General Industry: OLRP Insights

Episode Three: Curtiss Wright

Curtiss Wright: Programming 34 Robot Cells Globally with OCTOPUZ OLRP

In episode three of General Industry: OLRP Insights, we explored Curtiss Wright’s journey with Offline Robot Programming and how OLRP has made a difference in the way they program. Jim walked attendees through what was the learning curve like to implement an offline environment, what would Curtiss Wright have done differently, knowing what you know now about OLRP, and more! 

Jon House
Welcome to the webinar. When I think of important customers, consider things like tenure, license count, the scope of deployment, all those things, Curtis Wright is right up there. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited for our conversation. Jim, you've been a longtime OCTOPUZ supporter, so we're appreciative of that. Let's start with you telling the audience first a bit about yourself and Curtiss Wright.

Jim Groark
To give you a quick background on myself, I've been with Curtiss Wright, Surface Treatment business sector, for about 20 years, I've held many different roles. I've run four business units, been a member of our Curtiss Wright operation excellence committee, and I'm currently in a role leading our robotic strategy worldwide. My education is a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Villanova. I also have a Master's in Engineering Management from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. To give those who don't know a lot about Curtiss Wright. Curtiss Surface Treatment (CWST) is one of the larger business segments of Curtiss Wright Corporation, with over 70 sites worldwide. We're a service provider of Shot Peening, Laser Peening, Thermal Spray, Liquid Coatings, and Analytical Services, which we provide to the Aerospace, Industrial, and Medical industries worldwide.

Jon House
You mentioned 70 sites worldwide and a variety of segments or applications. To set the stage for everyone, how many robots does CWST have globally? Not necessarily using OCTOPUZ, but the total number of robot cells?

Jim Groark
Right now, we have about 70 plus robots running in our Shop Peening Operation and then another 50 cells that are part of our Thermal Spraying Laser Peening sites.

Jon House
CWST was an early OCTOPUZ customer since 2015. Are you able to take us back and dig into why you were looking for offline robot programming? What is the problem that you were trying to solve?

Jim Groark
In 2015 we were looking for a 2-way platform that could allow us to upload existing programs to evaluate/modify and create new programs. We also needed to accurately transfer existing programs from older machines to new machines to protect us and our customers.

Jon House
What kind of savings do you see with OCTOPUZ six years later? How do you measure impact?

Jim Groark
Savings has always been a hard item to quantify. The easiest is machine hours. When we are, evaluating or developing a new process, we can keep machines in production, reducing lost production time. Multiple projects have quantified a 2% gain on those parts by getting them to market sooner. The biggest savings is travel and lead time. Once a cell is set up and developed, we can work with the local teams to do the work without the cost of travel, which becomes has become very evident during this COVID quarantine.

Jon House
One of the things I'm excited about with this conversation is the global impact. It's my understanding that CWST hadn't used offline programming at all before OCTOPUZ. Can you describe what the journey has been like to convert to offline programming?

Jim Groark
To clarify that Cursory Surface Treatment has utilized offline programming at some of their local sites with robotics-specific technology. However, we found some limitations. We also investigated some Mastercam Robotmaster technology in 2012, which we found interesting but cumbersome from a shop painting side. Our machining sites liked it, but the learning curve was slow. We spent time from late 2012 to 2015, with slow progressions, until we came across OCTOPUZ. Who introduced us to a custom solution we were looking for. I would also say that the learning curve can vary from site to site, depending on the level of technology at that site. We have always supported the smaller sites from other larger sites or a corporate position.

Jon House
At OCTOPUZ, we have three high-level value propositions. 1) is reducing robot downtime, 2) is decreasing the programming time, and 3), we can work across all brands of robots. I think all three are important for CWST. Is there one that stands out or is most important?

Jim Groark
While I would like to pick one of these, it's different at each location. For some of our smaller sites, it's downtime. The larger sites it's their programming time because of their variety and customers. From my view, the value has always been the ability to provide oversight and review to all our locations from remote locations.

