Auto-Place, Inc.

My father Jerry Kirsch purchased Erie Engineering Company from his father in the early 1960s. He later told me that he was inspired to get in to robotics after seeing Joe Engelberger with a robot on the Tonight Show. I don't know when this aired on television. He came up with some ideas and eventually hired one or two people to help with the design and build a prototype. In order to separate this project from the daily business of Erie, he rented a small space in the back of Mancuso's Florist located on Harper Avenue near Cadieux on Detroit's far east side. He referred to it a "Menlo". I'm guessing this was around 1964. The robot they came up with was a small pneumatic pick-and-place robot. Early versions of the prototype included castings that were hand carved out of wax and taken to the foundry to be poured before machining. It wasn't too long and they began selling the robots for all kinds of applications. Early on, they were only interested in selling the manipulator and controls standard products. Later they began to sell systems that included special grippers, slides, etc.

APegg_800

This is an early production Auto-Place Series 10 robot (maximum 10 lbs. payload. I'm not sure where the egg idea came from, but this picture appeared in a lot of ads and was very well received.

AP_Broch

This brochure cover is probably from 1970, or 1971. It shows a larger version of the series 10 named the series 50. The arm in the picture is Ron Potter's. Controls for the robot at this point we entirely air logic. I have a lot more on the controls later, but Ron had a lot to do with the design and making them work. (If you never hear of Ron, Goggle him, he's been in the business a long time. It was quite interesting how much was controlled entirely with air - no electricity.) One thing to notice is that there are no switches on the manipulator to detect the end of travel of the axes. Part of the beauty of the controls was the integration of back pressure sensing. How that worked was that if an air cylinder was fully retracted and you forced it to extend by shifting the pneumatic valve, the previously pressurized sid would need to exhaust it's initial pressure and all the volume of air throughout the stroke. The controls would monitor this back pressure and when it reached near zero gage pressure, it would interpret that to mean the stroke was complete and then move on to the next sequence step. Critical axis positions in systems often did use a valve to ensure the arm was clear of a press, or other critical machine actions. There are several patents on Auto-Place Robots and controls and on many of the devices invented for the systems they were integrated into. This page will be greatly expanded later.

GripperPiston

Above left is a series 50 gripper from the late 1960s. To the right is a photo of a prototype double rod piston. Pistons in the Auto-Place robots were not double rod, but did have the same polygon shaped pistons. The polygon piston gave the robot it's up and down actuation. It traveled in a cylinder sleeve that had a gear incorporated in it's outside diameter. Being a polygon, the piston would rotate with the cylinder. It was a very simple design, but the critical machining requirements of the pistons and cylinders made them most costly components. There were only two machining companies in the US that had the machine to fabricate them. Early prototypes of the Auto-Place robots used a square piston and cylinder. The square design was very difficult to seal reliably compared to the polygon design that used a simple 'O' ring.

I started working part time at Auto-Place when I was about 13 years old sweeping the floors and building the robots. I got real good at visually identifying screws and fittings when sorting out inventory I picked up off the floor. Later I learned how to weld and run the bridgeport and lathe. After a while I worked on building the controls which was a tedious task. As I got older my father began getting in to non contact sensing using He Ne lasers and then video cameras for inspection in the mid 1970s. It was then that I began to lead the electronics/controls department. More about this on the Machine Vision page.

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