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Interface Solutions for Robotics and Industrial Automation

As the manufacturing world continues to push towards the 4.0 Industrial Revolution, critical technology is necessary to ensure facilities are running as efficiently as possible. With advancements toward fully or semi-autonomous factories and robotics, manufacturers need to have total trust in their hardware and software to perform with precision in the assigned tasks. This requires collecting accurate and real-time data to constantly monitor every aspect of the facility’s technology and production.

In the development of robotics used in industrial automation, our Interface Multi-Axis Sensors are often used to test the multi-directional movement and force of robotics arms. Whether it’s a fully automated or semi-automated robotic system, manufacturers need to be able to ensure the complex movements and actions of the robotics arm are optimized to take on very precise jobs. These types of robotics are often used for projects that are too precise for the human hand.

Industrial automation and robotics are creating a more efficient manufacturing process, which will help to churn products out more quickly and lower costs. However, to optimize these processes, it’s critical that we trust the hardware to operate autonomously and that we have systems in-place to identify malfunctions quickly.

Interface plays a critical role in robotics and industrial automation by providing our customers with highly accurate load cells and torque transducers to measure and collect data on the force and torque that these machines are exerting. Interface force measurement solutions and products are involved in the testing of the machines before they hit the production line, and in some cases, our products are also installed directly on the machine to allow users to monitor the force in real-time.

One industry that has a high demand for our products is the consumer packaging industry. Many of the processes involved in the production line of a consumer packaging plant have utilized automation for a long time.

For instance, beverage companies that sell bottles of water or soda utilize machines that cap the product all day long. Hundreds of thousands of bottles go through the capping process on the production line daily. If there are any issues with the torque applied in the capping process, the beverage company could see heavy losses because the bottle could be damaged from over torquing the cap, or the beverage could leak during the shipping process if the caps are under torqued. To avoid these loses, the machines are optimized using a torque transducer.

Torque transducers provide data during the testing process to help the machine manufacturer get the force exactly right for the capping process. The torque transducer can also stay installed on the machine so that the beverage company can continuously monitor the torque of the machine and stop production before damages occur if there is an issue.

Interface offers nearly 50 types of reaction (static) torque transducers and rotary (dynamic) torque transducers. All of our torque transducers are precision-machined and use our proprietary torque sensors for the most accurate data possible.

Another common automation use for force and torque measurement products is in the automotive industry. Automation in this industry has been used for some time increase production of cars.

Two examples of how Interface load cells and torque transducers play a role in the automobile production line is with seat durability testing and bolt fastening.

For seat testing, we had a customer use an Interface Multi-Axis Model 6A68C 6-Axis Load Cell to identify previously unknown bending forcing that could negatively influence their testing process. This allowed the customer to redesign their testing fixture to eliminate the bending moment and more accurately perform the durability testing.

For bolt fastening, we installed an Interface Model LWCF Clamping Force Load Washers along with Interface Instrumentation to monitor the force being applied during bolt tightening. This helped the customer avoid over tightening bolts, which could damage the product in the process.

For a more in-depth overview of both applications, please check out our application notes:

Force measurement products are a critical technology in the testing and monitoring of automation equipment. To learn more about the various products and instrumentation Interface supplies to facilitate industrial automation and support advancements in robotics, contact our applications experts here.  We also have a number of application notes focused on industrial automation here.

Contributor: Ken Bishop, Sr Sales Director, Custom Solutions and Services

 

Load Button Load Cells 101

Manufactured devices, technology advancements and product designs are getting smaller and smaller as innovations demand less space to do more for their consumers. As engineers are designing products with miniaturized components, they also need high quality test and measurement solutions that produce accurate results within these smaller testing spaces.

Interface has created a series Load Button Load Cells to meet these exact requirements. These load buttons are designed and manufactured to specifically fit into small and confined spaces, providing the precision-based measurements as expected from larger load cells.

