Universal Robots’ collaborative robots (or cobots for short) are helping garden furniture manufacturer, AFK Garden Furniture, keep up with demand. Supplied by Bedfordshire-based automation distributor, RARUK Automation, two ceiling-mounted UR10e robots have been installed in the garden furniture company’s sanding workstation.

Based in Lincolnshire, AFK Garden Furniture chose to automate its sanding tasks using a complete surface finishing solution. The solution combines a UR10e collaborative robot with a Mirka AIROS lightweight sanding head and Robotiq’s sanding kit which provides the user with Finishing Copilot software. The software has a built-in path generator which speeds up programming and set-up time.

To extend the reach of the UR10e cobots, AFK Garden Furniture added the 7th axis slide kit from Ewellix, which also comes with a URCap for easy integration with the collaborative robots.

AFK Garden Furniture uses robots for 10-15 different pieces of furniture. The sanding paths for each individual product type are saved on the cobot’s teach pendant. When the company needs to switch between products, the operator simply presses play on the stored sanding program for that particular product.

The move to automate was beneficial for workers, as the cobots can take on complex sanding tasks while human workers tend the robotic cell by feeding it the unfinished product. This eliminates the risk of repetitive strain injury to workers through excessive physical labour.

There have also been improvements in terms of product quality and consistency, as each product type is now sanded the same way every single time.

“Before we installed the robots, we never saw one product sanded the same way,” says Martyn Mitchell, factory manager at AFK Garden Furniture. “Now, every single piece of furniture is identically sanded; our product quality has exponentially increased.

“Installing these robots has been a brilliant experience,” Mitchell concludes. “Our productivity has gone up by 20 per cent, while our operators have been freed up from the strain of sanding to instead focus on managing the robots.”

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