The Robotics Depart­ment at Harro Höfliger

Making processes more effi­cient and short­ening dis­tances for cus­tomers: This is the goal pur­sued by the Robotics Depart­ment founded in 2018 at Harro Höfliger. Mean­while, eight people are respon­sible for the project plan­ning, imple­men­ta­tion and coor­di­na­tion of robotic appli­ca­tions – and the trend is rising.

Nowa­days, process automa­tion is hardly con­ceiv­able without the flex­ible grasping and han­dling of parts by robots. Harro Höfliger has also been increas­ingly using such sys­tems in their machines for years. “Robots not only result in a higher degree of effi­ciency and more flex­ible processes, they gen­er­ally also reduce costs,” explains Andreas Mahr, Depart­ment Leader Robotics. Since fall 2018, a sep­a­rate, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Robotics Depart­ment has been respon­sible for the project plan­ning, imple­men­ta­tion and man­age­ment of robot applications.

Pre­lim­i­nary tests per­formed by Engi­neering & Inno­va­tion Ser­vices (EIS) and a closely inter­linked coop­er­a­tion with Mechan­ical Design are also a stan­dard ele­ment of the process. Cus­tomers ben­efit from this in-house exper­tise and appre­ciate having a single con­tact and ser­vice partner for the robot tech­nology in their system.

Mul­ti­fac­eted tasks

The team of eight con­ducts risk assess­ments already during the ini­tial stages. “We are involved in the project as early as the con­cept phase. Right from the start, process and machine safety and reli­a­bility are para­mount,” empha­sizes Mahr. The team not only deter­mines the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the robot sta­tions, but also their dis­tance to the pro­tec­tive housing. The ideal robot system is chosen on the basis of para­me­ters such as oper­ating range, pay­load and environment.

In the next step, the group inte­grates the CAD envi­ron­ment into the manufacturer’s soft­ware and com­pares the soft­ware with the system require­ments – this pri­marily refers to the cycle time. Prior to the final start-up of the robots, the team is in close con­tact with the Con­trol Engi­neering Depart­ment in order to pro­gram the machine con­trol system (PLC) and embed the robot appli­ca­tion into the machine environment.

When it comes to more com­plex processes, it is some­times even nec­es­sary to start up the system vir­tu­ally. That way, the com­bi­na­tion of machine and robot con­trol can be suf­fi­ciently val­i­dated at an early stage and poten­tial prob­lems rec­og­nized and solved in time.

“Robots result in a higher degree of effi­ciency and more flex­ible processes.”Andreas Mahr, Depart­ment Leader Robotics at Harro Höfliger

Regarding tech­nology, the group has focused on three kine­matics: First, SCARA robots, whose struc­ture con­sists of four axes. A second option is the Delta Picker: These par­allel arm robots are par­tic­u­larly light and have at least three arms. The arm is mounted at the ceiling and is designed for X, Y and Z motion paths and high-speed appli­ca­tions. Ver­tical parts, on the other hand, can only be grasped with a 6‑axis robot due to its degrees of freedom – this third option is often used for oval motion ­machines. “In prin­ciple, every robotics automa­tion project includes cus­tomer-­spe­cific devel­op­ments, which usu­ally involve the grasping and han­dling of parts, so-called pick & place appli­ca­tions,” explains Mahr.

Max­imum appli­ca­tion versatility

Most of the sophis­ti­cated robots inte­grated into Harro Höfliger’s sys­tems are designed to handle del­i­cate and light prod­ucts such as syringes, pens or wound dress­ings. Robots are the first choice par­tic­u­larly for use in aseptic pro­duc­tion envi­ron­ments where there are high demands on sterile han­dling. In addi­tion to pick & place appli­ca­tions, they can also per­form very spe­cific process tasks such as for example cut­ting open pouches, applying adhe­sives, emp­tying trans­port con­tainers or erecting a folding carton.

“We intend to fur­ther expand and stan­dardize robot appli­ca­tions in the future.“Andreas Mahr, Depart­ment Leader Robotics at Harro Höfliger

Mahr looks back with sat­is­fac­tion on the two years since the depart­ment was founded: “We have already been able to apply our exper­tise in robotics to a wide range of projects. In order to be able to guar­antee our cus­tomers even greater flex­i­bility in man­u­fac­turing processes, we intend to fur­ther expand and stan­dardize robot appli­ca­tions at Harro ­Höfliger in the future.”

How to inte­grate robots in machines

1. Robot system definition
Based on para­me­ters such as oper­ating range, pay­load, envi­ron­ment and man­u­fac­turer, as a first step the team deter­mines a suit­able robot system.

2. CAD integration
In the next step, the experts inte­grate the CAD envi­ron­ment into the manufacturer’s software.

3. Soft­ware programming
Fun­da­mental tasks also include soft­ware instal­la­tion, cell arrange­ment and a com­pli­ance check with the system requirements.

4. Com­mis­sioning
Fol­lowing the pro­gram­ming of the con­troller (PLC), the robot appli­ca­tion is embedded into the machine environment.

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Photos: Helmar Lünig