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Machine-tending robots can boost production

Posted on 27 Sep 2020 and read 795 times
Machine-tending robots can boost productionA machine-tending system from CNC Robotics allowed production to be tripled from this Mazak Integrex

The addition of a robotic machine-tending system from Liverpool-based CNC Robotics will allow precision engineers and similar manufacturing organisations to boost their production.

While CNC Robotics is known principally for projects in which robots are used for machining, the company has also developed systems which can be used to increase the productivity of conventional machine tools.

Jason Barker, CNC Robotics CTO, said: “One of our customers has tripled production by adding one of our machine-tending systems alongside a Mazak Integrex machine during the lockdown period.

The company works 9.5hr shifts and expects each machine to work for around 8hr during that time. After adding the robot, production can be maintained for up to 24hr a day and across weekends.”

A typical package from CNC Robotics includes the robot, its enclosure and a purpose-designed fixture to load and remove the parts, together with the programming and installation. The resulting increase in productivity means that the systems can repay the investment in a few months and sometimes even a few weeks.

The increased production can necessitate additional investments in swarf-handling equipment, such as a high-capacity swarf conveyor to remove all the excess material that will be produced and a swarf compactor to compress the chips down to a more manageable volume when machines are running over the weekend.

Cost-effective choice

Many manufacturers are looking into the use of collaborative robots (cobots) alongside their machine tools but Mr Barker believes that an industrial robot is a more cost-effective choice in the long term.

He explained: “The cost of a cobot isn’t much less than the price of a system based on an industrial robot which is more robust — an important consideration for companies where staff have no previous experience in operating this type of equipment. They should also be faster, which could be an important factor when making parts with short cycle times.”

RobotIndustrial robots can be just as quick and easy to install as cobots. Mr Barker continued: “At one customer site, we completed the testing on a Friday afternoon and left the new system to run that night.

“By the end of that weekend, more than 300 components had been produced, all to the high standards expected by the customer.”

In addition, industrial robots are usually easier to repurpose if they aren’t required by a particular machine tool any longer. CNC Robotics sets up its systems so that they can be removed from the equipment in around 5min, either to be used on another machine or in a completely different area of automation.

As with many areas of automation, there is often a fear that using robots for machine tending will mean a loss of jobs. However, robotic systems can give companies time to train their staff in more productive work.

By removing the need to have operators constantly loading and unloading machine tools, time can be made available to increase their range of skills, for example, by teaching them to use a wider range of equipment or by allowing them to add new abilities like CAD/CAM programming.

The extra time can also be used to put more emphasis on process control and optimisation, so allowing general efficiency to be improved, and potential problems to be anticipated and resolved more effectively.

Mr Barker concluded: “The experience we have gained over ten years of machining with robots gives us a unique perspective when developing systems for machine tending.

“We approach machine-tending projects with exactly the same ‘can-do’ attitude that we do our other work — we will make the system work successfully for the customer no matter what challenges we may encounter.”