Robotics Robot arm relieves working strain in final assembly

Author / Editor: Helmut Schmid / Lina Klass

Short delivery times and high quality standards, with simultaneous low production costs, are important characteristics for competitiveness. This is also true for a New Zealand manufacturer of locking solutions and security systems, who achieved greater value creation with just one single robot arm.

The UR puts an end to asymmetrical working strain.
The UR puts an end to asymmetrical working strain.
(Source: Kirstine Mengel)

In the rapidly growing segment for security solutions, Assa Abloy is active worldwide and a market leader in large parts of Europe, North America and the Asian-Pacific zone. At its production location in Auckland (New Zealand) the firm produces mechanical and electro-mechanical locks, digital door locks, high security doors and metal fittings. This manufacturer has always considered the striving for innovation to be the foundation for future growth.

UR robot puts an end to asymmetrical working strain

In order to keep up with global competition, Assa Abloy NZ considers it essential, besides the leanest possible processes, to have an effective safety-at-work policy, for the basis of any sustainable production is the creation and maintaining of safe working conditions. For this reason, the firm decided to automate a monotonous and physically demanding screwdriving procedure in final assembly. This task has always meant a challenging wrist and shoulder movement for the workers.

When searching for a suitable industrial robot, Assa Abloy NZ tested products from three different suppliers during the selection phase and had the same task carried out by the test devices in the firm’s own works. The collaborative lightweight-construction robots from the market leader Universal Robots convinced the firm. “The scalability and simple programming of the UR5 are unsurpassed. In addition, the solution provides the necessary flexibility in order to automate the most varied tasks in our production at low cost,” explains Marc Simkin, responsible for production technology at Assa Abloy NZ.

Commissioning the robot without an IT specialist

In contrast to conventional industrial robots, no special robot programmer or IT specialist is needed for the commissioning and handling of the robot models UR3, UR5 and UR10, which are named after the relevant payload in kilograms. With its user-friendly 3D operator surface, every user can learn how to handle the robotic colleague quickly and easily. Motion sequences can be laid down using the intuitive touchscreen tablet in the so-called “freedrive mode”. For this, the user holds the robot arm and teach-in new tasks by leading it physically from one waypoint to the next. This way, the UR robot is ready for action after a short setting-up time.

The Auckland production team responsible for lock bodies is glad that robot colleague Victoria (UR5) has now taken over the strenuous final assembly of these parts.
The Auckland production team responsible for lock bodies is glad that robot colleague Victoria (UR5) has now taken over the strenuous final assembly of these parts.
(Source: Universal Robots)

Assa Abloy NZ employs a total of 250 workers – 140 of them in production. Getting them on board for this automation project was something the manufacturer tackled with humour. “For our production team, we spontaneously decided on a competition for the best name and christened the UR5 ‘Victoria’. Very soon, it was received like a colleague in the production lines,” Simkin reports. Since then, Victoria has been in action in the last working step in assembling lock bodies: with the help of a suction gripper, the UR robot picks up a cover plate, places it on a lock body, and then tightens two screws to join both parts.

Afterwards, the UR5 places the finished element on a conveyor belt which leads to the packaging line. Victoria carries out her work immediately next to her human colleagues – and all without additional protective housing, for after a risk assessment has been successfully carried out, robots from Universal Robots then work immediately alongside humans without the safety cage. For this purpose, they have been fitted with a modern force limiter. As soon as UR robots come into contact with a person, the robot arm, thanks to its patented safety function, stops the movement.


Skilled workers can dedicate themselves to new tasks and obtain new qualifications

Besides the improved worker health aspect, the integration of the UR5 brought with it an increase in high-quality tasks for the workforce. In one case, the firm found new tasks in quality control and process monitoring for the skilled workers who were previously involved in the monotonous screwdriving action in final assembly. The team has learned a lot of new things due to the robot. Mataio Goding, production manager at Assa Abloy NZ, tells the story: “Thanks to Victoria, our workers have discovered a deeper sense of meaning in their activities by gaining new qualifications. Our long-term personnel, for example, now take over the responsible task of training auxiliary personnel for work with the UR robot and lending them support.”


Finally, this automation solution brought positive results not only in the personnel area. In the same measure as staff found it a strain to carry out the same movement again and again for many hours, the new robot colleague makes light work of this process. Here the high repetition accuracy of the UR5 guarantees a final assembly without discrepancies. Because of the exact execution of the screwdriving process, Victoria furthermore reduces the risk of an over-tightening of the screws. Goding is enthusiastic about the results: “The consistency of the assembly process has led to a substantial increase in our quality.” With the help of Universal Robots, Assa Abloy NZ can happily maintain its motto “Any lock, any time, in any colour” and guarantees delivery of its products within only two days – a competitive advantage which could only be achieved previously with mass production.

Amortisation in an estimated 12 months

Since UR robots offer all the advantages of modern robot automation, yet without the usual costs for integration, programming and protective measures for work cells, Assa Abloy NZ calculates that the UR5 was amortised within 12 months. Enabling factors here were also the greater process stability and the simultaneous improvement in the firm’s efficiency.

Against the background of the successful introduction of Victoria, the manufacturer is already busy in its New Zealand works with the development of a further robotic application from Universal Robots. The plan is for two UR5s to produce door straps in 22 product variants. For this, the flexibility of the robots will play a decisive role. With their light and space-saving design, they present no problems in being used for various applications without any elaborate adaptation of the production layout – even for small batches. “Traditional automation solutions were, until now, simply not cost-effective enough for our production environment. Universal Robots finally made it possible for us to realise automation in areas where we had previously thought it was impossible,” explains Simkin. The robot technology from UR will thus lead Assa Abloy NZ to new growth in the future as well – innovatively and collaboratively.

* Helmut Schmid is general manager Western Europe & CEO of the Universal Robots (Germany) GmbH in 81379 Munich, Tel. (00 49-1 60) 93 49 12 27,