Compact robotic arms could soon automate mundane aerospace manufacturing tasks like sanding or painting through a new Albuquerque-based startup, Kane Robotics.
Kane Aerospace, a California firm that provides automated engineering services to aerospace manufacturing companies, is partnering with Build with Robots in Albuquerque to adapt collaborative robots, or cobots, for mundane, repetitive tasks that are generally still done by workers. Unlike the bulky, multi-million dollar machines that today operate 24/7 to automate key factory operations, cobots are compact and adjustable mechanical arms programmed to do simple things alongside workers, such as sanding, drilling or cutting.
Most of those simpler tasks are not yet automated in aerospace engineering facilities, offering a market niche for Kane Robotics, said Kane Aerospace CEO John Spruce.
“Cobots can provide the next evolution for automation on the factory floor,” Spruce said. “There are many smaller things that companies want to automate, but they don’t want to spend millions on robotic systems. Cobots brings the cost way down.”
Build with Robots is a regional reseller of cobots, made by the Danish firm Universal Robots. The Albuquerque company, housed at Central New Mexico Community College’s FUSE Makerspace Downtown, helps local innovators and startups use cobot automation to prototype things or to integrate the robotic arms into their operations.
It’s now working with Kane Robotics to adapt cobots for aerospace-related automation, said Build with Robots managing partner Chris Ziomek.
“Robotic technology offers significant value, but the aerospace industry is still under-automated,” Ziomek said. “We’ll develop technology to plug right into the needs of customers.”
Spruce expects to hire about 20 engineers and technicians over the next two years who will work with Build with Robots to program cobots for specific aerospace tasks. Kane Robotics will be headquartered in Albuquerque with sales offices in aerospace hubs around the nation, Spruce said.
The partners will develop standardized programs and customized robotic tasks for cobots to perform. It will include software for companies to easily upload computer-aided design to rapidly realign cobots for various tasks.
“You can program it to do one factory operation on Monday and Tuesday and then reprogram it for something different on Wednesday,” Spruce said. “Cobots can manage all kinds of repetitive, dirty or even dangerous tasks.”
Kane Robotics will sell cobot systems or lease them for specific operations.
“We’ll have our own fleet of cobots,” Spruce said. “We’ll lease, maintain them and update their capabilities for customers.”