Smart robotics for high added value footwear industry

Currently, robots are underutilised in the footwear sector, unlike in the automotive, food and metal processing industries. Most shoes are still made by hand. Thus far, only technical shoe producers have introduced robots as an aid in the injection moulding process, but the scope for using robots is far wider. Introducing robots into the footwear industry will help overcome current complexities in process automation, which sometimes lead to shorter than necessary production runs. The project will incorporate six operations to test when and where robots should be introduced. They will be used in three prototypes to be scheduled throughout the project so that the industry becomes aware of the potential applications and benefits of robotics from the outset. Although the main aim of this project is to improve productivity by means of the introduction of robotics, further jobs will be created around this, as the introduction of new machinery requires the presence of highly-skilled workers and will also create job opportunities in the area of maintenance and upkeep. The consortium has ten members from three different countries across the European Union who started work on the project together in September 2010. In pursuit of these objectives, the consortium aims to develop: • New strategies and devices for flexible parts which allow shoes to be grasped, packaged and handled in a way that does not damage them. • Sensor-based robot programming and control tools which use information from the CAD system and available sensors for visual serving (a technique to control the movements of the robot based on information extracted from images), which allows flexible robotic applications to be programmed easily. • An overhaul of shoe production processes for robot-assisted manufacturing and assembly in areas such as selective heating, inspection and packaging.
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Start date: 01-09-2010
End date: 28-02-2013
Total budget - Public funding: 3 685 073,00 Euro - 2 559 540,00 Euro
Call topic: Smart Factories: ICT for agile and environmentally friendly manufacturing (FoF.ICT.2010.10.1)
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Original description

Footwear production is still mainly handcrafted. Currently, opposite to other manufacturing sectors like automotive, food or metal processing, robots are still out of Footwear industry: only technical shoe producers have introduced robots to assist in the injection moulding process but there are not other relevant applications in use. The introduction of robotics will contribute to overcome the complexity in the automation of the processes of this industry that accounts for some of the shortest production runs to be found. The main difficulties to achieve this goal are:•The high number of products variants.•Complex manufacturing process.•Complex assembly process.•Extensive labour demand on some processes.
To achieve this objective, a consortium composed by 4 Industrial companies, 4 Research centres and 2 Shoe manufacturers will research and develop:•New manipulation strategies and devices for non-rigid parts that allowed grasping, handling and packaging of shoes without damaging them.•Sensor based robot programming and controlling tools that will exploit the information coming from CAD systems and all sensors available, in particular visual sensors as the base for visual servoing, making possible easy to program and flexible robotic applications.•Re-design of some shoe production processes to allow robot assisted manufacturing and assembly, in particular selective heating, visual inspection and packaging.
The consortium has identified a set of six operations in the shoe manufacturing process as the more suitable for short-medium term robotics introduction. They will be packed into three prototypes that will be scheduled through the 30 months duration of the project in such a way that, from early phases, the Footwear Industry may get aware of the potential applications and benefits of robotics in their sector.
This research activity is carried out in the framework of the ''Factories of the Future'' call promoted by the ''Cognitive Systems and Robotics'' ICT Challenge.



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