MiniRoboFab: Exploring Product Customisation and Robotic Fabrication in a Small Factory

Background

Ritherdon and Co Ltd is a family owned and run engineering company, specializing in fabrication of products from sheet metal. The Company manufactures and supplies products from its own ranges of electrical enclosures, fire barrier products and metering products among others. The product development process necessarily involves problem solving with our customers, so the Company is experienced in co-developing products and market research within its customer base.

There is a very strong culture of continuous improvement. Within Better Factory, MiniRoboFab aims to make a breakthrough introducing and testing the limits of human-robot co-working within a small, sheet-metalworking smart factory through the introduction of Internet of Things technology.

In this experiment, Ritherdon and Co Ltd. will be working with artist Nicola Ellis (UK), and technical partner Digiotouch OU (Estonia). 

Nicola Ellis is interested in studying complex ecosystems and environments, in order to understand how their internal workings interact to function as a ‘whole’. She observes, documents and subverts the intended function(s) of processes and communications, most recently within manufacturing and scientific research organisations.

Digiotouch OU provides sustainable and secure Digital Transformation to Smart City, Mobility, Healthcare, and Manufacturing & Logistics domains. Its core competence is to digitize customers’ legacy business processes, operations, and assets using using its Cloud based, secure Paradise IoT Platform.

Challenges

MiniRoboFab will start with a relatively simple system of human-robot collaborative working, then progressively add complexity. Small factories, such as Ritherdon, are often situated in old buildings and do not have the space to install a full-sized, robotic cell. 

The project will experiment with how compact a robotic cell could be, to make and still operate safely and efficiently. The main challenge is to reduce the required floor space by approximately 33%, which would make it a more practical solution to Ritherdon as well as other similar sized factories.

Expected impact

There will be three main impacts from the project:

  • Creation of a new service for Ritherdon, that will offer customisable designs for its products allowing ‘Lot Size One’ manufacture of these products.
  • Boosting the factory’s productive capacity. Extending the robotic automation across three or four operations would increase the company’s overall capacity by at least 5 to 10%.
  • Beneficial environmental impact, as more turnover is spread over the same environmental footprint, reduce the amount of waste materials produced and reduce the future borrowing requirement for a new factory (saving interest costs and safeguarding jobs).

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