BOSTON—Fitzpatrick Manufacturing, a CNC machine shop and custom manufacturer founded in 1952, regularly brings new technology into its factory to increase speed, improve efficiency, and remain competitive. The company recently deployed Rethink Robotics’ Sawyer™ collaborative robot at its Sterling Heights, Michigan, facility to increase operational efficiency and to counterbalance a tight labor market.

“We were very deliberate about finding the right job for Sawyer,” said Kevin LaComb, co-president at Fitzpatrick Manufacturing, in a press release. “This is the first time we’ve deployed advanced automation. In job shops, it’s hard to predict what project will come in. With Sawyer’s adaptability, we can automate the repetitive, mundane jobs and free up human workers for more skilled, higher value tasks.”

Fitzpatrick Manufacturing supplies parts to more than a dozen sectors, including aerospace, automotive, medical equipment, and oil and gas. The company is using Sawyer to help hone parts that become components for the motion control industry–work that requires precise tolerance and repetitive action. Sawyer identifies which part to run first—short versus long—and loads it into the honing machine. When the first part is finished, Sawyer removes it, loads a second part into the machine, and places the first part in the wash station. From there, Sawyer dries the part at the air blow station before packaging it in a box for shipment.

With 400 spots on the pin board to be processed, Sawyer can package between 280 and 300 before a human worker needs to intervene. This process could take five to eight hours, which allows Sawyer to run overnight, lights out, and have all the parts ready to go when workers arrive back at the facility.

Sawyer is one of two collaborative robots manufactured by Rethink Robotics—the other is Baxter®—that are designed to work safely alongside people.  The cobots are powered by the Intera software platform and can be trained and on the job in a matter of hours, according to the manufacturer.

The majority of Fitzpatrick’s employees have been around for years, and introducing Sawyer was initially met with uncertainty on the floor. However, once the team saw the cobot’s versatility, and was able to focus on more interesting work, Sawyer was a welcome addition to the line.

“At first, there was some hesitation around Sawyer’s deployment,” said Jon Mutz, team leader at Fitzpatrick Manufacturing, in the release. “The older generation was a little unsure of the new technology, while the younger group was excited. Once the team realized Sawyer wasn’t there to take their jobs, but rather help them do their jobs better and give them opportunities for more rewarding work, there was universal acceptance of and appreciation for Sawyer.”

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