Ceramic Industry

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: A Sticky Situation

November 1, 2007
A new robotic solution has eliminated the need for the backing and templates used in ceramic mosaic tile production.

ABB Robotics, in collaboration with the Italian engineering consultancy EMC, has developed a robotic solution for the production of tile mosaics that is winning over previously reticent tile makers. Apart from providing necessary automation, the system has also reduced costs by eliminating the need for paper and mesh backing, as well as templates.

Two years ago, ABB Robotics approached EMC with a request to develop robotic applications in the ceramic tile industry. EMC’s name is an acronym for its focus: engineering, manufacturing and consulting for robotic applications. Marco Corti, who started the company in 2001 in Italy, manages the technical aspects of the consultancy, while Paolo Durio heads up the commercial side. Both Corti and Durio have about 20 years of business experience, with Corti’s devoted almost exclusively to robotics.

Though robotics provide performance, flexibility and simplicity in production-all of which are requisites for the competitive future of the ceramic tile industry-a solution that was palatable to the traditionally conservative industry was still required.

Developing a Robotic Solution

The challenge facing EMC and ABB Robotics was to develop an alternative to the expensive mesh or cheaper paper backing used by mosaic cutters. The tile mosaics are produced in squares or strips and are held together by the backing. The assembly of the small squares of tile had traditionally been done by hand; EMC’s task was to remove this manual element while retaining both quality and accuracy. The company’s design team developed a robotic solution based on ABB’s IRB340 FlexPicker robot.

ABB’s FlexPicker delta robot is an optimal, flexible robot solution for high-speed pick and place. It is reportedly the fastest robot in the world, with 150 picks per minute and a payload of up to 2 kg. In addition, since delta robots are top mounted, they require minimal floor space. The FlexPicker assembles and manipulates the tile and mosaics, prepares the tile for gluing, and applies a new type of adhesive to hold the tile during subsequent phases of transportation and application.

Meanwhile, in the process of developing the system, EMC realized the need for a new gluing method to maximize the flexibility of robotic handling. “Working with partners, we devised a new system to glue the mosaic tile together,” says Corti. “We had to develop a new adhesive and deploy a second robot to apply it, which we called the sticking machine. The FlexPicker places the tiles onto a sticky sheet of plastic, which holds them stable. Then they pass under the sticking machine, where special glue is applied that holds the tiles together. The outcome was that we could eliminate the use of paper backing, mesh and templates altogether.”

For additional information regarding robotics for the tile industry, contact ABB Automation Technologies AB, SE-721 68 Vasteras, Sweden; (46) 021-344012; e-mail margarita.zeicu@se.abb.com; or visit www.abb.com.