• Outputs


Advanced Manufacturing Robotics

The AIMCH Advanced Manufacturing Robotics work package (WP7), led by Stewart Milne Group, seeks to develop the manufacturing processes involved in Category 2 MMC wall panel production. The use of automation and robotics is seen as an opportunity for the industry. This work was done in partnership with Built Environment – Smarter Transformation (BE_ST, formerly CSIC) Innovation Factory and a commercial automation specialist technology partner.

It focused on the design of the following workstations:

  • Sheathing : Sheath wall panels.
  • Insulation : Fill wall panels with insulation.
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Advanced Manufacturing Robotics (WP7) is an area of improvement that has the potential to make a large impact within the offsite manufacturing and house building industry. 

The project involved the design of two separate robotic workstations for sheathing and insulation applications. The use of advanced manufacturing techniques has provided AIMCH with several benefits, including a reduction in manufacturing costs, and increased productivity and capacity. It has also improved product quality and reliability while eliminating manual handling and safety risks.



Advanced manufacturing robotics in the manufacturing of MMC wall panel production is beneficial not only to manufacturers, but to the entire housing industry.  The design and development of the two workstations was as follows:

  • Sheathing

    This assembly process activity can be described as the picking, placing, and fixing of sheathing boards onto Cat 2 MMC panelised wall panel frames.

    Commonly, sheathing boards are lifted, positioned, and secured manually by one or two operators.

    The design of the workstation considered the following factors:

    • Using pre-cut boards and/or using full sized boards trimmed in situ
    • Boards to be applied to a variety of panel sizes
    • Handling a variety of board types and weights
    • Ability to utilise a variety of fixing types
    • Accurate positioning of boards based on CAD information
    • Cycle times needed to increase production output

    By using the existing panel designs and the hybrid approach to board cutting, AIMCH calculated that a 2-robot cell could achieve an output, like the existing manual solution, but with a smaller footprint.

    Adding a 3rd robot could yield a 40% increase in output. This would reduce costs, manual handling, increase precision, and free up labour resources.
  • Insulation

    This manufacturing process can be described as filling wall panel frames with insulation.

    Equipment is available to deliver the insulation to the desired requirements, however, the positioning and alignment of the equipment within the panel voids must be carried out manually by an operator using a winch and roller table.

    The design of the insulation work station considered the following factors including:

    • Supply of raw material to feed the insulating operations.
    • Accurate positioning and repositioning, of equipment is required.
    • Insulation to be applied to a variety of panel sizes and configurations.
    • Insulation to be applied to a variety of panel void sizes and configurations.
    • Cycle times needed to increase production output.

    AIMCH invested significant time, effort to develop an automated insulation process and station. Options considered were to combine multi pieces of equipment into one automated station. A simpler longer term solution would be to use computer-controlled gantries or robotic arms, which has the potential to double output.



Principal OUTCOMES

The AIMCH Advanced Manufacturing Robotics workstream delivered the following conclusions:


A multi robot cell can achieve similar outputs to existing manual labour dependent solutions, but with a smaller footprint and much greater reliability and accuracy.

This would increase precision by eliminating manual handling and free up labour resources while reducing costs. 

Combining optimisation of panel design and additional automation could yield further output benefits.
AIMCH developed a proof of concept design for an automated insulation solution, with insulation equipment working independently.

Potential exists to double output through further improvements.

More time, effort, and investment are needed to commercialise solutions with automation/robotics technology partners.
Optimising the sizing of the panel voids can help increase output but is unlikely to yield significant improvement.


Through this research, AIMCH are confident that it is the right time to be investing in advanced offsite manufacturing technology. By doing so the house building industry can greatly benefit from scaling up Cat 2 MMC capacity and transitioning to a more manufacturing-orientated sector.

The use of advanced manufacturing technology can lead to reduced costs, improved quality and safety, increased consistency and reliability, greater output and reduced labour dependency. It can also free up the workforce to undertake higher-value manual assembly operations. 

Looking beyond AIMCH, the proof of concept and learnings gained from the project will fuel further commercialisation and deployment of new advanced manufacturing applications, mainstreaming the use of Category 2 Panelised MMC systems supplied by Stewart Milne Timber Systems.