KnitMesh Technologies uses Epson’s VT6L All-in-One 6-Axis robot

Since its foundation in 1957, KnitMesh Technologies has developed an enviable reputation for the research, development, and supply of precision Knitted Wire Mesh components around the world.

The company’s products are manufactured from a wide range of metallic, mineral, or man-made raw materials and then processed to deliver the specific properties of its customers’ applications.

KnitMesh continually invests in state-of-the-art design, production and testing techniques helping it to meet and exceed international quality standards across industries such as green hydrogen generation, electrolysis, automotive, aerospace, electronics, military, telecommunications, medical and filtration amongst many.

“All of our wire mesh components are completely bespoke, with wire diameters ranging from 0.05mm up to 0.7mm, producing mesh between 5mm and 1000mm in width that can be  supplied as mesh or as compressed forms,” says Craig Jones, Engineering Manager at KnitMesh Technologies. “The result is a hugely diverse portfolio of components that are used in everything from automotive heatshield isolators and air bag filters to aircraft door seal systems, animal enclosures and hospital body scanners.”

Many of KnitMesh’s projects involve high volumes of components and the company has historically relied on pneumatic based automation systems to streamline its processes and meet production quotas on time. However, a recently secured contract to produce 48 million electric vehicle (EV) filter components over eight years afforded the opportunity to move to a robotics-based automation solution instead, which KnitMesh seized with both hands.

“Pneumatic automation systems can be adapted quickly, but they are also unreliable and prone to breakages, which means they need continuous management,” explains Craig. “By contrast, robotic solutions are faster, more accurate, and have a failure rate of virtually zero, offering huge benefits to our production processes. Not only that, but they really engage our engineering team and give us the opportunity to progress our technical and manufacturing capabilities as a business.”

KnitMesh consulted with its long-term automation partner Nortech to identify the best robotics solution for its needs. After careful evaluation, Epson’s VT6L All-in-One 6-Axis robot was selected.

“The Epson VT6L has a great feel and came highly recommended by Nortech,” says Craig. “It only took 30 minutes to learn how to programme and felt so intuitive to use, making it a hit with our engineers. Furthermore, it had a very short lead time for both ordering and repairs, which was a key factor. From the start of the process to final implementation was just eight weeks.”

KnitMesh installed the VT6L at its Holywell manufacturing facility in North Wales in September 2021 and quickly put it to work producing the new EV filter components.

“The robot unloads the formed component from a rotary press, loads it into a welding system, waits for the weld to be completed, then deposits the component into the parts chute for transfer to sealed containers, all in less than 8 seconds,” notes Craig. “Different programmable grippers make it easy to change between various component forms depending on customer needs, further streamlining the production process. This is true SMED.”

Since implementation, KnitMesh has experienced a tenfold reduction in downtime. Furthermore, the VT6L’s incredible repeatability of just +/- 100 microns has produced a 20 percent increase in productivity and virtually eliminated rejects.

“Mesh production is harsh on equipment and small pieces of mesh can easily find their way inside sensitive components, which quickly causes problems,” explains Craig. “When using pneumatic systems our uptime is rarely above 95 percent because we’re constantly replacing compromised sensors, seals or cylinders,” explains Craig. “However, the VT6L is fully sealed and IP40 rated, which has eliminated these kinds of problems. Consequently, uptime hasn’t dropped below 98 percent since we started using it.”

“There’s also a big health and safety aspect,” continues Craig. “Our process involves a lot of hazardous welding cycles, but the VT6L can operate in close proximity to our welding equipment with no problems at all, saving time whilst ensuring the safety of all concerned.”

Following the successful completion of batch testing, KnitMesh will begin mass production of the EV filter cells in 2022, where the VT6L will play a central role in producing six million units annually for the next eight years.

“The Epson name is synonymous with quality, so you know you’re getting a great product,” concludes Craig. “When this project finally concludes in eight years’ time, we’ll still have a major asset on our books, making it a fantastic investment for both now and the future.”

Box out

With next-level technology at an incredible price, the VT6L All-in-One 6-Axis robot is ideal for a wide variety of simple applications. Delivering many of the features found in Epson’s high-end robots, including powerful Epson RC+® development software and easy integration tools such as vision guidance, the VT6L offers a reach up to 900 mm and a payload up to 6 kg.

A feature-packed performer, it includes a built-in controller, plus simplified cabling with a hollow end-of-arm design – all at a remarkably low cost, in a compact, SlimLine structure. The VT6L offers 110 V and 220 V power and installs in minutes

The VT6L, which retails for under €13,000, offers businesses a cost effective means of automating laborious tasks and utilising employee resources more appropriately to support other parts of the business operation.

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6-axis, automation, knitmesh, robotics

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Key facts

  • Knitmesh Technologies had the Epson VT6L All-in-One 6-Axis robot installed to automate the production of bespoke, wire mesh components used in a vaiety of functions across multiple sectors.

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