Henry hoovers and UWE Bristol, a match made in robotic automation heaven
Innovate UK has awarded an ‘Outstanding’ accolade to the 2-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the manufacturer of ‘Henry’ and ‘Hetty’ vacuum cleaners this month.
“The project has had an outstanding impact on our business at Numatic and it is nice that this can also be externally recognised”
The partnership was set up to help vacuum cleaner manufacturers Numatic International Ltd make the production of these well-known friendly household appliances more advanced than ever before.
Given the specialist knowledge UWE Bristol has in this area, Numatic is now set to complete its first ever semi-automated line later this year, using two ‘cobots’ – robots that collaborate with humans.
Numatic’s Manufacturing Manager Stuart Cochrane comments: “From its inception, the project has had an outstanding impact on our business at Numatic and it’s nice that this can also be externally recognised.”
A rare accolade
It was noted that the ‘Outstanding’ level of merit given to the partnership is rare. However, in this case, it was awarded as the partnership’s outcomes are set to transform the way Numatic produces these popular appliances.
“We wanted to use automation to assist people, not replace them”
Stuart commented: “The aim of the KTP was to increase Numatic’s vacuum cleaner productivity by adapting the robots to work alongside humans in a safe and efficient way – without impacting jobs. We wanted to use automation to assist people, not replace them.
Farid Dailami, an Associate Professor for Knowledge Exchange in Manufacturing at UWE Bristol who was overseeing the project added: “We employed Tim Yap, a Master’s graduate in electrical engineering, to work at Numatic as its associate. I helped him configure the robots to work safely alongside people and integrate them into the assembly line.
“BRL has two Universal Robots (URs) in its premises on UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus and Tim, along with other engineers from Numatic, initially carried out simulations on the machines over a seven-week period. Over several visits they designed and modified the tool that was fitted to the robot – that tool is key to tailoring the robot’s capabilities to what you want to achieve.”
During the project the team were also able to optimise the way a robot coils the power lead on the vacuum cleaner and assessed how to prevent the cleaning devices from wobbling when a robotic arm picks them up to place them in a box (too much wobble damages the packaging).
The system will provide huge benefits in assembly line efficiency. This will set it up to expand exports and the new technology could pave the way for future product innovations.
Find out more about Hetty and Henry on the Numatic International website and how you can get involved in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership on the InnovateUK website. You can also check out other projects UWE Bristol is involved in by following them on Twitter here: @UWEBristol.