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Ophardt seeks to optimise soap dispenser production through automation

Ophardt Belgien – a specialist in hygiene products – investigated the possibility of optimising part of their soap dispenser production, to facilitate the process for operators. The intention was to introduce a cobot and vision system.

Ophardt Belgien is a sub-division of the international Ophardt Hygiene company, established in Maaseik. Ophardt Hygiene is a global specialist in high-quality hand hygiene solutions. The manufacturing company decided to investigate whether it could optimise part of its soap dispenser production for industrial and medical use. The intention was to add cobots to relieve operators of certain tasks. They also wanted to simplify the quality control process by implementing a vision system.


The holder is the most important component in a soap dispenser. A holder is manufactured by sawing, milling and folding an aluminium profile and giving it an anodised finish. The holders are put on a rack and are immersed in an anodisation bath. After this treatment, the holders are taken from the rack and subjected to a quality control process before they are packaged. Two operators stand at the end of the anodisation line: one takes the holders from the rack, the other inspects them for production errors and places the ones they approve in a box. The work is repetitive, ergonomically challenging and requires constant concentration, which causes psychological stress. The result of the inspection also depends on the operator performing the task.


Demonstrator

In the Sirris and imec labs, the project partners developed a set-up whereby a cobot takes the holders from the rack. The cobot is equipped with proximity sensors to locate the holders. An additional challenge is that the holders sometimes stick to the rack due to the anodisation process. The cobot must be able to sense the amount of force required to separate the holder from the rack.

 

After removing them from the rack, the cobot places the holders on a conveyor belt to the quality control area. A second cobot picks up each one and holds it in front of a vision system (developed by Ghent University), which takes a photograph from each side. The photographs are analysed automatically. An operator then runs a final inspection on the holder, with on-screen access to the photographs and analysis.

Promising test results

The system to remove the holders from the rack was 100 percent successful, with automatic quality control accuracy on a separate batch of 97 percent. Operators’ working ergonomics were improved by adding a cobot to remove the holders from the rack. The consistency of quality inspections was increased by adding the vision system to support the operators’ work.