Automated freeform assembly of threaded fasteners

2015-11-25T14:08:58Z (GMT) by Karthick Dharmaraj
Over the past two decades, a major part of the manufacturing and assembly market has been driven by its customer requirements. Increasing customer demand for personalised products create the demand for smaller batch sizes, shorter production times, lower costs, and the flexibility to produce families of products - or different parts - with the same sets of equipment. Consequently, manufacturing companies have deployed various automation systems and production strategies to improve their resource efficiency and move towards right-first-time production. However, many of these automated systems, which are involved with robot-based, repeatable assembly automation, require component- specific fixtures for accurate positioning and extensive robot programming, to achieve flexibility in their production. Threaded fastening operations are widely used in assembly. In high-volume production, the fastening processes are commonly automated using jigs, fixtures, and semi-automated tools. This form of automation delivers reliable assembly results at the expense of flexibility and requires component variability to be adequately controlled. On the other hand, in low- volume, high- value manufacturing, fastening processes are typically carried out manually by skilled workers. This research is aimed at addressing the aforementioned issues by developing a freeform automated threaded fastener assembly system that uses 3D visual guidance. The proof-of-concept system developed focuses on picking up fasteners from clutter, identifying a hole feature in an imprecisely positioned target component and carry out torque-controlled fastening. This approach has achieved flexibility and adaptability without the use of dedicated fixtures and robot programming. This research also investigates and evaluates different 3D imaging technology to identify the suitable technology required for fastener assembly in a non-structured industrial environment. The proposed solution utilises the commercially available technologies to enhance the precision and speed of identification of components for assembly processes, thereby improving and validating the possibility of reliably implementing this solution for industrial applications. As a part of this research, a number of novel algorithms are developed to robustly identify assembly components located in a random environment by enhancing the existing methods and technologies within the domain of the fastening processes. A bolt identification algorithm was developed to identify bolts located in a random clutter by enhancing the existing surface-based matching algorithm. A novel hole feature identification algorithm was developed to detect threaded holes and identify its size and location in 3D. The developed bolt and feature identification algorithms are robust and has sub-millimetre accuracy required to perform successful fastener assembly in industrial conditions. In addition, the processing time required for these identification algorithms - to identify and localise bolts and hole features - is less than a second, thereby increasing the speed of fastener assembly.