With the help of an interdisciplinary team as well as qustioning existing conventions KUKA developed an ingenious and simple machine.

Ingeniously simple, simply ingenious

The new machine has been designed to be both ingenious and simple. That was the objective. “In Sales, we were hearing too many comments about KUKA machines being over-engineered, too complex,” says Walter Weh, the sales manager responsible for this product. This is actually a compliment on the high level of innovation and performance delivered by German engineering. But: the market has not always appreciated everything that is technically feasible. So, a new approach was called for. An approach that involves questioning the status quo, picking up trends and customer requirements, anticipating developments in tomorrow’s production – and using the synergy effects offered by the entire KUKA Group.

Questioning the status quo

An interdisciplinary project team was able to act with a great degree of freedom and discuss issues on an equal footing: that's how innovations come about.

How can we accelerate the production process at our customers and at KUKA, at the same time as making it more flexible? How can we further improve quality and precision? What is required to make it easier to operate and maintain the machine, at the same time as making it safer? How can work be made simpler – for a changing generation of operators in the world market? How can energy and cost savings be achieved? Mechanical, hydraulic and electrical systems, software and processes – everything was subjected to a rigorous appraisal and a rethink.

Interdisciplinary project team

A core team of ten was given responsibility for the task; they met for the first time in summer 2012 for brainstorming sessions. It was not only the free rein granted to the team to think, decide and act that proved decisive. The interdisciplinary interaction between the departments also proved to be an important new feature right from the word go: sales, product management, design, research & development, purchasing, assembly, quality assurance and marketing all took their places at the table. “It wasn’t always easy: we were dealing with personalities that had different ideas and impressions from one another,” reports Harald Heinrich, head of the Development department and responsible for project coordination. It was an established procedure for the project manager: “Of course, we had already built other large machines, and found innovative solutions in many individual projects. However, the starting point and the course of this project were unique. All decision-makers were permanently involved. This ensured that a broad consensus could be achieved, leading to a high level of acceptance in the company.” The common goal welded the team together: More than 40 specialists from all areas were involved in bringing the machine to life.

left: Sebastian Füller, purchaser

right: Otmar Fischer and Michael Büchler project manager mechanical design in conversation (from left to right)

One machine instead of two

“Right from the start, we paid attention to integrating the products that customers would possibly want, relevant technologies and process sequences. At the same time, we considered the human operators and their working environment in the entire development,” reports Heinrich. “The entire development followed the value stream principle according to which every single part was decisive and was analyzed within its overall context. It may be worth using a more expensive component if it will save maintenance costs down the line, for example. With this development concept, we pursued an approach oriented towards customers and costs alike.” The outcome is a flexible and powerful machine that uses resources efficiently, and is able to implement friction welding processes for a wide range of products. In this way, KUKA has also streamlined the range of machines it offers: of the nine different machine types with contact pressures ranging from two to 1,000 metric tons, the KUKA Genius replaces both the RS 12 and the RS 30 in the medium segment.

Individual product on the basis of standard modules

The principle is reminiscent of the platform strategy pursued by car manufacturers: one technical platform, many models. With the KUKA Genius, it is possible to configure a large number of technology modules with customers according to their requirements – precisely as necessary for the component, production planning and manufacturing strategies of the future user. One might need the “Power Model” with a wide range of functions, whereas another might be best served by the “Eco” equipment variant for their production. 80 percent standard, 20 percent individualization – that delivers many advantages: customers only pay for functions that they actually require; KUKA incurs less time and effort, and lower costs, in design and assembly. In the past as well, no two machines were alike, but each machine was a time-consuming special fabrication. “The predefined modules mean that the development phase can now be truncated from several weeks to just a few days,” reckons Otmar Fischer, project manager in mechanical design. Throughput times have also been reduced in assembly:

Assembly and commissioning work closely together

New procedures

KUKA also invested a great deal of care in the selection of suitable suppliers for the necessary components: the rollcall of 21 development partners supplying valuable parts reads like a Who’s Who of the German engineering business. After all, the machine is intended to meet the exacting quality standards of KUKA and its customers. All outsourced parts are carefully measured and checked on delivery. Together with its partners, KUKA developed new solutions and procedures. “The protective enclosure of the machine is now delivered in one piece instead of individual parts. It can now be put on in one go, job done – and it doesn’t even cost extra,” declares Fischer. “This is possible now because the control cabinets and hydraulic unit are completely integrated into the compact device and there are no cables or hoses to be found in the peripherals any longer. The machine can be picked up and transported to another location at any time, in line with the plug & play principle.”

KUKA-Genius friction welding machine

Simple operation

KUKA has taken another huge innovative step with control and operation. This is done using a touch-sensitive multitouch screen that also reacts to protective gloves. KUKA invited international customers with plenty of production experience to test the operator interface. “They were thrilled by the intuitive operation,” reports Walter Weh. “However, they also made a few suggestions: for example, they wanted less text and instead a larger number of easily recognizable pictograms. Indeed, they would have loved to incorporate the new controller into their existing machines straightaway.” These wishes have come true, at least in part: the new Magnetarc machines are already equipped with the new controller. The first machines have been sold off the drawing board to customers in Europe and Asia. There, for the first time, they will demonstrate their effectiveness in universal production, because flexibility is particularly important here.