Most manufacturers are keen on automating production, so long as it can be done cost-effectively. This goal applies as well to KEEN Inc., a Portland, OR-based company that makes outdoor and lifestyle footwear. Founded by Martin Keen and Rory Fuerst in 2003, KEEN’s shoes are sold in more than 1,000 retail locations in the United States, and distributed worldwide.

The company has grown quickly in recent years, requiring it to further automate production. Earlier this year, for example, KEEN engineers collaborated with House of Design LLC (an ABB Robotics provider located in Nampa, ID) to develop a robotic cell.

Called UNEEK, the cell features two ABB IRB 120 robots that weave together interlocking cords located in the upper portion of each shoe. Besides being the signature feature of KEEN footwear, these cords provide comfort by naturally conforming to the shape of an individual’s foot.

The company showcased the
UNEEK cell this past summer at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City, before bringing it to its Portland headquarters. According to Rory Fuerst Jr., director of innovation at KEEN, robots in the cell interlock cords twice as fast as when done manually. It also complements the company’s portfolio of larger ABB robots used in various machine tending and material handling applications.

“Robots are best suited to highly repeatable and precise tasks,” says Fuerst. “Given the robot’s flexibility and speed, [we] will continue to explore future applications in what is an exciting next step in the UNEEK platform.”

John Bubnikovich, vice president of sales and marketing for robots and applications at ABB, says that UNEEK is a great example of the dexterity of today’s industrial robots. “It shows [that] they can be used for intricate, almost custom work, in addition to handling the high-volume, repetitious work for which they are mainly known.”

As ABB’s smallest six-axis, multipurpose industrial robot, the IRB 120 weighs just 55 pounds. It has a maximum payload of 6.6 pounds, a vertical wrist payload of 8.8 pounds and a reach of 1.9 feet. The lightweight model provides agility, accuracy, speed and 10-micron repeatability for a broad range of applications where a smaller footprint and profile are required.

Also available are a white-finish clean room ISO 5 (Class 100) version and a 120T model. The latter can reduce cycle times by up to 25 percent in applications where the workpiece needs extensive re-orientation and axes 4, 5 and 6 are predominantly used.

Along with industrial robots, ABB Robotics supplies robotic software, peripheral equipment, and modular manufacturing cells for tasks such as assembly, welding, handling, painting and finishing, picking, packing, palletizing and machine tending. The company has sold more than 250,000 robots worldwide for the automotive, plastics, metal fabrication, foundry, electronics, machine tools, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage industries.

For more information on robotic workcells, call 248-391-9000 or visit