Experts in Man & Machine
08.10.2018

From Belgium to China and back

Reshoring of production thanks to new milling robot

Focus

A Belgian manufacturer of insulators is pioneering new methods of milling composite parts. Work that was previously done by conventional machine tools is now handled by a flexible and highly accurate milling robot. As a result, elements of production that were relocated to China a few years ago are now returning to Belgium.

Wherever electrical current flows, there needs to be isolation. This principle was as true back in 1934 as it is now, and S.A. Isolants Victor Hallet in Brussels (Belgium) has been manufacturing custom components for electrical insulation ever since. Customers of the global company include well-known European manufacturers of rolling stock, electrical machinery, power plant components and wind turbines. Over 80 percent of output goes for export.

Now run by the fourth generation of the Hallet family, the company offers a broad product range consisting mainly of various composite materials based on epoxy or polyester resin. Until recently, only the classic methods of machining had been used. Sales Director Vincent Hallet: “We mostly use sheet material, which we machine with three-axis and five-axis CNC milling machines.”

The batch numbers of components – from one to multiple tens of thousands per year – are every bit as different as they are complex. Simple components are manufactured at the partner plant in China, whereas in Belgium they make parts with intricate three-dimensional shapes.

Over the past two years, the company has invested heavily in setting itself up for healthy growth over the long term. “We had a new production building constructed and at the same time, thought long and hard about the technology that would best supplement our machine park,” adds Hallet. Various processes came under consideration. In the end, Hallet decided to purchase a more versatile machining system: “We came to the conclusion that a milling robot offers the ultimate in flexibility whilst maximizing capacity.”

Milling robot with outstanding precision

After drawing up a list of specifications, Hallet entered into discussions with various robot suppliers, including Stäubli Benelux N.V., which in turn brought VDS bvba of Proven (Belgium) on board as a partner in the project. VDS can look back on 25 years of experience in automated milling. Managing Director Lander Debruyne: “Our core competence is and always has been milling – initially with three-axis machines, then with five-axis models and now with robots. Because of the high demands our customers make in terms of precision machining, we insist on using Stäubli robots because they have set the standard in this field.”

Lander Debruyne and his team designed a processing facility for Hallet, in which a centrally positioned Stäubli six-axis TX200 robot operates six workstations. At three of these, the components are held by vacuum grippers, and at the other three by mechanical clamping devices. An automatic tool changing system with 20 tools renders sterling service. Vincent Hallet: “Up to ten different tools are used per component.”

Efficient and highly productive machining

A major advantage of this system concept lies in the high productivity of the robot: while it is milling, retooling can take place at the other five stations. And on unmanned shifts, the TX200 can work on multiple components in sequence. An exceptionally high level of accuracy is achieved. Lander Debruyne: “During the machining, the robot controller is being fed with new data every two milliseconds. Furthermore, to the best of our knowledge, the only robot in Belgium with an integrated Renishaw probe is being used in this machine.” The tool data is processed by its own controller, while the robot uses only positional data. In matters of control technology, VDS has been working in partnership with B&R for many years now. The visualization on the touch screen of the VDS control console provides information about the process.

As a milling program, VDS uses the CAM software package SprutCAM. Lander Debruyne: “SprutCAM offers versatile automated machining capabilities as well as supporting us in the design and construction of robotic milling equipment, e.g. by means of simulation and collision analysis. SprutCAM has also been useful in designing the protective features.”

The interface between the robot controller and the system controller is the real-time UniVal Drive software developed by Stäubli. This open software interface allows Stäubli kinematics to be operated by an external controller. The motion controller of the system is designated the master. In plain language, this means that VDS project engineers can program the entire system via a common controller.

Reshoring from China to Belgium

For Hallet, having a system that was straightforward to operate was a key requirement. “We are not robotic experts,” stresses Vincent Hallet. This requirement is met in full by the system developed by VDS: “The system is very easy to operate, and our employees have received excellent on-site training.” If a problem crops up, VDS service engineers can check out the controller via a remote data link.

The very first component to come off the assembly line showed that the milling robot enables Hallet to produce highly complex parts to a high standard of precision in the course of a single clamping. “Only a few years ago, we expanded our production capacity in China,” says Hallet. “Now, thanks to this manufacturing technology, we are bringing elements of production back to Belgium.”

