Development of an integrated robotic polishing system

2016-10-18T08:30:29Z (GMT) by Eugene B.F. Kalt
This thesis presents research carried out as part of a project undertaken in fulfilment of the requirements of Loughborough University for the award of Philosophical Doctorate. The main focus of this research is to investigate and develop an appropriate level of automation to the existing manual finishing operations of small metallic components to achieve required surface quality and to remove superficial defects. In the manufacturing industries, polishing processes play a vital role in the development of high precision products, to give a desired surface finish, remove defects, break sharp edges, extend the working life cycle, and meet mechanical specification. The polishing operation is generally done at the final stage of the manufacturing process and can represent up to a third of the production time. Despite the growth automated technology in industry, polishing processes are still mainly carried out manually, due to the complexity and constraints of the process. Manual polishing involves a highly qualified worker polishing the workpiece by hand. These processes are very labour intensive, highly skill dependent, costly, error-prone, environmentally hazardous due to abrasive dust, and - in some cases - inefficient with long process times. In addition, the quality of the finishing is dependent on the training, experience, fatigue, physical ability, and expertise of the operator. Therefore, industries are seeking alternative solutions to be implemented within their current processes. These solutions are mainly aimed at replacing the human operator to improve the health and safety of their workforce and improve their competitiveness. Some automated solutions have already been proposed to assist or replace manual polishing processes. These solutions provide limited capabilities for specific processes or components, and a lack of flexibility and dexterity. One of the reasons for their lack of success is identified as neglecting the study and implementing the manual operations. This research initially hypothesised that for an effective development, an automated polishing system should be designed based on the manual polishing operations. Therefore, a successful implementation of an automated polishing system requires a thorough understanding of the polishing process and their operational parameters. This study began by collaborating with an industrial polishing company. The research was focused on polishing complex small components, similar to the parts typically used in the aerospace industry. The high level business processes of the polishing company were capture through several visits to the site. The low level operational parameters and the understanding of the manual operations were also captured through development of a devices that was used by the expert operators. A number of sensors were embedded to the device to facilitate recording the manual operations. For instance, the device captured the force applied by the operator (avg. 10 N) and the cycle time (e.g. 1 pass every 5 sec.). The capture data was then interpreted to manual techniques and polishing approaches that were used in developing a proof-of-concept Integrated Robotic Polishing System (IRPS). The IRPS was tested successfully through several laboratory based experiments by expert operators. The experiment results proved the capability of the proposed system in polishing a variety of part profiles, without pre-existing geometrical information about the parts. One of the main contributions made by this research is to propose a novel approach for automated polishing operations. The development of an integrated robotic polishing system, based on the research findings, uses a set of smart sensors and a force-position-by-increment control algorithm, and transpose the way that skilled workers carry out polishing processes.