At Suburban, we are committed to continually improving products and processes to deliver a top tier, quality experience. We strive to exceed our customers expectations at every turn. A large part of achieving these goal is leaning into continued improvements in our automation processes. Our Automation Engineer, Zach Schmitz, gave us a look into how a new robotic addition is helping us reach our goals!
What role does automation play at Suburban?
Automation is a broad-spectrum term. At Suburban, we utilize automation systems in many ways such as:
- Systems which help with testing processes for quality
- Monitoring pressure and speeds on sewing machines
- Load/unload parts into our CNC machines
How is automation integral to our core values?
Craftsmanship: With great automation, comes great quality assurance. Inspection will be built into the standard process of making a part. Examples of in-process inspection can include machine probing within the CNC, vision inspection, and weight. Parts that do not pass automatic inspection will be set aside for further quality testing.
Can-Do Attitude: Automation is a dream-driven science. If it can be dreamt, it can be built. My favorite saying to tell people is “I can make it tap dance if that’s what you want. What I need is what you want it to do.”
Collaboration: Automation requires all people involved with a machine’s process to collaborate and communicate. As a key component of continuous improvement, an automated process frees up the time of talented individuals who can concentrate their energy on continually improving processes and generating new programs.
Curiosity: Suburban desires to know how far we can go and how fast we can get there. The investment into automation demonstrates a desire to push the boundaries of our existing processes.
What can you tell us about the new robot?
The new robot is a Fanuc CRX20iA / L cobot, affectionately known here as "Romeo." This robot is capable of lifting and moving around a maximum total weight of 20 kg (~44lbs) while still being safe for humans to work around.
"Romeo," and Fanuc in general, was chosen primarily for its payload capabilities as Suburban wants to make heavy parts with automation. One of our largest machine blanks weighs in at nearly ¾ Romeo’s full capacity.
What excites you most about the new robot and why was it chosen for this application?
As an automation engineer, I chose Fanuc Cobots due to the ease of their programming even for people who are not programmers by trade. With such a small company and only one Automation Engineer on staff, I needed a robot programming style that was easy to master and teach. This is important so that I could easily train other personnel how to troubleshoot programs and create new parts programs. This allows a project to run seamlessly without the need to go back and “babysit” the old ones.
Plus, it had a spinny wheel on it to help drive it in the X, Y, and Z axes. Machinists like spinny wheels for that. Since I’m looking to train machinists on how to program robots, I needed to choose a robot that spoke to my target audience. Fanuc all the way.
As a former operator, my first priority is reducing the stress of the operators on the floor. I use my knack for automation and talent for spotting process improvement opportunities to help better the lives of the operators, with whom I still feel a deep kinship.
How will the new robot impact day-to-day processes at Suburban?
Once "Romeo" has been proven on its debut part, it will eliminate the need to have a talented machinist standing in front of a CNC loading and unloading parts. This will free a resource to develop better processes for other parts, design and program other machines, and fill in the ever-widening gap caused by the labor crises plaguing the world.
"Romeo" will not need to take breaks. It will not get distracted by discussions about the big game that happened over the weekend. It will operate through the night when no one else is in the building.
Not needing to take breaks will return over 5 hours run time to our schedule per day while also freeing up a labor resource to work on other machines and processes.
When "Romeo’s" vision system is installed, the final goal is to bring it from machine to machine to run different parts.
How will this new addition benefit Suburban's customers?
Reduced downtime and increased in-process quality inspection will benefit the customer by decreasing lead times and improving quality assurance.
Decrease in labor costs and an increase in throughput could also lead savings being passed on to customers.
How do you see innovation & automation growing at Suburban?
In the wake of the labor crises, having something do the work as opposed to someone, has never been more important. With labor shortages resulting in continually growing backlogs, I foresee more data collection from all machines on the floor to monitor processes for improvement. Since robots don’t need breaks, fewer operators will be required to fulfill the jobs. This would allow for the same, if not increased, throughput.
More automation means more time for developing our employees so that their intelligence and talents can be spent on learning new skills which benefit them within and outside their work areas. Automation will help empower our employees to grow and help us to recognize the stars currently hidden beneath a veil of tedium.
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