A simple mechanical watch contains roughly 130 components. More complex watches contain hundreds of parts. A top-of-the-line model can have well over 1,000 parts.

Making all those tiny, precise parts is the business of Affolter SA in Moutier, Switzerland. The company supplies various parts for some of the world’s best watches.

For years, Affolter’s production equipment was loaded and unloaded manually by specially trained employees. The work was tedious, but necessary.

The company needed to automate, in particular the polishing and burnishing process. The system would have to be highly flexible, because different parts needed to be produced on the same equipment. Lot sizes are small, and changeover must be performed as quickly as possible. At the same time, the parts are small and fragile, so care must be taken throughout the entire process.

Affolter contacted RNA Automation, a systems integrator and parts feeding specialist based in Aachen, Germany, for help. RNA recommended an Asyfeed flexible feeding system from Asyril SA, a supplier of flexible feeding systems based in Villaz, Switzerland.

The system features a delta robot, a vision system and a flexible feeder. The parts to be burnished and polished are fed from a bulk supply into a vibratory hopper. Using three-axis vibration technology, the parts are quickly separated and oriented for pickup by the robot. The parts are illuminated from above and below, enabling the vision system to quickly identify correctly oriented parts and tell the robot where to find them. The robot picks and places the parts into a fixture inside a Strausak S70 polishing machine. Once the processing operation is finished, the robot removes the parts, and the cycle restarts.

The new system offers many benefits. One is flexibility. Affolter’s previous loading equipment was dedicated to one kind of part. Changeover was almost impossible. With the Asyfeed system, changeover can be performed in 1 to 2 hours.

The new system is also faster. With the delta robot, Affolter saves 1 to 2 seconds on loading time with every cycle.

Another benefit involves tooling. With the previous system, tooling was expensive and had to be changed every year. With the flex feeder, there is almost no need for specific tooling. Affolter can develop and produce the tooling itself. Better still, the tooling has no-wear parts.

Affolter’s modernized production process has the added bonus of attracting young people to the business. The previous loading methods were either manual or required highly skilled technicians. Introducing a flexible feeder and a robot into the factory has enabled the company to attract younger people with a higher level of knowledge in informatics and automation.

The Asyfeed can handle parts from 0.1 to 5 millimeters in length. The system is gentle on parts and works consistently regardless of part geometry. Besides watch parts, typical applications include medical devices, jewelry, electronics and semiconductors.

For more information on parts feeders and automated assembly systems, call RNA Automation at 905-643-1810 or visit www.rnaautomation.com.

For more information on flex feeders, call Asyril US Inc. at 612-294-6886 or visit www.asyril.com.