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cobots and job shops: a marriage that works

in sawyer @ work by Sue Sokoloski

Sawyer, a collaborative robot by Rethink Robotics, works on the factory floor of Fitzpatrick Manufacturing.

The first thing you notice when you walk into Fitzpatrick Manufacturing is the floor. Seriously. It shines. Throughout their factory floor in Sterling Heights there is coffee brewing, ample supplies of cold water, employee-selected music playing overhead, and a level of cleanliness that is notable. And those are just a few of the things that make Fitzpatrick unique. What’s not unique, however, is the fact that manufacturers in Michigan, specifically the Detroit area, are competing for scarce labor and having to find creative ways to set themselves apart and attract talent.

Like most job shops, Fitzpatrick can experience tremendous variability in customer requests, and at the same time, have orders that need to process 7×24 for weeks.  As a CNC machine shop and custom manufacturer, they supply parts to more than a dozen industry sectors – from aerospace and automotive to medical equipment and oil and gas – adapting to the projects that come in each day, but making the staffing situation even more challenging.  They knew they needed an automation solution and began researching smart, collaborative robots (cobots) that could work safely alongside their existing employees.

They selected Sawyer and assigned the cobot to a high volume task honing parts that become components of an automobile part.  The task requires Sawyer to deal with precise tolerances during highly repetitive actions – a tedious and dull job that is perfect for a cobot. Packaging between 280 and 300 parts before human workers need to intervene, Sawyer can run overnight, lights out, and have all the parts ready to go when workers arrive back at the facility.

Since its founding in 1952, Fitzpatrick has been recognized for its innovation, bringing in new technology to increase productivity and improve efficiency in the factory – all to remain competitive. Unlike other job shops, it’s not just about machine utilization, it’s about the best use of human capital. After the first successful Sawyer implementation, the company already has ideas for additional Sawyer deployments and using cobots to automate more in the factory.

Next, subscribe above and check out the rest of the Rethink blog here. Or take a look at some of the other industries in which collaborative robots are being used.

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About the Author

Sue Sokoloski

Sue has spent the last two decades marketing for emerging technologies, building new categories, and applying science to the art of marketing. It took one look at Baxter to sign on to Rethink Robotics – a human-safe robot out to change the world. When not promoting “all things Sawyer and Baxter”, she is focused on “all things food”: where to eat it, how to prepare it, how to write another cookbook about it.



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