Outlook: Unmanned shifts

Shortly after the arrival of the milling robot, Hallet had a new fan system installed, which is connected to the robot controller and extracts air & residual dust from the raw material only from the area where a component is being processed. The next step for the company involves deploying the robot on an unmanned night shift. It will then not only perform the machining operations but also pick up the components. Vincent Hallet: “We haven’t quite reached that stage yet, but we are working towards it.” When it eventually happens, productivity will take yet another giant leap forward.

Machining with Stäubli TX200 industrial robotic armControl with Stäubli TX200 industrial robot

Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about our latest news

Privacy policy

Stäubli takes your personal data privacy seriously. Please read on to find out more about Stäubli’s privacy policy. Stäubli’s privacy policy is intended to provide information about how Stäubli processes the personal data that is collected as you browse this website.  

Personal Data

The term “personal data” refers to any information that is not otherwise available publicly and that can be used to identify you directly or indirectly, such as your name, address, e-mail address, or telephone number.    

Data Collection and Use

Stäubli collects personal data when you complete the contact forms on this website. When you register, you will be asked for information such as your name, e-mail address, the name and address of your company, and your telephone number. Stäubli also automatically receives information from your computer and browser, including your IP address, which pages you visit, the length of time you spend on the site, and any documents you download. All personal data is collected, stored, and used by Stäubli to enable us to process your contact and/or registration request (whether or not you have opened a user account; which access rights have been granted), allow you to access the Stäubli partner database, and provide you with the latest information on Stäubli products and services (newsletters on new products, trade fairs, etc.).    

Data Sharing and Disclosure

Stäubli will never rent, sell, or share your personal data with, or disclose your personal data to, other persons or companies outside of the Stäubli Group, except to comply with legal obligations imposed on Stäubli (for example, responding to a judicial order), to exercise its rights, or to defend itself against legal actions. Some companies within the Stäubli Group are located outside the European Union, in countries that do not have personal data protection legislation equivalent to that applying in the European Union. The Stäubli Group has implemented the necessary safeguards to supervise such transfers to a third country. Information on the safeguards implemented for this purpose is available upon request by contacting data.privacy@staubli.com.    

Data Storage Period

Your personal data will be held by Stäubli for the time necessary to fulfill the purposes identified.    

Right of Access to And Rectification or Erasure of Personal Data and the Exercise of the Right to Object

You have the right to access, rectify, object to, restrict, or erase all personal data concerning you that has been collected as part of your request for contact and/or registration with the Partner Database, and you also have the option of requesting Stäubli to stop sending its newsletters to you. The latter can be done by clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of each newsletter sent to you. You also have the option to withdraw your consent or to withdraw your consent to the processing to which you have previously agreed. You have the right not to be the subject of an individual decision that is based solely on automated processing, such as profiling. You can request the portability of data concerning you. You may exercise these rights at any time by sending a letter setting out your request to the following address: STÄUBLI TECHNOLOGY & SERVICES, Data Privacy, 7, Avenue du Pré Closet, Parc d’activité des Glaisins, CS 50329, 74943 Annecy-Le-Vieux, France, or by e-mail to data.privacy@staubli.com. In order for us to process your request, you must accompany this letter or e-mail with the elements required to identify you as the holder of the user account in question (username, password, etc.). You have the right to lodge a complaint to the competent supervisory authority responsible for the protection of personal data.    

Security and Confidentiality

Stäubli is committed to protecting your personal data and maintaining its quality, integrity, and confidentiality. Stäubli therefore allows access to your personal data solely to employees who need to consult it as part of their mission. These employees are subject to confidentiality agreements concerning processed personal data, and are aware of the risks and obligations related to processing personal data. Stäubli has also implemented physical, electronic, and administrative safeguards that comply with the legal requirements in place to protect your personal data.    

Changes to the Personal Data Privacy Policy

Stäubli reserves the right to amend its policy on personal data. In the event of an amendment, a notification regarding the new privacy policy will appear upon connecting to this website.    

Questions, Complaints, and Suggestions

Should you have any questions or suggestions regarding Stäubli’s privacy policy, please contact us at the following postal address: STÄUBLI TECHNOLOGY & SERVICES 7, avenue du Pré Closet Parc d’activité des Glaisins CS 50329 74943 Annecy Le Vieux, France Or send an e-mail to data.privacy@staubli.com.    
* Mandatory field An error has occurred. Please try again later.
Thank you for joining our subscription list.
You will be advised when a new edition is made available online.
* Mandatory field An error has occurred. Please try again later.
Thank you for your interest.
Your message has been delivered to our team, which will look into as soon as possible.
Donec lectus commodo nec mattis dictum velit, risus facilisis libero