Revolution with Innovation…by Ben Illman, Automation Engineer ASA

Growing from a small engineering start-up, to a world leader successfully manufacturing to OEM quality standards, Carbon Revolution is exactly the kind of high-tech innovation the Australian Manufacturing Industry needs more of. The Geelong-based company made its ASX debut on 29 November 2019 with its lightweight carbon fibre wheels which are used in some of the premier cars in the world including Ferrari and Ford. 

Automated Solutions Australia (ASA) have built a strong relationship with Carbon Revolution over four years, collaborating on multiple projects to automate their manufacturing process.  ASA has been a well-matched partner, drawing on years of specialization in automated paint applications for the automobile industry and applying this expertise into other dispensing and machine tending applications in their production process.

Automation and industrialization of manufacturing processes are helping Carbon Revolution to meet the exacting demands of their customers. Carbon Revolution is meeting this challenge by increasing their throughput and constantly honing and redeveloping their production methodologies. This has been possible by analysing current processes and identifying areas which cause bottlenecks in the overall manufacturing process, as well as preempting potential future bottlenecks as production output increases.

One of the bottlenecks identified is the Manual Deflash process, which is where the excess resin and fibre are removed after the moulding process. Prior to automation, the process involved manually removing excess resin and fibre with files and sandpaper. Manual removal is very labour intensive and poses the potential for injury as the resin in certain parts of the wheel is thick and sharp. Carbon Revolution required a process development robot cell which would allow their engineering staff and the supplier to develop best practice around automatic removal of the resin and fibre, a challenge that ASA resolved with a cutting edge solution using 6 axis force sensing and profiling of the part for path generation.

A M710iC/50 robot was employed for the task, complete with Fanuc’s Severe Liquid and Dust Protection (Foundry) option which provides IP56 protection on the main body and IP67 on the outer arm and wrist. The robot and a Fanuc single axis positioner table controlled as an integrated axis of the robot were mounted to a common, heavy skid base to provide rigidity and the ability to relocate the cell within Carbon Revolutions ever evolving plant. The cell is a polycarbonate enclosure construction with sub floor dust collection and a dust extraction system integrated into the base structure.

The robot was fitted with Fanuc’s integrated Force Sensor coupled to a Pushcorp Spindle tool with automatic tool changer (ATC). The ATC allows the robot to change tools using the industry standard BT30 tool holders. The cell features a seven position tool rack with interlocked access doors for both the robot and operator, allowing tools to be changed by the robot mid process depending upon the current cut profile and whether it’s a roughing or finishing cut. Tools can also be serviced or changed over or by the operator and returned to the tool rack. Those tools are subsequently measured with the robot using the Fanuc force sensor to automatically recalibrate the tool.

The Fanuc Force Sensor solution is a very fine-tuned piece of equipment which serves more purposes than recalibrating the tools; for new path programming, the robot is directed to a spoke “window” and then set to create it’s own path by moving to an adjacent edge and then profile tracing the window. This method is used to create the nominal path, which is traced in production with the actual cutting tool applying force feedback provided by the integrated force sensor. Before machining, the force sensor allows the robot to accurately probe the wheel by touching several pre-defined locations to judge if the wheel loaded corresponds to the program it is about to perform and to accurately measure the orientation of the wheel, adapting the process to the actual orientation. During machining, the force sensor performs a contouring function to accurately machine high tolerance sections of the wheel.

To deliver the best outcome for Carbon Revolution, ASA sent two of its team to the USA to attend training on the use and implementation of Fanuc’s Force Sensor technology and to bring the cutting edge (pardon the pun) programming technology back to Australia for this project.

The cell is controlled by an Omron NJ PLC with integrated safety to provide communication to the robot, to the plant part traceability system for product related data and to the plant’s Ignition based SCADA system to report process feedback in an effort to meet the latest Industry 4.0 standards. A touch screen Ignition HMI was also included to provide a control interface for the cell, also acting as a diagnostic terminal.

The main benefits to Carbon Revolution of this deflash process using cutting edge force sensing technology is the increased throughput they’ve achieved. By removing the bulk of the resin and fibre robotically, it has provided a significant reduction in the time and effort required to finesse the wheel.

The successful results achieved by this technology has meant the development cell is now just another step in the process that delivers world’s best wheels from Australia to the world stage.

“With a long term goal of reducing the price of carbon-fibre wheels to the point that they become affordable for use on high-volume passenger cars, our ongoing partnership with Automated Solutions Australia is vital to identifying and achieving manufacturing efficiencies.”