Ceramics Manufacturer Gets More Flexible with…

Ceramics Manufacturer Gets More Flexible with…

Jan 28, 2015

“Ceramics Manufacturer Gets More Flexible with Software-Driven, Collaborative Robot”

By Design-2-Part Magazine

Du-Co Ceramics Integrates Adaptive Baxter Robot into Parts Manufacturing Process

BOSTON—For American manufacturers, the cost of precision and speed has always been steep. Most robots that have been deployed in precision manufacturing environments operate with such power and speed that human workers can’t come close to them unless the robots are enclosed in protective cages. But Du-Co Ceramics, a ceramic parts manufacturer headquartered in Saxonburg, Pa., and a champion of the Made in America movement, had something else in mind—flexible and affordable automation—when it added Rethink Robotics’ Baxter robot to its ceramic parts production line. Baxter is an easily trainable, collaborative robot that works safely alongside the Du-Co team to place ceramic parts into a saggar, readying the parts for firing in the kiln.

“As a custom shop, every day presents a new challenge on the plant floor,” said Josh Rupp, process engineer at Du-Co Ceramics, in a release. “Most automation solutions don’t have the flexibility needed to respond quickly enough to these changes in demand—but Baxter does. Baxter picks up and moves parts four at a time, allowing us to respond in record time.”

The key to Baxter’s flexibility is its Intera 3 software platform, named to emphasize the interactive production capabilities of the robot. Recently upgraded to include a Robot Positioning System that helps users to more quickly and easily re-deploy the robot after common plant-floor variations occur, Intera enables users to train Baxter to perform new tasks as they arise. It also expands Baxter’s skill set, enabling the robot to tend machines, such as CNC lathes, ultrasonic welders,a nd press brakes; pack and unpack parts and components; load and unload lines; and perform kitting. Baxter’s capabilities will continue to expand as the software advances, even as the physical robot remains the same. Current enhancements allow Baxter to work twice as fast, with twice the precision previously possible, according to representatives of Rethink Robotics.

“We’ve told our customers that our robots will get better and better through software,” said Scott Ecklert, CEO at Rethink Robotics, in a statement. “If you haven’t seen Baxter lately, you need to take another look, thanks to the innovation delivered by our software platform, Intera.”

Du-Co has deployed Baxter for less than a month, but is already planning to use a second Baxter in its operations. After a smooth integration into a pick-and-place task, Du-Co envisions Baxter handling machine tending and bulk handling tasks in the future. Baxter can rapidly adapt to changes in process and parts, allowing Du-Co to improve operational efficiency while maintaining precision and quality in its complex ceramics parts.

“Du-Co Ceramics is an excellent example of a manufacturer looking to balance flexibility with efficiency, precision and cost,” said Jim Lawton, CMO of Rethink Robotics. “Like many of the manufacturers we work with, Du-Co is maintaining a competitive edge by building the factory of the future, leveraging smart, adaptive automation solutions that can quickly adjust to dynamic environments.”

Du-Co Ceramics (www.du-co.com) employs more than 250 people at two separate, ISO 9001:2008 certified manufacturing facilities in the United States—one in Saxonburg and the other in Monroe, North Carolina.


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