No Programming, No Problem

Teach-by-touch cobot technology gives a fabricator a flexible, ergonomic solution for repetitive tasks

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Demand for human-robot collaboration is trending upward as advances in sensors, vision technologies and AI-driven interfaces expand the range of applications the machines can be used for. Productive Robotics is making it easy for manufacturers like Custom Curb Inc., to automate repetitive, cumbersome tasks with its cost-efficient 7-axis OB7 collaborative robots. Designed and produced in the United States, the OEM’s proprietary “no programming” user interface allows operators to teach OB7 by showing the synergistic co-worker each step of a job.

For Jack Haas, president and owner of Custom Curb, ease of use and ergonomics prompted him to choose a cobot over that of an industrial machine.

Custom Curb invested in an OB7-Max 8 cobot from Productive Robotics to assist with material loading and unloading on its fiber laser cutting machine.

“My employees are irreplaceable,” he says. “My goal with robotics is to mitigate some of the ergonomic-related issues associated with manual, repetitive tasks and foster a healthier environment for personnel.”

Changing the status quo

Custom Curb specializes in high-quality custom curbs and a variety of other products, including skylights, roof walkways, access ladders, industrial fans, smoke vents and wall louvers. The Southern California company can design and produce parts from any material but specializes in fabricating components from aluminum.

In March 2024, the company tested an OB7-Max 8 to unload and stack large blanks from its Senfeng SF3015H fiber laser cutting machine. The laser cutting machine, which can run at speeds of up to 10 ipm, handles sheet metal up to 5 ft. by 10 ft.

In the past, the width of a fiber laser cutting machine’s bed has been prohibitive for cobot fiber laser machine tending, but Productive Robotics’ offerings overcome that long reach. The OB7-Max series of cobots has been engineered to handle larger payloads with a longer reach than many other cobots on the market. The OB7-Max line ranges in reach and capacity from 1 m to 1.7 m and from 5 Kg to 8 Kg, respectively. Haas’ OB7-Max 8 tops out the range with a 1.7-m reach and an 8-kg payload.

“Cut blanks measure 12 in. by 100 in.,” Haas says. “Operators would have to reach across a 60-in.-wide bed and handle the blanks, making the job awkward and difficult. The OB7-Max 8 perform the job easily.”

To further extend the cobot’s capacity, Custom Curb augmented its long reach with end-of-arm tooling that features a line of suction grippers. The grippers are able to load large sheets onto the Senfeng laser and unload the long cut blanks with ease.

Custom Curb relies on a Senfeng SF3015H fiber laser cutting machine for the majority of its cutting requirements.

Since investing in the OB7-Max 8, operators are experiencing less fatigue and physical stress and are able to focus on higher value tasks instead of material handling. With just one cobot, Custom Curb is giving its staff a more enjoyable workday. Long term, fewer workman’s compensation claims and higher staff retention rates will be inevitable.

Up and running

One of the main selling points for cobots is the safety they provide. This is true for Productive Robotics offerings. Built-in features that make the OB7-Max line safe for its human counterparts are wide ranging.

For starters, the cobot can sense collisions at every joint, a function that triggers a safe stop. The operator can also initiate a safe stop manually on the tablet. To restart the cobot, the operator only needs to tap on one of its joints. Furthermore, each of the cobot’s joints can rotate 360 degrees in both directions. And, when running at collaborative speeds, guarding may not be required.

Another reason that makes cobots attractive to fabricators is their ease of installation. Productive Robotics installed the OB7-Max 8 at Custom Curb in less than an hour. Furthermore, it’s quick to get a cobot up and running. In less than 15 min., the OB7-Max 8 can be programmed using the “no programming” user interface. For the team at Custom Curb, the cobot was unloading and stacking blanks unattended in no time flat.

According to Zac Bogart, president and owner of Productive Robotics, one of the biggest differentiators that sets the company’s cobots apart from other offerings on the market is the ease of programming. Users don’t “program” the robots, he says, they “teach” them. 

“Because they learn their ‘program,’ which is a word we don’t like to use, by simply moving them through their job, there is almost never any value in trying to ‘program’ them, remotely or otherwise,” Bogart explains. “People with CNC programming backgrounds sometimes don’t understand this.” 

In terms of remote programming, which is often a selling point for various types of automated operations, it doesn’t make sense or save time when using the Productive Robotics line of cobots because of how they’re built. For starters, a CNC machine program is fully contained and executed in the machine itself. 

“Generally, remote programming of robots is only done in the purview of industrial robots working in fixed environments – think an automobile assembly line where it is set up once and nothing changes,” Bogart says. “When the environment is continually changing or it isn’t completely defined and locked down, trying to program remotely can be a whole lot of work for zero gain.

To unload long blanks, Custom Curb uses a DIY end-of-arm tool. With nothing more than a simple metal bar and suction cups, parts are removed with ease.

“Worse, if someone simply moves a table an inch, the whole remote program may be useless or, worse, cause the robot to crash,” he adds. “That’s much different than a CNC machine where the internal working environment is fully defined and established – with some exceptions granted, of course.”

With that said, all Productive Robotics cobots can be programmed and controlled remotely.

It’s rarely done, however, and usually only in special applications. The “no programming” standard user interface provides users with all of the capability they need in “more than 99 percent of the applications we’ve encountered,” Bogart says.

Made in America

Now that the OB7-Max 8 is in place, Haas plans to run it up to 16 hours per day removing and stacking galvanized steel blanks. He has also ordered an OB7-Max 12 to load the laser cut blanks into a new 90-ton press brake with an 11-ft.-long bed. Once formed on the press brake, the parts are used to fabricate a frame for a skylight designed to pop open in the event of a fire. The press brake will also run unattended.

“These are high-volume jobs,” Bogart says. “The cobot doesn’t need to rest or take breaks. It relieves operators from having to perform mundane, repetitive work and allows Custom Curb to move personnel to more value-added tasks. We’ve engineered our cobots to perform a diverse number of pick-and-place activities and highly repetitive jobs.”

Like Productive Robotics, Custom Curb offers customers experience and quick turnaround. Its metal building and roof products as well as the additional accessories produced are examples of “American integrity and ingenuity.

Custom Curb produces curbs, skylights, roof walkways, access ladders, industrial fans, smoke vents and wall louvers with many components that are now being automatically removed from the cutting table.

“Productive Robotics appealed to me as a cobot supplier because it’s a U.S.-based company that manufactures its products here in California,” he concludes. “I’m also a U.S. OEM headquartered in California. I buy American when I can. I wanted to introduce automation that would help my employees not replace them. The OB7 is proving to be the perfect co-worker.”

Custom Curb Inc.

Productive Robotics

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