WA firm moves at warp speed

Taking up unusual projects is all part of putting something back into the industry and getting exposure for Wintech’s automation and robotics arm Autronics.

The company’s Managing Director Jim Tweddle has recently overseen the creation of foam moulds for the VicHyper team at RMIT in Victoria, finalists in the international SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition.

The brainchild of Elon Musk, Hyperloop is touted as the fifth mode of transport, utilising vacuum and magnetic technologies that propel pods through steel tubes at speeds of up to 1200km/h.

VicHyper, the only finalists in the Southern Hemisphere, are building a prototype travel pod to pit against the 29 other finalists.

An Autronics robot created the 3D bullet moulds for VicHyper, which when put together are about 4m x 1.4m. They took two weeks to create at a cost of about $15,000, which Wintech provides as sponsorship.

The prototype will be shipped to Los Angeles, with the winner to be announced at the end of January.

Ear, ear!

It’s not the first time the Yangebup-based firm, which has manufactured 500 foam cutting machines and exported them to 35 countries, has helped students as it also cuts spoilers and other car parts for racing cars used by engineering students at universities in WA.

The most unusual request came last year when Tweddle was asked to create a giant ear by an artist and professor to go on display at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery.

It came from Curtin University’s Alternate Anatomies Lab director Professor Stelarc, who is growing an ear on his left forearm as part of the Ear On My Arm project to study how technology is transforming what the body can do.

“He came out to our factory and strapped himself to our robot, we set the room up as a studio with all the lights and cameras and things and he did this performance,” he says.

“Then we made this 2m high ear for him and strapped that to the robot and did the dance. That was a year ago. My staff thought I was off my rocker.”

Tweddle says while there is a natural curiosity about the robotic aspect of Autronics, there is a lot of potential for the automation side of the business.

“When you are automating you don’t have to use a robot. We also make robotic fixtures, which pick something up and swing it around but it doesn’t have to be an arm. A robot is good for small batches but if you have production levels an automatic device is probably better,” he says.

A recent example was creating a device for Rhino Rainwater tanks in Belmont to unload  sheet steel from their roll-former.

“It would take two men to pick up 2.5m X 1m of corrugated steel for making tanks and putting them onto a stack,” Tweddle says.

“We put in a robot with a special gripper to pick these up and place them. The payback was about 18 months as robots aren’t that expensive anymore.

“The whole point is those people weren’t replaced; they just moved on to another part of the factory. Most people have a fear robots are going to replace people – well, they replace them but the people are moved to other spots so it’s not an unemployment system.”

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