Jon House
Before we hopped on the call here, we talked about the benefits of digital technology. With travel being what it is now, I think you see the added benefits there. In previous conversations, you've described to me that your job or mandate is to advance technology but protect the past. What does that mean exactly?

Jim Groark
We have 28 active cells and six still in development worldwide. In locations, United States (9), Sweden (2), France (3), Spain (1), United Kingdom (8), Mexico (4), Canada (4), Germany (3). To make sure we can protect our customers; this technology (OCTOPUZ) has given us the ability to never lose older programs and to create programs on new robots. The variety of different robots … we have six to eight Motoman robots worldwide, another five ABB, and then we are starting to have Fanuc and KUKA. Which we haven't even broached using OCTOPUZ on them yet. That's something we're working on right now.

Jon House
Can you provide maybe a more detailed example of advancing technology but protecting the past? We have talked a few times about the 2019 case study of our joint customer in southern Ontario.

Jim Groark
That project was interesting. We had a very, very old piece of equipment that was considered the failure point for our customer. To do that, we built a new piece of equipment with new robot technology, then utilized OCTOPUZ to go in and take the programs right off the old machine. We ended up taking programs off a 25-year-old unit and transferring them to brand-new equipment without having to redevelop any programs. Needless to say, our customer was very pleased.

Jon House
I like hearing the story about the Sweden plant. You had 100 plus new parts in the queue and physically didn't have enough machine time to do the production. So how did OCTOPUZ help in this situation?

Jim Groark
One of our sites in Sweden had a new program with limitations. Interestingly enough, the programs in Ontario and Sweden were occurring at a similar time. A quick reaction by the OCTOPUZ team they sent an Application Engineer with me to Sweden. This allowed for a quick programming effort so that the equipment could stay in production, while new parts were being developed offline. As production increased, they added a cell with a different robot, that we built an additional offline cell and created a transfer mechanism so that not only did we increase the offline productivity, we allowed them to utilize two different cells with the same programs to increase capacity.

Jon House
At CWST, we've already talked about it being a large global company. You use OCTOPUZ for shifting programs globally. Can you describe a little more in detail what that means?

Jim Groark
We have many situations to support our customers that we utilize OCTOPUZ. We help, in the transfer of existing work from one country to another, let alone one machine to another within a local site. This has allowed us to develop a program for a new customer currently running in the Northeast and Germany facilities and utilize these programs to transfer them to a brand-new Greenfield site in Mexico, reducing our development time and gaining the experience of the shared resources.

Jon House
You can essentially copy and paste programs across different sites globally through the digital OCTOPUZ environment. You have a lot of old robots and new robots. I'm curious, when do you decide to upgrade your hardware?

Jim Groark
To be honest we use them as long as possible. We also build new ones and relocate the critical work to the newer machines using OCTOPUZ and other situations. We keep the old units running on simpler work that would normally not be robotic, but It provides us an increase in efficiency and productivity on that work as well.

Jon House
Do you ever revert to the teach pendant method? Or when do you still use the teach pendant versus OLRP?

Jim Groark
Yes, many of our sites still work with teach pendant programming on simple solutions or edits. We can review that work with the offline cells. Some of our sites do not have local offline programmers, at this time, we are still growing within that. I would say about 25% is offline at this time. The key is we have the critical work programmed offline to provide that advantage.

Jon House
That makes a lot of sense, Jim. We hear prospective clients talk about the robot cells being underutilized. Sometimes they'll give us a capacity percentage, or sometimes the cell is sitting in the corner, not doing anything. At OCTOPUZ, we may attribute this to the robot or the teach pendant being too cumbersome to use. There's a lack of skilled labor in the trades. What's your take on this? Do you see this as a problem at CWST currently?

Jim Groark
I fully agree. We have had some small sites that the robots would not be used. If we did not go in and push the development and get involved in the higher production parts, it might sit there. Once that was done, we find the site's calling us wanting us to support them more and get more things into production. It has been difficult to fund a full-time programmer at every site, that has knowledge of both pendant and offline capabilities.

