Kapco finds flexibility in its bending department with cobots
Kapco was recently featured in The Fabricator Magazine for deploying cobots in its fabrication department
Any metal fabricator with a large percentage of high-mix, low-volume work looked at bending automation in the 2010s with a little bit of skepticism. Robot programming took time, and excessive downtime associated with programming new jobs was a red flag for some shops. Also, investing in a fixed automation system, complete with cages, was not cheap.
Those hesitations didn’t keep Kapco Metal Stamping, a metal forming and fabrication company in Grafton, Wis., from investigating bending automation three years ago. It found that the technology worked for some jobs but wasn’t as flexible as the company needed it to be.
The system had offline programming, so that wasn’t the issue. The problem was that the cell couldn’t accommodate as much bending work as the manufacturing team would have liked. The software limited complex jobs with multiple bends. Some parts didn’t fit within the confines of the guarding that surrounded the bending robot. When new parts were loaded into the cell for bending, the robot would stop because a human was present within the work area; because part loading was a manual process and took some time, the robot was not running as much as Kapco’s production team would have liked.
The recent emergence of collaborative robots, also known as cobots, gives metal fabricators a new perspective on automation. Kapco’s Advanced Engineering Team, who are responsible for implementing automation at the company’s facilities, saw these first-generation cobots at a recent FABTECH and recognized that they represented a new way to automate shop floor tasks. Even though the cobots were part of a cell, the team saw the potential of being able to move the cobots from one part of the factory to the other.