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ATI Utility Couplers Eliminate Equipment Failure at KTH Parts Industries
Automatic coupling of air and electricity to KTH’s robotic welding cells reduces downtime to zero hours!
There is no better way to resolve a problem than eliminating it entirely. At KTH Parts Industries Inc., automating a manual equipment changeover process using ATI’s Utility Couplers accomplished that very feat. More specifically, the new process eliminates roughly 65 hours per year of downtime per line, reduces the total cost of operations, and increases equipment utilization and productivity.

One of KTH’s core competencies is the design and implementation of flexible welding lines for automotive underbody components. Their welding lines use complex fixtures called “jigs” to hold the components in place while a robot welds them together. Each automobile model requires a different jig, which leads to many equipment changeovers in the plant.

To increase flexibility and optimize limited manufacturing floor space, KTH created a dual-sided work cell with a turntable. The objective of this design was to keep the robot active and reduce set-up time; parts are loaded into the jig on one side of the turntable while the robot welds parts together on the other side.

Before the installation of ATI’s Utility Couplers, KTH relied upon manual labor to connect and disconnect cables, and load the jigs onto the turntables. Multiply this by one to two changeovers per line per shift, and you have a staggering amount of human-machine interaction in the process. Dave Reed is a Project Leader in KTH’s Weld Department. He says of the old process, “Before we started using the ATI Utility Couplers, we had an air line and a manifold, and needed to plug them together with tie-downs. On the electrical side, we had to mate the 40-pin disconnects by manually twisting them together. This process was repeated many times for each jig change.” The physical labor demands of the old process were considerably high, and of course, any time an associate enters the work cell, there is an inherent risk.

Under these conditions, high frequency of cable failure was no surprise. Coupling and uncoupling the cables with inconsistent force and torque created excessive wear. Misalignment of connectors led to damaged pins. Without a dedicated storage space for cables not in use, they were left on the floor or on top of other equipment in the cell. Reed explains, “We had air lines that were cut and leaking, connectors that were damaged. Maintenance was called to try and assess the problem, but a lot of the times, it was just a bent pin on a connector that would cost us hours of downtime; roughly 65 hours a year per line.”

In addition to excessive human interaction and equipment failures, the old process was a nightmare for the Equipment Support Group. The group’s Section Leader Jonah Strapp says, “After changeovers, you would have to mess with something in the cell to get it working again. Downtime means money lost. When that occurs, there is quite a bit of pressure to get the lines running.”

KTH was exceptionally motivated to improve the welding jig changeover to enable a smoother flow of operations, increase the safety of employees, and reduce instances of equipment failure. Matt Myers, Staff Engineer of KTH’s Engineering Project Group, says, “During our normal operation day, we try to squeeze as much production out of the line as possible. Every time we do a changeover we are losing production time, which translates to a large financial negative in our books. Anything we can do to reduce the amount of downtime is insanely critical.” Enter: ATI’s Utility Couplers.

ATI’s Utility Couplers are ideal for KTH’s welding lines. They provide power, signal, and pneumatic air to docking and fixturing applications that require fast, reliable coupling where precise alignment is not always possible. ATI’s Utility Couplers have built-in rotational compliance to provide repeatable coupling in a durable package. Since the design is modular, the Utility Couplers work with ATI’s extensive family of Tool Changer Utility Modules. The versatility of the modules allows for Utility Couplers to service a wide range of network protocols as well. Myers explains, “When it comes to new product design, I can rely on the ATI engineering team to quickly design an electrical or pneumatic product that fits our needs, or reference one of their already thousands of products [available] on the website.” For this particular system at KTH, ATI configured a Utility Coupler and a 32-pin Discrete I/O electrical module that was easily integrated into their existing lines.

“When we first started trying out the Utility Coupler, it was apparent right away that it was going to make a big difference. The new couplers are very reliable and hands-free. We don't have to mess with them. They work every time.” Strapp says.

When asked how KTH chose ATI as their supplier, Myers reports, “Based on our previous customer service relationship, the quick lead times, and our local account manager, it was an easy decision to go with ATI.” KTH is a longtime user of ATI’s Robotic Tool Changer products, so the transition to automatic coupling with ATI’s Utility Couplers was a smart match.

Dave Reed confirms, “I've changed probably hundreds of these jigs in the last year, and I have never had an issue with the ATI system. You set the jig on there, you hit the button, it presses in, clamps up, your pins are all mated, you have zero tolerance in getting bent pins or broken air lines. It's pretty much a flawless product. It makes life a lot easier.”

About KTH Parts Industries, Inc.: KTH Parts Industries, located in St. Paris, Ohio, is a Tier-1 Automotive Supplier for underbody structural parts, providing automotive components to companies worldwide. To maintain a high level of excellence, their team of over 1,100 engineering and manufacturing associates is involved with many phases of automotive parts including, product development, product analysis, product formability, prototyping, production stamping, forming, robotic welding, assembly, and shipment of parts. KTH uses state-of-the-art applications to simulate and analyze the manufacturability of designs. Technical experience, coupled with dependable support, allows KTH to provide high-quality, high-performance automotive products that require the highest caliber technical expertise to improve, operate, and maintain.

More information on our Utility Couplers here.

More information on KTH Parts Industries here.

Photos and videos courtesy of KTH Parts Industries

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