Robotics at the Grand Banks Factory

Grand Banks has invested great time and effort over the past few years to utilize some of the most high-tech equipment in the manufacturing industry. CEO Mark Richards has persistently employed the best talent, equipment, and materials in house since taking over the company. Last year Grand Banks introduced the use of KUKA robotics, investing in an 8-axis robotic CNC, to add to their collection of 3-axis CNC machines, and they have never looked back.

So, what is the KUKA? The KUKA is an 8-axis robotic CNC programmed with CAD integrated software, often referred to colloquially as “a robotic arm”. It functions off of 6 primary axes with an optional 2 external axes being a track and rotary table. For our use, various tools are attached to the robot depending on the milling needs, and the tools are able to perform machining tasks with a variety of materials. This robot can produce three dimensional machined pieces, in comparison to other 3-axis CNC machines, which can do limited 3D milling, although typically only work with two dimensional flat sheets such as wood or FRP paneling.

The main difference between a 3-axis machine and a 5+ axis machine is that the head of the robot, in this case the tool, is fully articulated and can reach in underneath lips and overhangs to continue milling where a 3-axis machine can only really reach what you can see from a birds-eye view. This opens up a world of new design and manufacturing opportunities.

In-house milling allows the factory to modify designs quickly and create prototypes rapidly. Malcolm Kellett, Head of Robotic Milling Operations, explains the production process of the robot:

“A piece is initially machined on a foam core, 10mm undersize of its final measurements. Then it is coated in T-Paste, an epoxy machining paste, and re-machined to the final dimensions with a nice finished surface before being sent where it needs to go.”

The robot has a high accuracy in pattern making and reduces production time in the factory, Malcolm explains, “It does the job faster, traditional methods are quite labor intensive. This machine gives you your base structure and an accurate surface area to work with.”

“Since early this year, the robot has been averaging 16 hours a day, helping get products into the marketplace at a faster rate than before”

The robot interface runs off CAD data, which is processed into CAM code and inserted into the robot via an external USB drive so it can run offline. This ensures the robot can continuously run the code without interruption, the robot can essentially be left to its own devices. “Since early this year, the robot has been averaging 16 hours a day, helping get products into the marketplace at a faster rate than before,” Malcolm stated. The Grand Banks 60, as well as the hull of the upcoming Grand Banks 52 were both developed with help from the robot. The robot has the potential to be programmed to work for 24-hours around the clock, surpassing traditional labor-intensive methods. What may take months by hand can take weeks or even days with this piece of machinery, leaving boat-builders and craftsmen to more meticulous hand-crafted tasks, where great attention to detail is essential.

In the future Grand Banks hopes to employ a second robot, the two robots can simultaneously work together on larger pieces or work individually on separate tasks. With a larger output of parts in the factory there is also more workplace opportunities opening up, introducing new expertise and skills into the factory. The implementation of the robot has enabled us to introduce new products into the marketplace quicker than before, this robot has been an absolute game-changer.