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Mass-Customisable Robotic Manufacturing
Mass-customisation is a key trend in manufacturing, driven by the demands of consumers for choice, and by sustainability factors - by enabling “build-to-order” processes we can reduce waste and manufacture in multiple locations to be closer to the consumer.
CAE Tech has proven mass-customisation workflows from CAD to manufacturing that give customers the freedom of choice while allowing the manufacturer to use efficient production processes. This has been achieved with CNC and manual processes, which led us to ask the question - could a robotic assembly process be programmed dynamically to assemble a customisable product?
Through a recent collaboration with the Manufacturing Technology Centre, we proved that this was feasible and developed the core capabilities. We are now developing a project to commercialise this capability.
Technology Features, Specifications and Advantages
Existing solutions for offline-programming of industrial robots do not have this ability, and whether a robotic cell is programmed offline or online, it always requires the involvement of a specialist engineer to adapt the program if the product changes. Our goal is to be able to assemble a product that has potentially-infinite configurations in a way that customer purchases could be assembled without additional input from the robotics engineer.
The project has also supported the development of requirements for a commercial solution. Our integrated software solution identifies the parts and parameters within a product, gives the user a set of predefined actions and the possibility of creating custom actions, and will generate the final code to run on the robot cell. It supports custom automation hardware as well as robot cells, as the automation hardware is also a mechanism model within the CAD environment. This adds incredible flexibility to automation solutions since the robot path is generated offline and so it's completely detached from the physical robot cell. This also opens the opportunity to generate simulations within the cloud-based tool and prove the path is correct.
Our value is to manufacturers with products that cannot be mass-produced, either as they are mass-customised, or modular. This applies to many industries, from consumer goods such as furniture or high-end bicycles; to industries where the expectation of the customer is to fit their brand or requirements, such as airline interiors, medical and healthcare products; to large modular projects such as offsite construction or shipbuilding.
The UK Made Smarter programme has identified a set of Major Industrial Trends and the Underpinning Technologies required to achieve them. Our solution and associated strategy includes:
Smart Modular Manufacturing
New Consumer Ethics
Sustainability (waste reduction in manufacturing)
Efficient manufacturing processes generating less harmful emissions or using less power
There remains a huge opportunity in taking 3D design models to the managers, supervisors, and skilled tradespeople in engineering, who outnumber the architects and engineers by 6.5 to 1 (Cambashi,2021). Cambashi describes this as The Engineering Software Opportunity Pyramid, where the current adoption of 3D CAD only applies to the very top of the pyramid.
As well as enabling the manufacturing of customizable goods, which can increase margins, this technology also enables flexible manufacturing – using the same set of robot cells for manufacturing different products. This gives more efficient use of resources and hence lowers the cost of automating production.