From manual to automated: An Australasian success story

RedArc Electronics partners with Universal Robots.

RedArc Electronics is one of South Australia’s prominent employers in the manufacturing sector. Their rich history spans over 40 years in the research, design, development, and manufacture of a range of electronic voltage converters and associated products. These include inverters, power supplies, battery chargers, brake controllers and trailer braking products.

As a key investor in local manufacturing, RedArc invested $22 million into a facility expansion project in 2018 and prides itself in continuously investing in R&D and the upskilling of its more than 200 employees.

This notable investment ensures a high volume of Australian made, quality products and positions RedArc for future growth prospects.

From manual to automated

RedArc looked to expand its footprint and increase its competitiveness in the export market.

According to Mitchell Adams, manufacturing engineering team leader for RedArc, central to this was the need to automate manual processes.

“To compete on an international level, we needed to increase the speed, quality and outputs on our assembly line – namely the assembly of PCB boards,” says Adams.

“Moving from manual to automated processes would increase our productivity and allow us to better compete in an aggressive market.”

Answering this automation need was a natural fit for Universal Robots. Adams says: “I first was introduced to Universal Robots at a previous employer and was impressed by their service levels. They demonstrated a cobot on-site which helped us to estimate the cycle time and rate of return prior to purchase.”

Two UR5s and one UR10 collaborative robot (cobots) were selected based on RedArc’s requirements. Darrell Adams, head of Southeast Asia Oceania for Universal Robots says that cobots are well placed on the factory floor because they are fit for function and can work safely alongside humans which make them an excellent entry to automation in an otherwise manual process.

The cobots are used in the assembly, labelling and transport of PCB boards. Darrell Adams says that the cobots’ core tasks include the location and placement of a part in a jig feature, picking, assembly of the unit, presenting the unit to the labelling system where the movement of the cobot is used to apply a static label, loading and unloading of products for testing and picking up the product from the tester – here good and bad products are identified and sorted.

“As these goods are destined for export, it’s critical that only the best quality parts are sent. Here, cobots ensure quality, precision, and peace-of-mind for RedArc,” adds Mitchell Adams.

One of the UR5s is fitted with a Cognex 2D camera for PCB recognition and location, whilst the UR10 is fitted with a 3D Pickit camera which allows for picking of the plastic components for assembly.

Mitchell Adams says that the initial set up to perform bench testing with the 3D camera was trialled well ahead of commissioning.

“It was great to be able to do this to ensure the suitability of the product for such a complex project. The programming of the communication between the testing system and the cobot took a little longer. We had developed quite a complex robotic unit that needed to handle multiple tasks, all leading on from one another.”

Adams says that while operators were naturally hesitant when the cobots were first introduced, they were pleased to know that a thorough risk assessment and various safety tests had been completed prior to implementation. “This included using force control through the joints to demonstrate a staged safety test.”

‘Force mode’ is an exciting collaborative automation element to highlight, which Adams says allows the cobot to seek an object in a variable position.

“Due to variation in height when picking PCBs from a stack of vacuum form trays they are not always at the same level, so it was impossible to program a cobot to stop at the same point on every cycle.

“Force mode allows the cobot to move down slowly towards a product until an opposing force is detected, compensating for this difference in height.”

Success story

The robotic cell has increased productivity by 52%, and in addition the overall efficiency, quality and safety of the assembly on the line has also improved.

“Workers can now focus on value-added tasks and RedArc can rest assured that every PCB board is good to go,” says Mitchell Adams.

“The cobots ensure safety, collaboration, quality, improved production efficiency and were easily integrated into RedArc’s existing production facility.”

Adams concludes saying that this installation forms part of RedArc’s journey to become a Smart Factory by 2025. “We are always one step ahead and pride ourselves in ‘futureproofing’ our business. This robotic automation cell is a first for RedArc but is set to become the standard for further implementation as the company expands.”

Darrell Adams notes that the uptake of cobots in the Australia and New Zealand markets has seen a marked increase. “Some of this can be attributed to the bigger drive towards automation and reshoring which we are currently seeing in the region. We are always excited to see collaborations with cobots such as these and look forward to seeing the RedArc journey to a smart factory in 2025 unfold and will be supporting them all the way.”

For more: Design Energy,

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