Jon House
It’s always a shame for us when we see the customer making the right decision by investing in automation. Then the automation sits there because, perhaps it's too difficult to use or like, you said, it's hard to find the person to put on it. OCTOPUZ can help in scenarios like that. Who would you say is the best candidate to be the OCTOPUZ user in your opinion? Do you think the robot operator or a CAD Savvy, SolidWorks type of person or maybe it's the application expert? What are your thoughts?

Jim Groark
We have sites that the robot operator lead has knowledge of pendant programming, and computers have taken over offline programming. One example is the project in Sweden, we thought we were going to have two engineers running it, and the programmer was more successful than the engineers, and it took off. This is once the cells are created, built and CAD models are in, they still need some support from CAD and tooling guys to make sure things are built and put into upload it. They've been very successful. I believe, as long as you have one higher-level engineer tech type, to guide the team, it can be very, very productive. We have been utilizing larger sites where a corporate engineer is to support the smaller sites so that the operator can take advantage of this.

Jon House
With OCTOPUZ, one of the advantages is that you can program all robots in the same virtual environment. What are the critical nuances to be mindful of when you are working across different brands?

Jim Groark
With OCTOPUZ, we have been able to gain the ability to go across different brands. The key is to have well-defined tool definitions TCPs. You will utilize that in OCTOPUZ and on the robot’s pendant. Then we can post out code in a rectangle coordinate and transfer it to any other model and then upload these different robot thoughts, with the same toolpath centered around the part user frames. The OCTOPUZ Application Engineers have been a fantastic resource to help us perform these tests. The key is their follow-up. We have got documentation for the procedures for all our future uses. A lot of our situational support by an Application Engineer has always been followed by a document detailing what they did for us and how we could do it again, on our own.

Jon House
Jim, you are a longtime customer, someone with experience in OCTOPUZ so I've had you do some reference calls for us. What are the most common questions you hear from those that are looking at OCTOPUZ OLRP?

Jim Groark
The questions I've heard are, how was the OCTOPUZ support staff, and what was the difficulty getting the internal support at your own company. The OCTOPUZ staff has been key in making ground gains within our own company they work directly with myself and the team members to make sure they're successful on a program. Their follow-up work has always helped us to make sure that the operators stay engaged.

Jon House
Looking back on 2015 and the years that followed bringing in OLRP (OCTOPUZ) to Curtiss Wright … what would you have done differently knowing what you know now?

Jim Groark
I would have not been as patient in respect to the last six years. I would have pushed for the use faster. Not allowing small resistance and obstacles to stand in my way, the situation of savings and customer impressions cannot be replaced for when you have offline programming. You can provide a solution in front of your customer. That just would push me to not be as patient and make sure we had gotten to this level a lot sooner.

Jon House
At the time when you were looking at your options, was there an alternative to moving forward with OLRP? If you didn't move forward with OCTOPUZ or a similar type of product, how would that have changed your processes today?

Jim Groark
We decided we were going to have offline programming at some point back in 2012. No alternative to that was going to be accepted. It's just been the custom application that OCTOPUZ offered us that none of our other alternatives were willing to commit to at the time back in 2015.

Jon House
Typically, there are some internal changes that customers go through to utilize OLRP properly. What kind of changes did CWST need to go through?

Jim Groark
The changes and challenges refer to upgrades like computer equipment to handle the software, the size, the custom part models, and the speed of the regenerating when you're working. Most of our local sites did not handle CAD software. The second challenge was finding a staff member to take responsibility at all sites. Some were easy others are still a struggle.

Jon House
Final question, Jim, what advice do you give to shops or manufacturers, who are right now considering Offline Robot Programming?

Jim Groark
My biggest piece of advice is to find and dedicate what I call a robot manager with the capabilities of doing everything himself when necessary at the beginning, we tried to do a partial responsibility. It always was put on the back burner because there was always a more pressing situation and they had too many roles. I'd make it a priority for one individual and make it part of their yearly objectives so that they can drive it for your company.

Jon House
A lot of people bring on something like OCTOPUZ and it's their first time diving into OLRP. Our advice is similar … customers have to go in with both feet and make sure they're committed to the change. Your answers are spot on. I appreciate it, Jim. Thank you.

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