Will a robot soon be assembling the screw conveyors at Van Beek?

Van Beek is cooperating in large scale research into automation in SMEs


Can a robot tighten the screw connections of a customised machine, for example a screw conveyor? That is the central question of a broad research project in which Van Beek is participating. Among others TNO, coöperatie Brainport Industries and the Fontys and Avans Colleges are involved in the project entitled ‘(G)een moer aan’.

SMEs are focussing more and more on customised work and this requires systems that can be quickly adjusted for new conditions. The ambition of the project is to make the reconfiguration of a robot system for a new task in a production environment just as quick and easy as using a smartphone.

‘Automated where possible…’
“We were approached with the question of whether we wanted to cooperate in a project which was investigating whether it is profitable for Van Beek to use robotic assembly tools”, explains Eric de Jong, operations manager of Van Beek. For many years Van Beek’s slogan has been ‘Automated where possible, handmade where necessary’ and it is therefore no surprise that we are pleased to cooperate here.

Within the already largely automated work preparation phase Van Beek already has the CAD product information of each customer-specific machine available, the next step is also to use this information to control a cobot or robot.

Safety first
The project is very broad and covers every angle. In addition to the mechanical side it does of course look at safety. “Whatever those involved develop, it may not of course constitute a danger to the operator”, explains De Jong.

Acceptance of automation

The acceptance of automation on the shop floor is also a point being investigated. In particular this looks at the attitude of operators in general in different companies towards robotisation. “Are operators afraid of losing their jobs? Or does robotisation mean that only monotonous work is left?”, De Jong comments.

Positive reception
At Van Beek everyone is positive and motivated about the project. That is also logical according to De Jong. “His pride in assembly lies in precision finished welds. You hear often enough that someone has received a compliment for good welding work, but there is not much glory in tightening a nut”, explains De Jong. “And if automation is possible, we are always interested in this.”

Automated custom work
The challenge for automatically tightening nuts and bolts at Van Beek is that the company is not a mass producer. If a company makes thousands of cars, it soon becomes profitable to make a machine that can carry out the same operation thousands of times. But Van Beek customises every screw conveyor. As a result the form and size are often different and the bolts are always in a different position.

“That is exactly the challenge here. Is automation even possible for custom work?” says De Jong. Within the foreseeable future the project should provide a prototype that can be tested in practice. It is still open whether the result of the project will ultimately be a static machine, or for example a tool in the hand of a fitter. “To date we are open to surprises. If the operator will soon be able to do the same operations with less effort, this is also a gain”, concludes De Jong.

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