Case Study

Our customer, RNA Automation was contracted to design and manufacture an automated laser drilling process cell and inspection system for a range of plastic moulded components. The hole diameters to be drilled ranged from 15um to 50um.

The system incorporated bowl feeder, vision guided robot, walking beam transfer system, laser drilling system, vision inspection stations and a control system. The project was for a global leader of gas detector manufacture for the mining industry.

Challenge:

Provide a flexible automation solution for various different components (11 variants)
Provide quick and easy changeover between component runs
Provide 100% inspection on position, entry hole size and exit hole size

Solution:

The figure shows the main functional elements of the solution. This particular configuration utilizes one laser drilling station and three camera stations to verify part accuracy.

To begin the process, the components are presented to a vision guided Kawasaki robot by an RNA bowl feeder that feeds parts onto a pick conveyor mounted below the robot. The robot then picks the component and places it in the correct orientation to a nest mounted on a walking beam transfer system.

With the walking beam transfer system, the component is lifted up by a gripper and moved one position ahead to the laser station. The laser drilling process is triggered and drills the correct size hole in the desired position.

The laser drilling system is supplied by ES Technology who have extensive experience in laser drilling, welding & marking systems, delivering a quality performance at high speed and with great precision.  After the component is drilled, the component is lifted up again and moved to the next station for the first inspection.

RNA enlisted the expertise of their machine vision partner Fisher Smith, who are leading experts in the field of machine vision and industrial control systems. The vision system incorporates 3 camera stations, with the ability to inspect each component for position of the hole, entry hole size and exit hole size. Components that fail the vision inspection are rejected into a reject bin. ‘Good’ components are fed into a collection bin for bagging system and a separate bin for random sampling (1/1000 of ‘good’ components for further off-line checking).

The application presented Fisher Smith with numerous technical challenges particularly in relation to the measurement of the drilled hole size. Due to the functionality of the device both the size of hole at entry and exit are measured. Two four megapixel cameras using Vision & Control magnifying telecentric lenses are utilised, however the depth of field of the lens (0.005mm) for such a small field of view (1.2mm)  is far less than the variation in material thickness. To overcome this Fisher Smith specified precision servo stages to move the camera/optics and illumination vertically whilst continually acquiring images and then employed a custom algorithm to identfy the image where the hole edge is in focus. Further algorithms were developed by Fisher Smith to measure the hole size.

This system has the flexibility to handle various components (11 variants). The bowl feed system utilises an innovative quick-change tooling system that speeds up tooling changes. First, each component variant is provided a unique barcode which contains all the parameter set up for that particular component. When the barcode is scanned, the data is retrieved by the control PLC/HMI and then the operator should change the tooling models to meet all those parameters. The PLC automatically recognizes if incorrect sets of tooling are fitted. This validation process takes just seconds, and eliminates the risk of inadvertent human errors. A fully validated changeover to switch from one component to another can be accomplished in less than 5 minutes, resulting in improved uptime and productivity.

Key features & benefits

Provides a complete solution simple, quick changeover between components of different sizes

Handling system and laser driller fully automated

Precision measurement +/-1 micron Vision inspection system

Minimal changeover for various components; tooling changeover time less than 5 minutes

Barcode identification to verify the changeover process


All safety interlocks supplied and fitted Poka-Yoke design


SPC (statistical process control) – The vision system monitors and records key processing data to help ensure that the laser process is stable and produces constant output. It also generates pass/fail information for the PLC such that rejects are ejected from the system prior to bagging  

Future proof – the control system can be programmed to suit new or additional components.

View a short video of the working machine