At the Grand Banks Yachts factory in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, most workers and shipwrights have gone home for the day. The tools are put away, the floors are cleaned up, but the work has not ceased. One can hear the whir of the newest Grand Banks workforce member working away on the factory floor. Deep in the warehouse a Kuka 8-axis, robotic CNC machine works diligently at turning blocks of foam into perfectly shaped coring material.
The robotic arm works from CAD software to mill these foam blocks to precise specifications. It moves up and down on a track and has a machine head that can be fully articulated to mill in true three-dimensional space.
While CNC machines are not new to boatbuilding, Kuka is much more advanced than most CNC machines that traditionally work in two dimensions and perform tasks like cutting out flat patterned pieces. The 8-axis arm is a game-changer due to the vast array of complexity and detail it can achieve.
Malcolm Kellett, Head of Robotic Milling Operations for Grand Banks Yachts, explains how they use the Kuka machine.
“A piece is initially machined on a foam core, 10mm undersize of its final measurements. Then it is coated in T-Paste, an epoxy machining paste, and re-machined to the final dimensions with a nice finished surface before being sent where it needs to go… It does the job faster [as] traditional methods are quite labor intensive. This machine gives you your base structure and an accurate surface area to work with.”
Kuka is able to accomplish in mere hours the same amount of work that used to take weeks and months, and with far greater precision. The machine can be loaded with CAD files and left to its own devices to work 24 hours a day if desired. Grand Banks is running it upwards of 16 hours a day.
The accuracy and time savings that this sort of CNC milling provides allows for rapid prototyping and quick changes to designs. Both the Grand Banks 60 and the upcoming Grand Banks 52 have had their production times significantly shortened by the use of this Kuka robotic arm.
See the Kuka robotic CNC Machine at work below: