped the part in a container and hit the Start Cycle button on the CNC machine to repeat the process. By operating the arm 24-7, RSS Manufacturing produced 700 valves in 11 days while increasing machine capacity by 30 percent.

The robotic arm performs tube bending on a bimonthly basis. It bends 1,500 units on a tube bender in four hours. In contrast, the manual approach required 8 hours of setup time (including all programming and tooling) and three days of work.

The UR5 also buffs and polishes brass fittings. Escalette says it’s hard to find employees that can apply the right amount of pressure when manually polishing fittings. The robotic arm’s advanced force control ensures the proper pressure is applied.

RSS Manufacturing likes the UR5’s quick setup (about 30 minutes) and easy programming. The arm features a handheld tablet interface that enables operators to work alongside it and perform troubleshooting immediately. Equally beneficial, the tablet enables a worker to run real-time arm simulations without having to be on the factory floor or working at his office computer.

“It’s one thing to say it’s easy to program a robot, but another to integrate it into a real application,” says Shane Strange, automation and integration specialist for RSS Manufacturing & Phylrich. “If you can write a to-do list, you can program this robot.”

Escalette says RSS operators are impressed with the RU5’s performance and ease of use—and welcome working with the robotic arm rather than fearing it will eliminate their jobs. He says the arm produced an ROI in only six months, and he estimates company growth over the next year to be nearly 200 percent.

For more information on robotic arms, call 704-755-1030 or visit