Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Polar Manufacturing and Formic Machine Tending Solution

Malcolm Kerr, Head of Growth and GTM Strategy  

Industry: Machining

Application: Machine Tending

The Company

Polar Manufacturing was established 105 years ago in Chicago, Illinois, and specializes in a broad range of door and truck body hardware for industrial applications. These products include, but are not limited to, locking handles, latches, and rope rings. It’s a broad product set, but Polar’s deep experience and stable of machines makes that breadth of production possible. 

Before working with Formic, Polar had no automation deployed in their facility due to cost. 

Their heavy-duty cam lock includes a heavy metal bar with two bends. These bends are performed by a 50-year-old press machine. Typically, this machine, and these bends, are executed by a machine operator. However, Polar was struggling to keep pace with the orders coming without automation.

That’s when Polar got in touch with Formic. In Formic, they saw a perfect partner to automate without any complexity or high upfront cost. Formic’s model allowed them to pay absolutely nothing until the system was on their shop floor, performing as promised, as though they were “hiring” the robot.

Bob Albert, whose family owns Polar, said: “If the robot works really well, we’ll use it a lot. And if it doesn’t work out, neither one of us comes out very well. We have less skin in the game and they have some skin in the game.” 

Bob also added: “It’s been very painless. We like the company we chose. They don’t just set us up and walk away. And that to me is very key… Since it worked out and it seemed good, we’re going to stick with them. They charge us by the hour for the machine, which is a very novel approach, I like it.”

Jose Figueroa, Polar’s plant manager, added: “If Polar didn’t automate, Polar would not be in business. We cannot compete if we cannot produce.”

The Solution

To design the solution for Polar, Formic partnered with Designhawk, based out of northwest Chicago. The solution included a UR5e robot from Universal Robots, two jaw grippers, a touch screen HMI, stand wheels for mobility, an input magazine, and an automated oiling mechanism. 

Formic was the project manager, paid for all the equipment, all the custom engineering and components, all installation costs, and will continue to maintain uptime and performance of the system.

Like any automation system, designing the solution required overcoming a few challenges. First, the press is 50 years old, so it requires the use of external sensors to detect motion and work seamlessly. Additionally, this press runs a few different part types, some of which the robot can accommodate, some of which it cannot. This requires the system to be mobile, so it can be moved out of place when the machine is manually operated. Finally, Formic needed an automated safety block to hold the part in place while the press executes the bend. 

The Results

The results have been fantastic. The system is able to produce 800 parts per 10 hour shift, or roughly 80 parts per hour. Bob and Jose can also log in to the Formic dashboard from their homes or cell phones and see progress and check on production at any time.

Now that their robot is showing up to work reliably, Polar is evaluating other opportunities for automation in their facility. Formic is proud to support Polar in their journey to automation. With Formic’s robot workforce, Polar can compete, on a cost basis, with production from anywhere in the world, and can grow their business. 

Automation Customer Story