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Longveld: Robots - the helping hands this manufacturing business needed

This article was published on Mar 22, 2021, 2:20 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Priding themselves on innovation, manufacturing business Longveld turned to Callaghan Innovation’s Manufacturing Robots Trials in order to help with their problem around the polishing process.

What's in this article

    At a glance

    • Hamilton-based manufacturer Longveld, wanted to find a way to combat the labour-intensive polishing process, especially given there were skills shortages in the area also.
    • Teaming up again with Callaghan Innovation, Longveld trialled a robot, or ‘cobot’, as part of the Manufacturing Robots Trials programme to see how it could supplement its current workforce.
    • The success of the Callaghan Innovation-run trial has given the business the confidence to now purchase its own cobot.

    Callaghan Innovation has really helped by providing access to experts who have an overview of what’s going on in the sector in New Zealand. That’s provided us with more certainty around our R&D processes so we know that whatever we’re investing in is worthwhile.

    - Nathan Roa, Project Engineer, Longveld

    Probing a polishing problem

    At the entrance to one of Hamilton’s busiest spots - Te Awa/The Base shopping mall - a striking artwork stands tall. 

    Creating that impressive sculpture fell to local company Longveld, which since 1992 has not only created bespoke pieces but also fulfilled ongoing manufacturing contracts, such as fabricating Fonterra’s milk trucks.   

    However, in 2021 Longveld started to look more closely at the latter to meet a particular business problem around polishing. Albeit an important function in Longveld’s workshop, polishing is a labour-intensive process, there’s a shortage of skilled polishers and it’s an ageing workforce.

    A common vision with Callaghan Innovation

    Longveld has a history of innovation. So, in the face of the issues around polishing, Nathan Roa, Longveld’s project engineer, says the business started “looking at ways we could use technology to increase capacity in that part of the business. We had been looking into robotics, and straight away we saw that moving a robot across a surface to polish it could form the basis of a simple project we could try.” 

    Longveld has been supported by Callaghan Innovation since 2014, accessing a range of grants during that time. That has included an R&D Experience Grant; where over one summer, for example, an engineering Master’s student carried out an investigation into the optimisation of consumables used at the firm, identifying underutilisation and incorrect use, and evaluating procurement procedures.

    However, through its relationship with the agency, Longveld was also aware of the Manufacturing Robots Trials programme, which allows businesses to trial a collaborative robot, or ‘cobot’, which works alongside humans in the workplace – and was keen to give one a try.

    Taking the leap

    Longveld initially had a number of questions it wanted answered during the month-long trial, Roa says. Could the robot do the job effectively enough to free up polishers’ time? Could it work safely in the workshop? Was it simple enough to be programmed by someone not particularly computer literate?

    Ultimately, says Roa, Longveld successfully ticked those boxes during the trial and it has since purchased its own cobot.

    Manufacturing robot in action

    “Our industry is very cyclical,” Roa says, “which makes investing in R&D difficult because you can’t afford to waste a lot of resources trying things that don’t actually deliver.

    “The Callaghan Innovation trial really helped us have the confidence to say ‘yes, we’re ready to take the plunge with robotics’.” 

    Another benefit of the cobot is the ability to monitor its productivity, ultimately helping optimise its use. 

    It’s something the company is looking to do more of by embracing other Industry 4.0 technologies such as IoT. For example, it has also connected a waterjet cutter, which cuts 2D profiles out of sheet metal, to a data logger, so it can see the percentage of the day it’s in use and productive. 

    Connecting and collaborating with Callaghan Innovation on a combined Industry 4.0 vision, Roa says, is helping along the way. 

    “Callaghan Innovation has really helped by providing access to experts who have an overview of what’s going on in the sector in New Zealand. That’s provided us with more certainty around our R&D processes so we know that whatever we’re investing in is worthwhile,” Roa says.

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