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issue: June 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Assembly and Fastening
Automated Productivity

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Miele’s Bielefeld plant uses robotics to increase productivity and make manufacturing more competitive.

This Stäubli RX90 robot operates a vacuum cleaner testing cell in the Miele manufacturing facility in Bielefeld, Germany. Cycle time for the complete testing operation is 30 seconds to 50 seconds.

Miele GmbH’s Bielefeld facility in Northern Germany covers 108,000 sq m, with 29,500 sq m dedicated to producing floor care appliances and dishwashers. The plant has a staff of about 1,550 employees manufacturing floor care appliances and consumer and commercial dishwashers in two shifts.
Miele began operations in Bielefeld in 1916, and in the early years, the site produced cream separators and electric motors. Bicycles were produced beginning in 1924, and motorcycles were made there as well. In 1927, the first vacuum cleaners were manufactured.
By 1960, bicycle production ceased, and plant production focused on vacuum cleaners and domestic dishwashers, with commercial dishwashers added later. In 2004, Miele celebrated its 75th anniversary of dishwasher production, with the 10-millionth Miele dishwasher rolling off the Bielefeld production line.

Investing in Automation

Miele made substantial investments in the plant when it prepared its next generation of dishwashers. These investments had already reached 60 million euros (approx. U.S. $74.7 million) when the new production lines went into operation about 1-1/2 years ago. “Investing to this tune in our Bielefeld plant confirms our belief in Bielefeld as a viable production location,” says Dr. Markus Miele, managing partner and co-proprietor.
The appliance maker designed most of the automation cells at Bielefeld in-house, integrating 75 Stäubli robots into the production processes. Stäubli, which manufactures its robots in Faverges, Haute-Savoie, France, points to a number of productivity benefits gained from using automation. Robots’ high degree of repeatability during manufacturing enables better quality and throughput in repetitive assembly operations. When repetitive activities with low added value are transferred from man to machine, the robot manufacturer says that it reduces the risk of musculoskeletal disorders and other occupational hazards. The robots are even designed with wrist joints adapted to machine-tool applications.
The supplier also says that its robotic solutions are capable of going beyond loading/unloading cycles. They can perform secondary operations, parallel operations and by-part traceability management or quality control.

Dishwasher Production

Dishwasher production at Bielefeld during the last year was approximately 440,000 units. Miele manufactures dishwashers on two production lines, with each line accommodating different heights and widths of inner cabinets.
Currently, 47 Stäubli RX Series units and 15 Stäubli Puma Series units are used in the welding process. After laser cutting and welding, stainless steel sheets for the top, back and bottom of the inner cabinets are sent to a robotic forming station, where they are bent into a “U”-shape. Two side panels are then attached using spot welds.
The spot-welded cabinets are off-loaded, handled by two robots that move them to the next production cell. Here, another RX robot places the cabinet. It is at this point that the metal is perforated to facilitate water inlets. After various intermediary operations, the cabinets move to another robotic cell where holes are punched to accommodate the dishwasher’s heating element.

Vacuum Cleaner Production

Miele manufactures approximately 1 million canister vacuums annually. Thirteen Stäubli RX90 robots are integrated into the assembly and control stations. In the control process, they verify the function of the cleaners’ motor shut-off feature—the vacuums are designed to automatically disengage the motor in case of an obstruction during use.
The process starts with the robot connecting the suction hose and taking control of the electrical connection. During the test, blockage of the suction hose is simulated and the RX90 verifies the status of a diode used to signal whether the safety device is correctly engaged. The control unit records all motor parameters. Once the unit passes the test, the robot turns off the vacuum and disconnects the suction hose.

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