By definition, machine tending is the automated process of loading materials into and unloading finished components out of a machine, typically one with computer numerical control (CNC). It involves a more complex operation compared to material handling. In the past, humans mostly handled machine-tending operations, but there was always the challenge of finding qualified workers. To make up for the lack of labourers, robots for the machine tending industry were introduced.
Introduction of Robotic Functions in the Machine Tending Industry
Robots are designed to execute tasks more quickly and efficiently. In machine tending, having the job done by people can be labour-intensive and tedious. Because of this, robot application is being practised in the machine tending industry.
Common Applications of Robotic Machine Tending
Robots are designed with different components that allow them to execute different functions in different situations. Robotic machine tending with robots running on Elmo’s servo drive series, for example, delivers unparalleled performance and is ideal for harsh working environments.
Let’s take a look at how robots work for different machine tending applications.
Grinding is the metal-cutting process that is commonly applied in the cement and mineral processing industries. The produced workpieces must showcase high surface quality, as well as, impeccable shape and dimension accuracy. To achieve these results, a machine tending robot is used.
In welding, two or more parts are conjoined using pressure, heat, or both these elements. This fabrication process is typically applied to metals and thermoplastics. But sometimes, it’s applied to woodwork.
Robotic automation produces better weld quality in a faster manner and with less waste compared to the traditional method.
Milling and turning
Milling and turning are both CNC machining methods that get rid of excess stock material needed to finish a certain item. The main difference is that:
- In milling, the item stays stationary while cutting tools rotate around it.
- In the turning method, the item is the one being rotated while being cut.
A machine tending robot delivers precise movements for these processes. As a result, exact cuts are achieved.
Another type of manufacturing method is injection moulding. In this process, synthetic or plastic resins are heated and melted, then transferred into a mould where they are left until they cool down and form a certain shape. The process resembles the injection of fluids into a syringe.
Injection moulding robots can load components into the moulding machine, as well as finalise and assemble all the moulded parts. These robots can also label or decorate the finished parts.
The process of moulding where a preheated polymer is placed in an open, heated mould cavity is called compression moulding. Just think of making waffles. After putting the material into the mould cavity, the mould is closed with a top plug that forces heat and pressure. This method hardens the material and causes it to form into stock shape materials.
In this procedure, automated robots can serve as a compression moulding setter. It can tend the material into the mould, trim excess materials, and of course, remove the finished product from the mould.
Benefits of Using Robotic Machine Tending Systems
Using robots for the machine tending industry brings several benefits.
1. Faster production
Needless to say, speed is one of the advantages of robots over humans. They can handle jobs at a faster pace and reduce downtime. Because they work faster, higher levels of production are met.
2. Higher accuracy
Robotic machine tending is more accurate than manual loading and unloading. It minimises the number of errors in the process. This leads to lesser wasted time and materials spent in production.
3. Suitable for repetitive tasks
Machine tending is a repetitive task. Humans who work on such may lose focus and drift away over time. Robot automation not only takes repetitive tasks away from humans but also prevents a fatal workplace injury from happening.
4. Ability to deploy workers in other roles
Cost of labour is one challenge factories face. Through robot applications, companies can easily assign humans to more important areas where they are required. Therefore, using robots eliminates the need to hire additional employees.
5. Space savings
Machine tending robots are created with a small footprint to fit in any production facility. They can be placed overhead or installed inside a machine itself. Plus, they can work with two machines at a time.
The Most Commonly Used Machine Tending Robots
The work of robots for the machine tending industry starts with getting the item from the supply position. Then, the robot transfers the item into a machine and interacts with it. Once the machine is done with the item, the robot then gets the finished product from it.
Here are some of the most commonly used robots in machine tending:
Also known as “cobots”, these are described as power and force limited robots that are highly versatile and portable. These robots are designed with great safety features so they can be used even without safety guarding. In fact, they can work along with humans or other machines without fencing off the area.
Cobots integrated into the machine tending operation deliver fast production change-overs and enhanced accuracy. They are also a popular choice because they lower the chain supply cost. Furthermore, these robots can easily be programmed to perform diverse tasks, even without a previous machine learning experience.
Another type of robot that can be used in machine tending is the industrial robot. Depending on the model, it can carry a wide range of special tools and sensors suitable in every machine tending task. Not only is this robot easy to install, move, and operate, but it can also come with space-saving features.
When it comes to their job, industrial robots deliver fast results, increasing productivity on the work floor. They are also effective in decreasing cycle times. Some industrial robots have higher ingress protection (IP) wrist ratings which serve as protection from cutting fluids. Meanwhile, others have higher moment and inertia ratings which are helpful in large part handling.
These robots have a mechanical movement and configuration that come close to the look and movement of a human arm. They have a base with a twisting joint wherein the arm is connected. The arm can have 4, 6, 7, and 10 axes or the number of points of rotation. The higher the number, the greater the degree of motion they perform.
Articulated robots work well in machine tending operations because of their dexterity, flexibility, and reach. They can handle jobs like reaching into a machine tool compartment and working their way into obstructions without fail. They can work well in both clean and dirty environments. Moreover, they can be mounted on a sliding rail, ceiling, or any kind of surface.
Although machine tending can be handled by human labourers, there’s no doubt that robot automation can improve the entire process. Using robots for machine tending offers manufacturers a lot of benefits. When programmed properly, robots can surely overcome different challenges an operation faces.
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