This initially involves Q-Fin Handling Solutions’ launching customers, one of which is Inno Metaal. Even before this Eindhoven-based company starts working with it, Affix has already achieved its first success: “Inno Metaal wants all products to be oriented lengthwise,” says De Greef. “We have succeeded with some adjustments, which we were able to implement very quickly. These are not long processes; we can really make progress.” Making progress is an aspect that appeals to Gertjan van den Hazelkamp, director and co-owner of Inno Metaal. He is happy to serve as a launching customer with his company and is even one of the drivers of the efforts to automate the deburring process. Inno Metaal specializes in fine sheet and welding work, as well as complete assemblies, including controls, drives, and advanced software. The company operates multiple deburring machines, including two from Q-Fin. The sheet metal parts from the laser cutting machine and punch laser combination are supplied stacked and are then manually processed. The primary reason for automating this handling process is the ongoing labor shortage. Van den Hazelkamp explains, “It’s very difficult to find people for this type of work. It’s boring and monotonous, especially with large series. Often, people say they don’t want to do it after just one or two months.”
Inno Metaal is working across the board to do more with fewer people. Therefore, the company is increasing the level of automation and examining every process. A vision expert previously conducted an automation scan of the entire factory, with the central question being: where can we remove labor? All processes were reviewed, and the deburring process emerged as a strong candidate. That prompted Van den Hazelkamp to approach Q-Fin to embark on this adventure together. They conducted a simple pilot with a robot and a 3D vision camera, and the results were so promising that they decided to move forward, especially because Q-Fin was receiving more requests from other customers.
Challenges for Grippers
Inno Metaal has now installed a new F1200 XL machine with four workstations that can all be controlled, including automatic height adjustment on the brush motors and grinding belts. A handling solution will be added to this machine soon. Inno Metaal’s engineering department will work alongside Affix and Q-Fin to develop this solution. Van den Hazelkamp expects to face challenges with the grippers, stating, “We think we need to build a library of around twenty grippers to handle our entire product range. That’s why we have already purchased a quick-change system for those grippers.”
Q-Fin’s goal is to automate at least 80 percent of the deburring work for its customers. Van den Hazelkamp calls this a realistic prospect, at least for his company. He adds, “Whether such a percentage is achievable depends, of course, on the specific company situation. But we have a lot of repetitive work and relatively large series. Furthermore, the parts are already delivered stacked from our laser and punch laser. Therefore, I think that by building a gripper library, we will be able to make rapid progress.”
In addition to Inno Metaal, VDL Technics in Boxtel is also a launching customer for larger sheet metal parts. Anton Bax will closely follow the progress at both companies with more than average interest because he senses a great demand for these solutions in the market. “We have three or four customers who say they want it too if it works. And it works. We are convinced!”