Case Studies Of Industrial Robots

Robots in action can be found everywhere. Robot Manufacturers give examples of robot applications in different industries.

Reis, Germany - IFR-Partner

Take it easy - Technolam ease their workers from heavy loads

March 2012

The base material cuttings for printed circuit boards are very individual products. Though they always look similar, there are neither standard formats nor standard designs. This means that every format must be cut to customer-specific size from large raw material panels for further processing. It also means that in the past workers had a lot to lift for loading the machines. Technolam, one of the three leading suppliers for base materials in Europe, automated the supply to the automatic cutting machines using robots from Reis.

"We feel obliged to take responsibility for the operating ergonomics for our mostly long-term staff members and to relieve them from laborious tasks as far as possible," says company founder and general manager Günter Fuchs.

"Base materials" are glass fiber reinforced panels coated with thin copper foil on both sides.These are the most important starting materials for printed circuit boards. Manufactured as plates with surfaces of 2,2 to 2,7 m², they must be divided into customized formats - mostly between 0,15 - 0,30 m². The thickness of these base materials is normally 0,05 - 3,20 mm.

After dividing of the raw panels, the cut edges are milled, the cut corners are rounded, and every single cut is marked using laser or ink jet printing.



TECHNOLAM delivers innovative and eco-friendly base materials in very high quality. These include FR4-rigids, thin core laminates, multilayers and prepregs from Nan Ya. The base materials are manufactured in Nan Ya's production center in Taiwan which leverages full raw material integration. This means, from glass yarn, glass fabric, copper foil, epoxy resin and flame retardants to the finished base material. Then the well-known circuit elements with visible conductive pathways etched from the base material are generated in the following processing steps at Technolam customers. Then the assembly follows with insertion of the active components via soldering or SMD, and finally the last step is the installation of the connection terminals.

Printed circuit boards are not at all associated with high weight, but for the base material at the start product of printed circuit boards, quite significant masses accumulate as they come together which, for the most part until middle of the year 2010, had to be moved by hand by Technolam workers. So a stack of customer's cut format and a height of approx. 40 mm can weigh up to 20 - 30 kg. Since customer's orders are cut from the raw plates with as little waste as possible, the stacks have to be taken "in the hand" before and after the cut so altogether up to 35 tons have to be moved daily step by step. This meant masses of 6 - 10 tons per day in total for individual workers. Günter Fuchs adds: "We want to employ our staff as long as possible, who over the years gather a high level of know-how on processing the base material.So we already started developing our first concept on automated handling with robots in the beginning of 2010."

The challenge: Pick and place individual formats

Every Technolam customer orders base material in the optimum format for him for further processing. There are no standard formats that can be produced in large quantities again and again. For generation of requested formats, they are either sawn from the base material or cut using the guillotine. Thicker materials are more suitable for sawing. Where thinner materials are concerned Technolam processes them on a cross cutter from Robust, which is designed very similar to plate shears or the well-known paper cutter. It allows very exact cuts, even for thin material which is almost similar to a foil. Reworking of edges is hardly necessary with this procedure. Turning within the system allows cutting of the x- and y-side. The challenge with loading of this machine was the highly precise alignment.

Robots were to ease the supply of the pallets into the system and stacking of the cut printed circuit boards. The customer requirements regarding quality are very high, not only concerning the base material, but also regarding processing. No bends, waves or fingermarks are tolerated.

"The cut dimensions often differ only by one single millimeter, but that is sufficient to be magnified in the handling," says plant manager Horst Roden. "That's the reason why we had to make final decisions for selection of potential system suppliers very early in the planning stage. For us it was important to choose a supplier who was not only in a position to meet our special requirements, but could also deliver the complete solution from robot and automation technology to the fixture from one source. Separation of the base material boards was a real challenge especially for thin materials, because the loading and unloading of the almost infinite base material cut formats had to be possible with one solution."

Solution: Two robots with individual gripper system

Due to the different raw panel formats the gripper system is of special importance for picking the plates, because the point is always to only pick one plate in safe manner and position if very exactly on the cutting machine from Robust before it takes over further processing and further transport.  Mr. Roden highly appreciates the fact that Reis Robotics develops and produces gripper systems individually because it ensures that all systems will cooperate in an optimum manner. Every printed circuit board no matter how thin, or even foil when talking about ultra-thin materials, is aligned exactly and then picked.

For this purpose, pneumatic vacuum suction cups are distributed over the whole area with the dimensions of the maximum raw panel format. Every panel is aligned in several steps at exactly one corner angle using locating angles and sensors. Only then does the robot finally pick the part for placing it on the supply unit of the Robust cutting machine.

To keep the change-over times short, two pallet stations with raw panels, both in the robot work envelope, are available for material supply in the processing cell. After cutting another Reis robot with same gripper equipment unloads the cut material and stacks it onto pallets in the requested way, either all on one stack or in several stacks next to each other depending on programming in X-Y configurations.

For Horst Roden an advantage for cooperation with Reis Robotics is that the company already closely cooperated with Robust in other projects. The target was to relieve the workers not only of heavy lifting tasks, but to design the complete system so flexible that it is suitable for all format requirements and thus is safe for the future. So programming by Reis and Robust was a basic pre-requisite for the success of the project.

A major attraction was that with the input of the requested cut formats on the Robust control panel the two robots were also controlled. No settings are necessary at the Reis portable teach pendant or any other operator panel. The complete sequences have been simplified to a maximum. "Robot and cutting machine are synchronized via a parameter database without any further help.


After a project duration of about eight months the system went into production in spring 2011. "Even if calculation of the payback is not so easy, we are glad that we could largely increase working conditions for our staff again. As a whole, such an investment results in a lower level of staff illness, and at the same time we increased the production capacities because the demand for our base material cuts is still always rising due to new applications on the electronic sector. And we are proud of not having had to dismiss a single employee because they now take over other jobs due to their higher qualification," Günter Fuchs says finally. Horst Roden adds: "After the positive experience, also in cooperation with the experts from Reis, further improvements are already being planned on the ergonomics field using automation. Robots are considerably more flexible in application than classical loading and unloading systems, like we use them at the sawing and cutting systems."

In all, Technolam is very satisfied with the cooperation with Reis Robotics. Good experience and keeping all promises today are not always usual for all business partners. This application is an example for automation in the different fields being suitable for not only speeding up operating sequences, but also for systematically increasing ergonomics for the staff and thus protecting their health.

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Author: Stephan H. Gursky