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Manufacturing's Winner And Loser Of The Week

This week we have a group of winners who are working to make factory robots a little more "hands-on" by improving grip ability. This week's loser was cited for multiple safety violations, including two employees losing parts of their fingers on the same machine.

This week we have a group of winners who are working to make factory robots a little more "hands-on" by improving grip ability. This week's loser was cited for multiple safety violations, including two employees losing parts of their fingers on the same machine. 

Winner

This week's winners are the engineers at MIT who have now hit upon a way to give more dexterity to simple robotic grippers by using the environment as a helping hand. 

The team, led by Alberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and graduate student Nikhil Chavan-Dafle, has developed a model that predicts the force with which a robotic gripper needs to push against various fixtures in the environment in order to adjust its grasp on an object.

With the dexterity of a human hand, we are able to "spider-crawl" our fingers toward the center of a pencil in order to improve our grip. For a machine, however, this is complicated and expensive to create the programming to do so. 

With Rodriguez’s new approach, existing robots in manufacturing, medicine, disaster response, and other gripper-based applications may interact with the environment, in a cost-effective way, to perform more complex maneuvers, making it not only cost effective, but beneficial to the process of a factory line by increasing capability. 

To learn more, read the full story here and watch the video below: 

Loser

This week's loser is Wisconsin-based metal stamping company, Kapco Inc., who is currently facing penalties of more than $200,000 because of safety violations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced eight citations to Kapco for incidents including: a 19-year-old welder losing part of her finger on a welding machine at the Osceola, Wisconsin plant in February; another welder suffering similar injuries from the same machine in 2014; a third Osceola worker losing a finger to a metal straightening machine accident in 2014; and a Grafton employee facing the amputation of three fingers due to a power press accident in 2013.

Other citations include the company's failure to install safety guards on other metalworking equipment and failing to implement safety measures to the machine in Osceola. 

"Kapco has consciously placed employees at risk of serious injury to increase production. The company ignored its agreement to protect workers," Mark Hysell, OSHA's Eau Claire area director, said. "OSHA will hold the company responsible for its lack of regard for employee safety and its legal obligation to provide a safe work environment."

Kapco officials, however, vowed to "vigorously" contest OSHA's findings during an appeals process.

"Not only have we been compliant in meeting industry standards, we have proactively allocated vast resources to exceed safety protocols in many areas," Osceola Plant Operations Manager Paul Pueschner said.

Either way, it seems like that's a few-too-many accidents to say they're totally compliant with safety protocol, and their employees have paid the price. So for that reason, they win the losing title this week.

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