MATSUNAMI GLASS IND., LTD.
THE SHORT STORY
Matsunami Glass Ind., Ltd. manufactures various types of glass for microscopic, medical, and electronics applications. The company found that using conventional industrial robots to alleviate manpower shortages was difficult, due to space restraints and the need for complex programming that had to be outsourced. After encountering Universal Robots and their industrial collaborative robots (cobots), the company succeeded in developing robot applications in-house, feeding large glass plates into machines for cutting as a part of their glass design work. Not only did the 15 cobots help achieve a 50% increase in production volume with no additional staffing, it also enhanced the technical skills of the employees, enabling them to build automation systems without relying on external resources.
From the perspective of maintaining competitiveness and addressing future labor shortages, Matsunami Glass has long promoted the automation of work processes that are performed by people. Initially, the company automated its processes using conventional industrial robots, but with limited space in the factory, it was necessary, whenever the company needed to use the industrial robot for a new task, it to facilitate the change-over.
When introduced to the UR cobot by its distributor, Inaba Denki Sangyo Co., Ltd., Matsunami Glass was attracted by the robot’s ability to work with people without the need for safety fences. That means they don’t need to worry any more for the additional cost and effort to call in a system manufacturer to make any layout changes.
Matsunami Glass first introduced the robot to the glass plate feeding section of the machine. “It was , but the robot was easy to operate and the start-up went smoothly,” says Kazuma Kuji, Deputy Chief Engineer of the Production Engineering Group, explaining how distributor Inaba Denki invited him to their center for robot training, teaching him how to create a program. After the initial training, the distributor also came on site to help with the final deployment. In this process, glass is fed either on the front or back side, depending on the situation. “The UR robot has a ±360° range of motion for each axis, which allowed us to faithfully reproduce the human operation of rotating and flipping large sheets of glass,” explains Kuji.
UR cobots also play an active role in the process of feeding flat glass into the cutting machine. Here, the UR cobot uses a self-made suction hand and air blowers to remove stacked sheets of glass one by one. Yukio Inoue, Manager of the Manufacturing Division says, “Before the robot was introduced, 1,000 to 2,000 sheets of glass per day were fed manually, which sometimes caused back and wrist injuries to the workers. By installing the robot, we have not only eliminated this work burden, but also improved the work efficiency.”
Matsunami Glass currently has 15 UR cobots in operation. Over the past 10 years, the company has increased the production volume by 1.5 times, but the number of workers has not changed over the past 10 years. The fact that they were able to build a system in-house using UR cobots gave them confidence. Says Okada: “The UR cobots are capable of smoother movements than humans, and we feel that it has the potential to do exactly the same things that humans do. So far, people have often performed simple tasks, but from now on, we would like to find value in being able to deliver more stable products to our customers by leaving simple tasks to robots and allowing people to manage quality and processes, such as keeping inventory and procuring raw materials.”