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Revolutionizing Small Business Manufacturing: Meet Our Robot Riveter

June 14, 2023 3 min read

Revolutionizing Small Business Manufacturing: Meet Our Robot Riveter

In today's rapidly evolving world, automation has emerged as a powerful tool that can maximize human potential by focusing valuable time and energy to solve complex problems over tending to mundane, repetitive, tasks. As a company committed to innovation and excellence, we wholeheartedly embrace automation as a means to reduce strain on our employees while empowering them to improve our processes and products. In this blog post, we explore how automation revolutionizes our workplace, improves quality of time, and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

We recently implemented an automated riveting robot in production that we have been silently working on over the past year.

One of the remaining manufacturing challenges we faced, up until recently, came from our panels. They are powder coated aluminum panels that you can swing away to access your gear from the driver, passenger, and rear tailgate of our camper or topper. Our panels were made up of an aluminum sheet metal panel and an extruded aluminum geared hinge that are permanently joined with traditional through hole rivets. It was a loud, setup intensive, error prone, and undesirable task.

Nearly 90% of panels that required rework had errors that stemmed from the manual riveting process. It was hard to control and would occasionally jump off of the rivet, damaging the panel. The lack of consistency in clamping pressure in the manual riveting process was also something we aimed to improve. The instances where panels were damaged would increase production time and further increase the frequency of loud repetitive tasks.

Every single rivet on a panel is an opportunity for a workmanship error to occur. It is true even with a robot, but when immediate variables that most directly contribute to errors are localized to a single numerically controlled process that is consistent, the variables themselves can be more easily monitored and thus tuned to increase yield, median quality, and more importantly employee satisfaction. Our robot riveter improves an employee's quality of time by reducing variability in mundane processes, time in motion, and physical fatigue, 

Our robot riveter is a FANUC R-2000iC, a floor mounted 6-axis industrial robot that has a payload of 165kg, a reach of 2655mm, and spatial accuracy of 0.05mm (0.002"). It can rivet a panel, on average, 4x faster than completing the same task by hand (and that is with the robot running at 50% of its max speed).

In addition to added speed and accuracy, we transitioned to a new fastening process called Self-Pierce Riveting (SPR) that joins two or more layers of without the need of predrilled holes. The entire process is self contained in the robot's tool head, which includes the driver, rivet, and die; gone are the days of switching from a drill, to a impact riveter, and with the other hand loading a rivet in a hand drilled hole. It is truly a marvel for a small business to have this robot as an integral part of the production floor.

Now, panels are assembled here.

Aside from the robot, there is another tool in the riveting process that is pivotal to the worker-robot relationship. This is a work-holding that fixtures the raw panels in place while the robot executes its program. It is designed to accept the wide range of panel sizes from rear tailgate panels of compact trucks to eight foot long bed driver and passenger panels. The adjustable fixture utilizes two linear rails to hold the center and edges of a panel. As you may be able to tell by the NPT fittings and black pneumatic tube, our work-holding uses thousands of psi in negative pressure against the panel to hold it in place while it receives its rivets.

Automation allows us to spend more time where it matters, enabling us to deliver products of the highest quality while minimizing errors and waste. With the assistance of cutting-edge technologies, our employees have better days and get more done.

At the heart of our company ethos is a commitment to continuous improvement. Automation plays a pivotal role in this pursuit by enabling us to gather valuable data, monitor performance, and identify areas for enhancement. By leveraging automation in our production and quality control processes, we can collect real-time insights and analytics that inform our decision-making and guide our ongoing improvement efforts. This data-driven approach allows us to refine our products, respond to customer feedback, and anticipate future needs, ensuring that we consistently deliver on our promise of excellence.

You might have seen us be silly and cool on the internet to help market our products, but behind the scenes we have the design and manufacturing process as a small business down to a science, and are still learning every day. At our core, we are made up of engineering nerds and compassionate people who are absolutely in love with the outdoors.

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