Robots – the Kiwi way

Customer: Jackson Electrical Industries Ltd
Project: Robotics - the kiwi way

Robotics

If you think robots are only for large scale manufacturing and have no place in a typical Kiwi production plant, then it’s time to think again, says Jim Jackson.

As head of Jackson Electrical Industries with its staff of 60, Jackson has successfully entered the robot age and has added five robots to his staff to take care of a lot of heavy or repetitive work that requires a high level of accuracy.

By taking on robots rather than additional labour, Jackson has been able to increase productivity and competitiveness. This has allowed staff to be redeployed to more interesting areas of work in growing the company, from which even more employment can come.

But the way Jackson Electrical has gone about integrating robots into its business is what sets it apart, and offers more help to fellow manufacturers wanting to step up to their next level of production.

Jim Jackson says he has always looked at business innovation as finding better ways to do things that have to be done. This is evident from his ground-breaking development of Lifeguard power distribution equipment, the introduction of RCDs to New Zealand, the development of new temporary site lighting (TSL), to the creation of new materials and processes for large envelope tool production in the composite concrete, rotomoulding and refractory industries.

Finding a better way to assemble components for the Lifeguard range by using new robots engineered and commissioned by the supplier was unlikely to be cost-effective, given the comparatively small production runs required.

Instead Jim Jackson had one of his engineering staff, Stuart Morgans, restore some Fanuc robots previously employed in the production of wheels for Ford cars.

Refurbished robots can cut the cost in half, which enables more focus to go on the significant and variable costs of integrating them with the work processes they are to perform. Morgans, a process and automation engineer, says this is where Jackson already had an advantage with expertise on staff in PLC and CNC programming and other automation skills from which he could assemble an in-house robotics development team.

“The real cost is in the design specifications, prototyping, building and commissioning of a robotic solution and we have been able to reduce this to a minimum with effective results. “He cites the ‘window assembly cell’ they commissioned to handle the six-part, springloaded sub-assembly designed to ensure the IP65 rating of all Lifeguard end-user products.

This also involved the operation of a small CNC machine working with the robot within the robot cell. “We re-engineered nearly all of the parts so they would assemble correctly in a repeatable manner each and every time. The result is a high level of safety and enhanced quality control. We now enjoy consistent parts manufactured to tight tolerances for the assembly process and a smoothly operating robotic cell.”

Only 16,000 to 20,000 of this subassembly are manufactured per year, averaging between 66 and 85 per average working day. While hand assembly took only 3-5 hours per day to meet production demands, Jim Jackson says the automation of this assembly work has still been cost-effective and the only time spent now is a few minutes to load the robot. It also provides better inventory management and the scope to immediately boost production if demand spikes or new markets are developed.

“We have gained a lot of knowledge by entering robotics from the ground up, doing it ourselves and redeveloping our production all the way from robot refurbishment to the completed automation solution. What we hope to show our fellow manufacturers is that you do not have to shift production off-shore to grow or maintain business.

“Instead you can bring the best off-shore technologies to New Zealand and make your company more competitive than ever before and ensure a better future for your company and staff.”

Already Jackson is working with other local manufacturers, some in highly innovative areas under conditions of secrecy, to help them advance their production techniques. “For New Zealand to grow we have got to work together. We look forward to working with other manufacturers in the area of robotics and welcome any opportunity to assist.”