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Harwin makes better connections using Festo automation

20 July 2017

Harwin PLC makes high quality connectors for electronics applications. When investing in a new production line for its premium Gecko range, the company chose Festo technology to deliver the high levels of automation and flexibility it needed.

Harwin’s connectors are high quality, reliable and durable and can thus be used in harsh ambient conditions. They are not only specified by customers in the cost conscious consumer electronics sector, but are also in demand for high performance applications such as aerospace, motor sports and the automotive industry. This means the connectors have to be made consistently to very high standards. Every 0.5mm diameter pin is turned and has a patented slotted four finger contact design, enabling current handling on a very small pitch and ensuring high vibration and shock resistance.

In response to market requirements Harwin introduced its Gecko range of connectors. These advanced connectors have a pin pitch of only 1.25mm and are half the size and 75 percent lighter than micro D connectors. Their robust screw connection makes them extremely safe and reliable and able to withstand countless mating operations without damage. 

The Gecko connector manufacturing process has been continuously refined from an initially manual process to today’s highly automated solution, capable of producing hundreds of thousands of connectors a year with a wide range of connector configurations ranging from 4 to 50 pins per connector and many pcb mounting options. 

Flexibility as standard

When developing a new production line with the aim of improving manufacturing efficiencies, Harwin identified that a high level of automation and a high degree of flexibility were needed to be able to produce differently shaped and sized connectors on one assembly line. Working with Festo, they were able to develop a modular, automated process using standard components.

The new assembly lines are built around the YJKP servo press kit and the YXMx compact handling system from Festo. The handling system takes care of the X/Y movements of the workpiece carriers and the plastic housings assembled in the system stations. The servo press kit, which provides easy-to-configure position and force-controlled movement in the Z plane, is used for press-fitting and bending the contact pins. In all stations, the electric and pneumatic drives are controlled by their own CECC-X controller together with a CPX/MPA valve terminal. 

“These Festo systems enable maximum standardisation and modularisation, as standard parts are used everywhere. This makes commissioning and maintenance easier,” explains Paul McGuinness, Operations Director at Harwin.

The assembly line for manufacturing the connectors comprises three key stations: inserting, press-fitting and bending the contact pins. In the first station, the workpiece carriers are equipped with the required connector housings and are positioned using the YXMx compact handling system so the contact pins can be inserted. In the second station, the servo press presses the contact pins into the connector housing. The HGPT precision gripper from Festo locates the workpiece carriers holding the connector housings while the pins are fitted. The handling system and the servo press kit are also used in the last station for bending the contact pins to the required angle.

Precise and intuitive

The kinematics of the compact handling system enable dynamic and precise movement and ensure the connectors are precisely placed under the press-fitting tool. The low moving mass of the axes with a single belt connected to two static motors helps to quickly and accurately position the connector housings below the electric servo press.

The modular YJKP servo press kit consists of a closed-loop servo motor, a mechanical axis, a motion controller and force detection, as well as application software. The result is precise, powerful and gentle movement of the pins to the correct position. 

The CoDeSys software in the CECC-X controller enables complete control of the servo press profile, providing position and force control throughout the cycle. Evaluation functions such as insertion or block force monitoring detect whether the fit is within tolerance. Defective parts are easily identified and later rejected.

The application software supplied with the servo press also makes programming extremely easy thanks to an intuitive graphical user interface. Adapting the press profile to the different connector variants can therefore be achieved without the need for special programming skills. Three CPX valve terminals controlled by the master CECC-X controller actuate the numerous electric and pneumatic grippers and actuators

Following on the successful introduction of the new Gecko production line, the Harwin team are already planning to extend their adoption of Festo solutions. 

“We will certainly continue the modular concept but there is scope to extend the automation, further driving down the cost of production and increasing the production reliability” says Paul McGuinness. “The handling systems and servo presses now in production share four very important customer demands of our modular and flexible machine concept: precision, repetition accuracy, flexibility and reliability. Festo are uniquely placed to meet these requirements.” 


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