Put A Ring On It

When a major supplier to the chain mail supply industry expanded into laser engraving, automation was a necessary component
by Abbe Miller, editor-in-chief

 



The goal for ambitious product producers is to gain as much market share as possible. Those that do, rise to the top by keeping their thumb on the needs of the industry to develop products superior to those of their competition.

But what do these manufacturers do once they’ve locked down majority market share? Well, if they’re anything like a company called The Ring Lord, they continue to optimize and streamline their operations while also diversifying their product offerings.

When The Ring Lord opened its doors about 15 years ago, the company was in a fortunate position. Essentially, the business had entered an industry that didn’t really exist: the chain mail supply industry, a subset of the jewelry supply industry.

Chain mail supplies are the individual components that are used in various types of jewelry. Once The Ring Lord had cornered the chain mail supply market, the company expanded its offerings to get a share of the larger jewelry supply market.  

Since opening its doors, jump rings have been The Ring Lord’s mainstay product. They are small wire rings that are used as a common connector for linking charms and other jewelry components together. In addition to serving as a linking component, jump rings can also be pieced together to produce chain mail armor or elaborate necklaces. The Ring Lord makes 1 million jump rings each and every day.

The jump rings are produced in the company’s two North American factories and are available in every type of metal and color imaginable.         

“Our biggest product line includes our anodized aluminum jump rings in 20 colors in one line and 12 in another,” says Jon Daniels, one of the company’s owners. “When we first started branching out, we started with small punched metal pieces, which led us into lasers and laser engraving. We were making 150,000 small plates every single day, and I got the idea that it would be cool to engrave them.”

Daniels started out with an inexpensive CO2 laser from a Chinese-made, U.S.-supported company. The 40-W machine was a good investment as a starter piece of equipment, but Daniels knew that he would need to seek out something more sophisticated for the long term. Some time later, the company invested in a Rofin 20-W fiber laser, which Daniels describes as “a robust machine that doesn’t require much maintenance.”

The UR5 robot from Universal Robots was developed to automate repetitive and potentially dangerous tasks with payloads of up to 5 kg.

 

Watch The Ring Lord's UR5 robot as it starts to engrave a stack of 50 business cards. Easy to use, all the operator has to do is set up the stack and click start. The robot does the rest.



Smart expansions

With his laser marking equipment consistently producing laser-marked metal pieces, like dog tags, scales and rings, every 8 to 10 seconds, Daniels once again decided it was time for The Ring Lord to expand. After researching the marketplace, he discovered that custom engraved business cards could be a perfect fit for the company’s capabilities.

“When we were running 8- to 10-second parts on the laser marking equipment, it wasn’t a horrible job to manually change out the metal plates when the machine was ready for a new part,” he explains. “The business cards, however, take 20 to 40 seconds to complete. And at that point, the economics start to completely change. Manually swapping out parts at that rate is a really crappy job. The efficiency of a human being drops off completely when you bore them to death.”

Daniels continues, however, to say that “it’s no problem at all for a robot.”

Automating products, like the custom laser-etched business cards, that have a longer cycle time was a no-brainer for Daniels. So, he set out to find the best equipment possible.

Daniels, a self-proclaimed novice at coding, says that ease of use topped the list of must-haves for the company’s automation needs. The company also wanted equipment that included a simulator, which would allow the team at The Ring Lord to practice different configurations and scenarios in a virtual setting without having to take the equipment offline.


This stainless steel business card exemplifies many of the engraving capabilities at The Ring Lord, such as detailed images, embossed features and multi-color engraving.



Automating repetitive tasks

After doing a healthy amount of research, Daniels settled on the UR5 robot from Universal Robots. He’s been happy with the decision ever since.   

Lightweight and flexible, the UR5 was developed to automate repetitive and potentially dangerous tasks with payloads of up to 5 kg. Low-weight collaborative processes, like picking, placing and testing, are the robot’s bread and butter. As the first robot developed at Universal Robots, the UR5 is an exemplary illustration of why the company came to be.

In 2003, the company’s three founders, Esben Østergaard, Kasper Støy and Kristian Kassow, met at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. The collective goal was to develop a lightweight robot that would be easy to install and program. According to Scott Mabie, Universal Robots’ general manager for the Americas region, “They could see that heavy, expensive and unwieldy robots dominated robotics and that there was a market for a more user-friendly option.”
 
By 2005, their company had materialized and by 2009, the six-jointed UR5 robot was ready to enter the market. With a working radius of up to 850 mm, the UR5 was freeing up employees to work on other tasks. And just as Daniels had hoped, the UR5 is easy to program.

 

Multi-colored engraving, created by The Ring Lord’s Rofin 20-W fiber laser, shown on stainless steel.


Programming made easy

“We decided to go with a machine that anyone can use,” says Daniels. “That’s definitely where the Universal Robot has been great. It’s intuitive and certainly no harder to use than your average smartphone.”

The ease of use comes from a patented technology that lets operators with absolutely no programming experience set up and operate the robots. The programming pendant is intuitive and comes equipped with 3-D visualization. Users also have the option to choose from a variety of programming methods from simply moving the robot arm to desired waypoints or using arrow keys on the touchscreen tablet.

“There are three ways to program the robot’s movements,” says Daniels. “With method No. 1, you can hold down a training button and simply drag the robot arm to where you want it. With method No. 2, you can jog around with the eight axis controls in Cartesian space. On another set of controls, you can move each of the six axes individually.”

 

Jump rings, which are a mainstay product for The Ring Lord, are also available with engravings.



To safeguard the users of the robot as well as the equipment nearby, reference planes can be leveraged. The basic idea behind this method is that you can define the physical space around the robot in general terms. When a user is able to define these planes, the robot understands that it shouldn’t cross a certain plane because that might be where the laser’s optics are located, for example.

“When a human enters the robot’s workcell, the robot arm can operate in reduced mode and then resume full speed when he leaves again,” says Østergaard, Universal Robots’ chief technology officer. “Or, the robot can run full speed inside a CNC machine for example, and then reduced speed when outside. To achieve a switch between normal and reduced safety mode, eight safety functions are monitored by the new patented safety system: Joint positions and speeds, TCP positions, orientation, speed and force, as well as the momentum and power of the robot. The settings can only be changed in a password-protected area.”

Beyond programming, the UR5 also boasts a fast and simple setup while also being collaborative and safe. According to Mabie, the UR5 offers one of the fastest payback times in the industry.


The Ring Lord
Universal Robots

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