While many manufacturers are reluctant to commit to an automation system owing to concerns about flexibility and cost, the System 3R Transformer modular automation system from Coventry-based GF Machining Solutions Ltd
addresses those concerns, as it is expandable and scalable.
Moreover, a manufacturer can begin by automating one or two machines and then progressively expanding the cell to include as many as 12 stations — plus the system allows the integration of different manufacturing technologies, including machining centres and lathes, EDM machines, measurement devices and even component cleaning equipment.
The basic components of Transformer are a robotic pallet-changing unit and modular racks or rotating magazines that store pallets fitted with reference chucks from System 3R.
These chucks provide a locating repeatability of 2µm and allow the transfer of parts from one machine to another without the need to check positioning or repeat set-ups.
Different versions of the system feature pallet sizes from 54 x 54mm to 700 x 500mm, with the pallet-changing robot capable of handling part/pallet combinations weighing up to 200kg.
In a one-, two- or three-machine cell, a stationary robotic changing unit can access either a bookshelf-style magazine or a rotary pallet magazine, the latter providing three-times the capacity of a bookshelf magazine in the same amount of space.
To handle as many as 12 machines, the robot moves on a modular rail system that can be easily extended to serve machines as they are added.
Moreover, because the Transformer system comprises standardised modular components, it can be refigured and combined to create a new customised automated solution.
There are two control modes for the system. The first sees the Transformer operating like a tool-changer where the machine tool sends direct commands to the robot system. The second is more advanced and is used to connect multiple machine cells.
Here, the system’s full capability and flexibility is achieved by the WorkShopManager software, which links all machining processes together.
This software’s CellManager engages with the pallet identification systems to record the position of every pallet at any given moment, thereby allowing control of every aspect of the cell.
Production data can be entered manually or imported through a data exchange interface with a range of Enterprise Resource Planning systems.
Furthermore, the system can handle small and large production runs with the same level of efficiency — to the extent that automated one-piece production is possible.