The leading collaborative robots (cobots) company Universal Robots has empowered Benchmark Electronics in Thailand with a successful deployment of six cobots in their assembly and testing processes in the plant in Korat, Thailand. Benchmark Electronics, an American stalwart in providing engineering and manufacturing services and integrated technology solutions for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) globally, is a sizable facility producing industrial and telecommunication products and employs 1,500 people.
“We have improved operational efficiency by 25 percent and saved 10 percent in manufacturing space. With the UR cobots, we have 16 employees transferred to handle higher-skilled tasks. We are looking at four additional automation projects that will deploy more cobots in similar applications for other customers,” said Boonlert Aukkarapichata, Director of Operations, Benchmark Electronics, Thailand.
Cobots and their place in the S-Curve evolution
Robotics is one of the five new “S-curve” industries the Thai government is focusing on, alongside digital, biofuels and biochemicals, medical, aviation and logistics. There is a great potential in developing the Thai workforce to gear up for advanced technologies in robotics which can promise better remuneration for skilled employees, and in turn, greater productivity and profits for enterprises equipped with robotics and relevant skilled manpower.
Cobots are robots that work seamlessly and safely alongside humans in shared spaces. Unlike traditional industrial robots which are designed to work independently without much human presence to ensure “safety by isolation”, cobots work together with humans very well through “safety by design”, with no necessity for safety guarding, subject to risk assessment. Cobots are excellent for repetitive and supporting processes that require consistency, programmability, ease of use, and safety, while continuing to provide human operators control and collaboration. As such, cobots provide humans a productive and profitable co-existence. Especially in Asia, cobots and skilled human operators are an ideal match for an efficient facility. The cobots market in Asia Pacific has been projected to grow at a CAGR of 45.46% with a cumulative market of US$13.17 billion from 2020 to 2026 (*1).
The Benchmark experience with cobots
While expanding, Benchmark Thailand determined that an automated assembly and testing production line with cobots can improve production efficiency, output quality, customer satisfaction, and future-proofing. Through this implementation, Benchmark deployed four UR5 and two UR10e cobots in its line.
On the assembly line, a cobot lifts the product and fits a printed circuit board (PCB) and a module and transfers it to an automated screwing machine. A visual scanner registers dedicated serial numbers from the product. Then the cobot picks up a radio frequency (RF) cover and places that cover over the product.
On the testing line, a cobot picks up the completed product on a testing machine and locks it securely in place for automated testing. After a 15-minute test, the test results are fed through the Benchmark system and the cobot releases the product.
Benchmark Thailand needed a robotics platform that was easy to understand, learn, and deploy. Unlike some platforms, the UR cobots use a simple touch-screen teach pendant on free drive mode that operators can learn quickly and create programs, and tweak fine adjustments easily.
“We evaluated many robots and cobots from different vendors, and we found Universal Robots’ (UR) cobots to be the best cobots brand to serve our current and future needs. They are incredibly easy to program and made light work for our operators to learn quickly, and are safe to work alongside with,” said Aukkarapichata.
“We had great support from the UR distributor Autoflexible Advanced Engineering, who trained us in the initial setup. Thereafter, every operator found the cobots easy to learn and work with. We saved hefty work cell remodelling costs as no safety guards were needed,” said Udomsak Insome, Product Engineer, Benchmark Electronics, Thailand.
“The UR cobots are easy to learn, program and use. It took me only two days to learn to operate them,” said Kiatkong Boonkaroon, Cobot Specialist, Benchmark Electronics, Thailand.
Benchmark Thailand has seen greater production quality and consistency in its throughput, with higher productivity and minimal human error. The company is expected to achieve ROI within just 18 months.
About UR5 Cobot
Frequently used in OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), the UR5 of the CB3 product range is a lightweight, adaptable, collaborative robot that manages medium-duty applications with great flexibility. It has a reach of 850 mm, weighs 18.4 kg, handles a payload of up to 5 kg, and has a footprint of only 149 mm.
About UR10e Cobot
A member of Universal Robots e-Series family, the UR10e has a longer reach of 1,300 mm, weighs 33.5 kg, handles a payload of up to 10 kg, while having a reasonably small footprint of just 190 mm. It is excellent for applications in machine tending, palletising, and packaging.