Robots @ Sirris

In the 1980s, the robot story for Sirris - then still WTCM / CRIF - began with the arrival of the first robot at the University of Leuven. Sirris was able to see the link with industrial needs and since then, its knowledge about robots and their many applications has been built further and expanded in order to help and advise companies as best as possible.

Recently, we published a Techniline article about the evolution of robotics for industry. Sirris too has been following this evolution for some decades and is even a research pioneer in the possibilities of these machines for our companies. Summarized briefly: after an exploratory phase, Sirris launched its search into the potential of robots in production, in order to then shift over to the possibilities for implementation in a production environment.

A summary of our arsenal over the years:

1983 – drilling with a robot

Sirris became acquainted with robots in 1983, more particularly with the Cincinatti T3 robot. This robot was purchased by the University of Leuven in the context of robotics research projects, but it was also available to Sirris. Sirris started working with this hydraulic machine in a Sabca pilot project, automating the drilling of hundreds of rivet holes in aircraft fuselage sections.

1980’s-1999 - loading a lathe

A few years later Sirris set to work with an ASEA IRB60 robot. Because of its strong background in machining and metal removing machines, the application was obvious: the automatic loading of a CNC-lathe. A conveyor belt was added for the loading and unloading of pallets, on which the workpieces could be positioned relatively accurately. The five-axis robot, set between the conveyor and lathe, was equipped with a self-centring gripper.

1980’s-1999 - custom loading a milling machine for SMEs

In a follow-up project, two machines were loaded using an ABB IRB 3000 robot. A small Maho milling machine with pallet changer was added along with an IBM industrial PC to coordinate everything. Drivers were developed for communication with the robot (ARLA - Asea robot language) and with the Heidenhain control of the milling machine (LSV2 - low speed version 2). There was also an interchangeable gripper system and a wireless pressure monitoring system for clamping modules on the machine pallets.

The acquired knowledge was used in the design of an FMS control for the SMA Vanlanduyt Toelevering. At the time, since commercially available Flex Manufacturing Systems (FMSs) were highly complex and basically prohibitively expensive for SMEs, the company itself designed such a system and built its own pallet transporter, while Sirris provided the software that brought the pallets to the correct position in accordance with a specified route.


1980’s-1999 - sanding with a robot

The ABB-robot was also used for other feasibility tests. A test for the Polet company – the automatically regrinding of spades - was so successful that the company took over the entire system.

1980’s-1999 - welding with a robot

In the mid ‘90s a small robot returned - a KUKA KR 15 - with a tilt-and-turn table and a Fronius welding source. Arc welding was and still is the most popular application for robots. Using this robot, knowledge and experience were mainly accrued around applications.

2008 – milling robot

In collaboration with Trento Belgium, a robot cell was developed for the milling of large components based on a Motoman industrial robot. The development involved both hardware, spindle assembly on the robot and cable package attachment as well as software, offline programming, cutter path simulations and robot code generation.

2010 – folding robot

In 2010, a KUKA KR60 L30-3 KS was acquired, which was subsequently expanded with a linear axis and which would be used in a flexible folding cell.
The investigation with the folding robot in a flexible cell was to verify the technical and economical feasibility of robot supported bending for small and medium-sized batches. There were three core domains in this investigation.

  • Work scheduling: obtaining the work preparation offline (programming and simulation of the robot program on a PC instead of the robot control itself via teach-in), whereby programming may be done much faster (and is automated as much as possible) and the system does not have to be stopped for programming.
  • Gripper issues: Developing flexible / configurable grippers for handling the products. With this, biggest challenge was to be able to manage as large a product range as possible with the smallest possible set of grippers.
  • Complexity management: maximizing the folding cell autonomy and controlling material flows (including the elaboration of stacking algorithms for folded products).

2012 – flexible loading of a turning and milling centre

In 2012, Sirris invested in the "Turn-Assist” from RoboJob, a Belgian startup company, which was the first to develop a state-of-the-art loading system for CNC machines with claw clamping (e.g. turning and turning/milling centres).  The development was designed to be set up very quickly for a new product and moreover to be machine and robot independent through the use of a proprietary software and hardware interface. The turn-assist was equipped with a Fanuc M20iA.

Sirris purchased this new type of load cell to first and foremost determine the usability and ease of use for SMEs facing batches that were ever decreasing in size, yet looking for "flexible automation" on their CNC processing machines.

Subsequently, the loading system was deployed in a broad research project on flexible automation, investigating quality control, process monitoring and automatic product feed and removal through AGVs in a small series production environment.

2013 – robot for forming hyperflexible plates

In the context of a research project on ISF (incremental sheet metal forming) a KUKA KR500-3 MT was put into use in the Sirris workshop in Heverlee. This absolutely accurate variant is equipped with dual gearboxes and thus capable of delivering the very high process forces that may be required in the ISF process. You can find out more about our services on the following webpage.

2013 - versatile robot

The KUKA KR500 was also used to carry out tests for many years - simulation of the approach route and catching of a space capsule - for the development of a new IBDM docking system for manned space exploration (initially for the ISS). This In partnership with Qinetiq Space and the ESA.

Currently, use for this widely applicable robot includes use in further research and feasibility studies in the context of ISF, in research into solar panel recycling, robotic milling and looking towards the future, even more application possibilities are being considered.

2014-2017 – robots operate together with operator

Since safety, flexibility and speed on the production floor are key issues, a new generation of robots - the cobots - is being explored. Numerous feasibility tests have already been carried out on behalf of companies, ranging from the manipulation of fruit to the assembly of electromechanical components. The two application laboratories in Kortrijk and Diepenbeek have collaborative robots, including (for some time) a Baxter from Rethink Robotics, a UR3 and UR10 from Universal Robots and a LBR Ilwa 14 from Kuka. The latest addition is the one-armed Sawyer from Rethink Robotics. You can read more about these collaborative robots and their possibilities here.