Interface Load Button Load Cells are compact strain gauge-based sensors used in a wide variety of applications, including test and measurement and for general measurement applications. Interface standard LBM and LBS Load Button Load Cells can fulfill the need for compression force measurements at a very respectable precision level for most applications.

Product diameters range from 1 inch to 3 inches, with heights from 0.39 inch to 1.5 inches. The shaped load button load cell has a spherical radius to help confine misaligned loads to the primary axis of the cell. And while these products are small, they are capable of measuring compression forces from 10 lbf all the way to 50,000 lbf. The spherical radius of our Load Cell Load Buttons also help to confine misaligned loads to the primary axis of the cell.

Interface Load Button Load Cells 

Interface’s Custom Solutions Team and Product Engineers can also help to design a specific size and capacity to fit our customer’s exact requirements. Let us know what you need by contacting us here.

Load Button Load Cells Functionality and Proper Use

Applications that use compression loads on load button load cells requires an understanding of the distribution of forces between surfaces of various shapes and finishes.

The first and most important rule is to always avoid applying a compression load flat-to-flat from a plate to the top surface of a load button hub. The reason for this is simple, it’s impossible to maintain two surfaces parallel enough to guarantee that the force will end up being centered on the primary axis of the load button load cell. Any slight misalignment, even by a few micro-inches, could move the contact point off to one edge of a hub, thus inducing a large moment into the measurement.

Minor misalignments merely shift the contact point slightly off the centerline. In addition to compensating for misalignment, the use of a load button load cell of the correct spherical radius is necessary to confine the stresses at the contact point within the limits of the materials. Generally, load button load cells and bearing plates are made from hardened tool steel, and the contacting surfaces are ground to a finish of 32µ inch RMS. If you use too small of a radius it will cause a failure of the material at the contact point, and a rough finish will result in galling and wear of the loading surfaces.

Interface Load Button Load Cells in the Real World 

The evolving world of technology and product design has created a high demand for these types of small and accurate testing equipment. Innovative industries are looking at new ways to fit more capabilities into a single device that is the same size or even smaller. OEM applications that require this type of testing equipment include medical devices, drones, industrial automation, packaging and robotics.

We have highlighted a few examples of how Interface Load Button Load Cells have been used in the medical industry to solve complex challenges related to measuring compression force in confined spaces.

Measuring Vascular Clamp Force

A customer in the medical industry wanted to test various types of vascular clamps to see which type would generate the best clamping force for surgery. Using a Model LBS Load Cell, the clamps were secured onto the compression button. A Model 9330 High Speed Data Logging Indicator provided compression force measurements and allowed the customer to determine the most appropriate clamp type. Read the full application use case here.

Optimizing Surgical Stapler Force

Another customer needed to optimize the design of their surgical stapler to make it easier and more efficient for a medical professional to use. The original equipment manufacturer mounted the surgical stapler onto a test rig to enable force verification, and then connected a Model LBMU Compression Load Cell Button to a Model 9890 Load Cell Indicator. The indicator would collect compression force data from the stapler, and that data was then analyzed to allow the OEM to determine the design changes needed to reduce the amount of force applied to use the stapler.  Learn more about this application here.

For more information on our expanding lineup of Load Button Load Cells, see the overview below. In addition, say tuned in to the IQ Blog for an exciting announcement about new Interface Load Button Load Cell technology.  Most standard Load Button Load Cells are available to ship within 2 business days. Contact us for more information or visit our QS48 now.

Click here to see the full line of Load Button Load Cells.  

Interface Load Cells in Medical Applications

While quality and accuracy are always important when designing load cells, there is perhaps no industry where these factors matter more than in the healthcare and medical industries. At Interface, we take pride in creating precision force measurement solutions used in biomedical and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the manufacturing of medical devices.

We stop at nothing to provide customers with the most accurate force measurement solutions available to ensure patient safety, product reliability and accuracy in measurement.

Below are just a few examples of how Interface load cells are supporting safety in medical innovations.

