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Robot sets a hot pace in motorcycle business.

Vance & Hines Racing, Santa Fe Springs, CA, is a 15-year-old manufacturer of exhaust systems, ignition units, and other high performance products in the faster-than-fast motorcycle market. When Harley Davidson began outpacing such rivals as Kawasaki as a favorite among US riders, Vance & Hines quickly designed a high performance heat shield specifically for the Harley system. The company produces about 5000 heat shields for the Harley line each year.

Overall, Vance & Hines manufactures 20 different heat shield models. And while stamping is the method OEMs use to produces hundreds of thousands of shields in a run, it proves neither efficient nor cost-effective for Vance & Hines. Steve Derksen, the company's chief engineer, decided to forego paying thousands of dollars to make a dye for each model. Instead, he opted to "buy a robot, put a plasma torch on the end, and actually cut the heat shield out of a piece of tubing."

As Mr Derksen notes, plasma cutting offers not only economy, but flexibility as well. To begin manufacturing a new heat shield model, he says, "we can build a fixture, program the robot, and be cutting within a week."

The robot the company uses is an IRB 1400 robot with a Maestro System 4 control, manufactured by ABB Flexible Automation Inc, Fort Collins, CO. ABB is a subsidiary of Asea Brown Boveri Inc, Norwalk, CT.

After looking at other robots, Mr Derksen bought the IRB 1400. "What really sold me the most was the software," he explained. "The tool center point (TCP) being offset was a big advantage to us." Most robots must keep the TCP directly in line with the arm's axis. But the IRB 1400 allows the operator to set the torch, angle, and position of the arm in any configuration and designate that as the TCP. From that point on, the robot always returns to that point. "That allows us to put the torches at extremely complex angles compared to the robot, and to get around the parts," says Mr Derksen.

Vance & Hines bought only the robot and controller from ABB. Mr Derksen and his staff designed the interface between the robot and the plasma torch. The fixture table and pedestal for the robot were also manufactured in-house.

Mr Derksen, who is a computer programmer as well as an engineer, installed the robot himself. Though Mr Derksen had never worked with a robot before, he designed the program structure without requiring training from ABB. After designing a generic program, Mr Derksen taught another staff member to handle the actual part programming. Whenever Vance & Hines needs to program a new part, the programmer simply uses the generic program and "fills in the blanks," Mr Derksen explains.

The robot cuts each shield, made of 1018 mild steel tubing, in about 20 sec. Because some models have three heat shields, three tables are set up side by side so that the robot can cut a complete set at one time. "It smokes," declares Mr Derksen.

Vance & Hines is now considering using the robot for welding jobs as well.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Vance and Hines Racing uses robot from ABB Flexible Automation Inc. to manufacture heat shields for motorcycles
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Words:507
Previous Article:VTC handles all parts large and smaller.
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