Multi-functional cell from Wood Automation & Control takes training in robotics and automation to new levels

Addressing the skills shortage within UK manufacturing has become a clear focus at all levels, from Government initiatives, recruitment of apprentices within both small and large companies, and from organisations such as Make UK, who are focused on creating the most supportive environment for UK manufacturers to enable them to thrive, innovate and compete. 

As robotics and automation continue to play an increasingly important part in our manufacturing processes, it is essential that both our current and future generation of engineers have the opportunity to get “hands-on” training and experience with the latest robot, automation and control technologies.

Wood Automation & Control used their wealth of engineering and automation expertise to design, build and install a state of the art robotic training cell at Make UK’s Technology Hub in Birmingham.  This training cell is now live and ready for use by the 400 apprentices and other engineers joining the Make UK training courses this year.

This significant investment in the latest robotics and production automation, including both software and hardware, complements systems already installed at the Technology Hub, which now boasts an unrivalled range of industry standard components from a variety of manufacturers. Engineering apprentices at the Make UK’s Technology Training Hub can now get their hands on the latest robotic programming and production trouble-shooting systems thanks to the system designed and built by Wood Automation & Control, with support from technology partner SMC UK Ltd. 

(The system designed and built by Wood Automation & Control incorporates a variety of robot models)

Students using the facility, including both apprentices and experienced engineers seeking to enhance their skill level, will be able to experience a range of tasks including the inspection, conveying and robotic transfer of component shafts into and out of the cell and the robotic pick and place of automotive body panels.

Tim Bednall, Sales and Marketing Manager for Wood Automation & Control commented:  “Make UK required a training cell that incorporated a variety of robots and control systems, in order to give apprentices the widest possible knowledge and experience. We designed a self-contained cell featuring a range of automated handling technologies commonly found within manufacturing facilities. The cell has also been designed with a minimal footprint and features different control software and interfaces. In addition, the whole system has been engineered with safety being of paramount importance.”

The training cell incorporates KUKA, FANUC and ABB robots, and a fundamental part of its configuration is its unique and secure wireless communications and data capture system that enables the entire suite of control systems and robotics to operate and talk to each other.  Wood Automation & Control worked in collaboration with SMC UK to achieve this high level of functionality in such a demanding environment.

At the heart of this system is SMC’s wireless EX600-W Fieldbus system for serial input / output transmission.  Capable of operating over a radius of up to 10 metres it can easily control all of the individual systems within the training cell. Remote monitoring via a PC allows tutors and students to check functionality or trouble-shoot whilst away from the physical training cell. The Wi-Fi system uses the 2.4GHz ISM frequency band, but can frequency hop every 5 milliseconds to provide stable communications and minimise the risk of disruption from other electronic devices.  Its data encryption system helps to maximise security and prevents unauthorised access.

(The self-contained cell features a range of automated handling technologies commonly found within manufacturing facilities)

The cell also features a dual control system to allow students to become familiar with both Siemens and Rockwell controls and HMI architectures. A touchscreen ‘Tutor’ HMI enables instructors to select fault conditions and disable components within the cell to create realistic system failures for subsequent identification and rectification by the apprentices. A range of pneumatically operated gripper systems, with interchangeable gripper fingers, provides the flexibility for the robots to handle and manipulate different component parts.

Gordon Thompson, the Technology Skills Lead at Make UK, comments on the cell’s performance: “The Robotic Training Cell is proving to be an excellent training aid capable of a wide range of usages and scenarios, in part due to the advanced technology supplied by Wood Automation & Control and their partner in this project SMC UK Ltd.   This is allowing us to produce more scenarios than envisaged and has added some significant value to the training delivery.”