Plasma Separation

Interface’s MBS low-capacity aluminum bending load cell is being used in plasma separation machines which must be calibrated for every patient in order to collect the right amount of plasma. The machine separates the blood in a centrifuge and a saline solution is pumped back into the patient. There are two load cells in each plasma separation machine, and they play a vital role in ensuring the accuracy of the process. This protects the patient’s health and well-being.

Stent Material Testing

Large testing rigs that contain approximately a dozen Interface load cells are used to test stents and heart valves that are surgically implanted into patients. The rigs subject the stents and heart valves to thousands of stress tests over months to determine their material properties. Stents stay in a patient’s body for the rest of their life, so accuracy and durability are extremely important. This application makes use of Interface’s MBP product line, which is overload protected. This product line is extremely reliable and has never had a reported fatigue failure.

Robotic Surgery

An emerging trend in medicine is the ability to perform surgery remotely using a robotic arm. Interface has been involved in the development of this technology and has created the modified custom load cells needed to enable the customer’s designs.

Designing for Medical Applications

Beyond just accuracy, there are several different considerations to make when designing and building load cells that can be used in medical applications. Factors such as traceability and the materials used are extremely important to our customers. All materials need to be certified and free of hazardous compounds. They also need to be able to withstand sterile environments where surfaces are constantly being sprayed with chemicals. There are several unique considerations and failure is not an option when it comes to devices that can directly impact patient safety.

Interface is extremely proud of our superior quality load cells and the fact that we are enabling medical innovations that are having a direct impact on improving, saving and changing lives. For more information about our high-quality, medical-grade load cells contact our Application Engineers. You can also learn more about our medical and healthcare use cases and products here: /solutions/medical-healthcare.

Contributor: Raymunn Machado-Prisbrey

Faces of Interface Featuring Lance Gerdes

Lance Gerdes grew up as a “military brat” who moved around the world with his family to various U.S. Air Force bases because his father was an Avionics Specialist. For some children this would be a burden; however, for Gerdes, it was an opportunity to connect with his father and brothers over the inner-workings of aviation, cars, and sailboats. The family would work on the different vehicles they owned together, and his father who was a flight instructor would even take them up in planes. It is easy to see how Gerdes became a mechanical engineer and one of his brothers became a flight engineer.

Being a military family member also provided Gerdes with a culturally-diverse background. He attended schools across the world before graduating high school in Okinawa, Japan, where his family was stationed at the time. He eventually made his way back to the United States, where he attended college at Northern Arizona University earning his degree in mechanical engineering.

Lance began his professional career in the nuclear industry doing nuclear maintenance and nuclear refueling for various U.S. contractors, including Westinghouse, Babcock & Wilcox and Nuclear Engineering Services. He remained in the sector until his son was born, at which time he decided to relocate to Scottsdale, Arizona. After moving, he began working at Calibron, a manufacturer of liquid calibration devices.

As his career brought Gerdes further into the mechanical engineering side of things, he eventually found Interface. He joined the company because his work with load cells and force measurement devices allowed him to realize how diverse the field is in its applications. Some of the applications that have impressed him the most include how to measure the force on the enormous mirrors made at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at The University of Arizona which are used on the Magellan Telescope (GMTO) being built in Chile, or how load cells used to do crash-landing tests with air and spacecraft.

Today, Gerdes works as the Continuous Improvement Subject Matter Expert (SME) at Interface. In this role, he leads a group of 12 specialized technicians that are responsible for creating one of Interface’s newest and most innovative product lines. This invention, the proprietary 1923 Wireless Series Load Cell, is a significant product line for the company. This exclusive product is designed for the oil and gas industry, which allows users to avoid pump jacks going too fast and interrupting the capillary flow of oil. The high-performance wireless load cell, which is incorporated into the manufacturer’s original equipment, sits on the pump jack and monitors the force at which the jack pumps, providing real-time data to avoid over-pumping.

Learn more about how Lance and his team are utilizing automation tools and robotics for advancing innovation and continuous improvements in building precision load cell solutions for OEMs. Click here to read more.

Gerdes’ life has revolved around engineering since he can remember. From living abroad on military bases to nuclear and mechanical engineering, his passion continues to exude this commitment and energy in making an impact at Interface and for the customer.

In his free time, he likes to decompress from it all and enjoy a good balance. At home, his life revolves around his family, his five German shorthaired pointer dogs and his love for the peaceful escape of camping and hunting. Gerdes has been married for 25 years, and he and his wife have a 24-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter.  He is active with his children’s extra-curricular activities, including coaching baseball, basketball, and swimming. He and his family love to go camping and boating together, and Gerdes is an avid big game bowhunter.

To learn more about the brilliant minds that shape Interface, follow our monthly Faces of Interface feature on our blog at /blog/.

 

 

Robotics and Automation are Changing Modern Manufacturing at Interface

As the leader in manufacturing force measurement solutions for more than 51 years, the day of carrying out monotonous tasks on the manufacturing line by hand is a history not worth repeating.

Innovation is a core value at Interface. It is essential in helping us advance and grow our production experience and responsiveness to our customer’s advanced application use of our load cells, torque transducers, and thousands of other products that we manufacture.

Continuous Improvement SME Lance Gerdes shares his insight into how a focus on innovation is leading to the introduction of automation tools and robotics onto the manufacturing floor at Interface’s 50,000 square foot headquarters in Arizona.

It is difficult to look back fondly on the days that lacked automation of production line tasks. Line work was straining and tedious during those days, as most technicians would agree. Fast-forward to today, companies who are incorporating new technology are typically experiencing process improvements, increased efficiency, reduced overhead, improved quality output and better run facilities overall.

Results speak for themselves. Manufacturing facilities equipped with automation can significantly reduce time spent on repetitive work, freeing up time for technicians to focus on other areas that advance production and get products to market.

Interface recently invested in a line of collaborative robots to upgrade our facilities. With responsibility for the specialized 1923 Wireless Load Cell product line at Interface, looking back there are many of the typical tasks our technicians used to carry out that involved full days of certain repetitive tasks by hand. The days where my technicians were forced to focus on these tasks represented a significant barrier to peak productivity. Times have changed and so has Interface!

Today with the introduction of automation, we are operating more efficiently than in those dark ages without robotics. We are using collaborative robots to handle tasks, including the application of RTV, which is a silicone sealant used on load cells to protect them from environmental factors. In the past, the technician would be responsible for applying this adhesive in addition to hand-tooling. By automating the adhesive step of this task, those technicians are averaging 50% more efficiency in their workflow.

“Robotics used to facilitate automation is a “must-have” addition to every manufacturing floor.” Lance Gerdes

The return on investment is easily achievable in a year or less. Interface has seen as high as a 15% production increases across the board. As a champion of continuous improvements in our manufacturing, I am excited to see our production results. This success is now leading us to look into more tasks that can be automated using collaborative robotics.

One concern regarding the rise of robotics in the industrial sector we constantly get questions about is the use of robotics as a replacement for our human workforce. This could not be further from the truth at Interface. If anything, robotics will eventually increase the skill set of our current technicians and open up new job openings for Interface as we grow. As we get more advanced collaborative robotics integrated into our work, it improves our capabilities. We will need operators for this automation equipment. And, as we become more efficient and increase profit margins, we’ll have the capacity to grow Interface’s products and services. A win for more jobs, more solutions, and more happy customers!

Robotics and automation are changing the way manufacturing floors operate for the better. At Interface, we look forward to researching and applying new ways that each department can implement automation and robotics technology.

Contributor:  Lance Gerdes, Continuous Improvement SME, Interface

More than half of Interface’s team members work in production. The average tenure for our team is nearly a decade. Our diverse talent in skill and capabilities serve more than 4,500 global customers in various markets each year. For more detailed insights on the inner-working of the Interface manufacturing floor, Interface’s revolutionary products and profiles on our excellent team subscribe to the InterfaceIQ blog at /blog/.