Guide to machine tending with robots
What is machine tending? Machine tending is a process whereby industrial robots take care of loading or unloading parts from various forms of industrial machinery such as CNC, injection molding or stamping presses. For businesses attempting to overcome the global shortage in skilled labor and improve efficiency, a collaborative robot (cobot) arm is a versatile, cost-effective way to introduce industrial automation.
What are the main benefits of using a cobot for machine tending? Utilizing a cobot for machine tending applications can offset challenges related to labor shortages or skills gaps as well as enable lower operating costs, improved quality, better productivity and a safer working environment. It also means that employees no longer need to perform potentially dangerous tasks.
At special machine manufacturer Endutec, a UR10e is responsible for feeding a CNC machine. The robot supports the company in utilizing its machines to full capacity by taking over the night shift, delivering flexibility and space saving benefits.
Industrial machines like those used for CNC or injection molding are the workhorses of manufacturing operations, and they need to be looked after properly. For your workforce, manual machine tending is not only physically demanding and repetitive, but time consuming and potentially dangerous too. Automating the process of machine tending allows manufacturers of all sizes to increase productivity and safety while lowering operational costs at the same time. And collaborative robots (cobots) have emerged as an effective tool for implementing automated machine tending processes relatively quickly.For manufacturing businesses, automation is becoming an essential part of remaining competitive in a rapidly changing commercial landscape. With a global shortage of skilled labor and commercial pressure to reduce production cycle times, companies need to find ways to scale their operations without significantly increasing costs. Collaborative robots (cobots) offer one way for businesses to automate their workflows like machine tending, palletizing and welding. Compared to traditional industrial robots, cobots offer a faster and more flexible installation. And keeping floorspace usage to a minimum. This means companies can see the benefits in days, not weeks.
What is machine tending?Manufacturing relies on machinery, and the continued profitability of manufacturing businesses relies on those machines maintaining a high level of performance over time. An important part of this is improving the utilization and efficiency of existing equipment. Loading and unloading material from industrial machines at a consistent rate increases productivity and yields - driving down the cost of production over time. This is what we mean by machine tending. For decades this repetitive, physically demanding work has been performed by machine operators. But as skilled workers become harder to find, machine tending has become one of the most popular manufacturing processes to automate. The workflow of placing a raw or blank part into one part of a machine and removing it once the mechanical process is complete can be automated to ensure essentially no variation.
How our cobots can helpA cobot arm is great at picking things and putting them down, which is essentially what machine tending is in its most simplistic form. But within that broad definition, there is a lot of variation and complexity between different machine tending applications. That is where the versatility of cobots can really add value. They seamlessly integrate with a wide range of end effectors, vision systems and other accessories, removing complexity for the user. The compact footprint and flexible, easy to use software can quickly add value to manufacturing workflows.
Raymath, a sheet metal fabricator in Ohio, turned to UR for its machine tending automation needs, adding the UR cobot-based ProFeeder machining cells from ProCobots to its two 3- and 5-axis Hurco CNC machines.
A typical cobot machine tending work cellAlthough there is a large variety in the way that automated machine tending applications are deployed, the average work cell usually requires a few different components Here is what that typically looks like:
- The cobot arm – you need to choose the model with the correct payload and reach for your workspace as well as select the right gripper
- Mounting stand for the cobot to place it for the right height and angle for optimal movements
- The industrial machine being tended, such as a CNC or injection molding, with appropriate safety features such as a door to block any debris being projected
- An infeed conveyor or staging table, where the unfinished parts are ready; and an outfeed where the cobot places the final product. This could be a conveyor or staging table.
- The raw parts themselves
- The controller, operator and any other components used to program the cobot
SafetyOne of the main benefits of using a cobot for machine tending is safety. Without workers having to repetitively load and unload parts directly into the machines, the chance of injury to the worker is significantly reduced. Cobots also have a range of inherent safety features that can be used to simplify the installation as well. The power and force limited control system mean the cobot access doesn’t need to be restricted by typical, permeant safety fences for example. With configurable limits for power, speed and stopping distances, the floorspace required for the application can be significantly reduced. Workers can work in close proximity and share workspace with the cobot system. Every application needs a detailed risk assessment prior to deployment to ensure the safe of those working around the equipment
The success our customers have seenWhen we talk about the results that cobot machine tending can bring for companies of all sizes – we are not talking theoretically. There is a growing number of companies all over the world that are seeing great results today. Here are a few of our customers that have utilized cobots to reduce costs while boosting quality and productivity:
- Japanese automotive OEM Aido Industry has doubled its productivity in three years
- Bernacki Industrial Services has reduced the cost of man-hour production per precision part it produces
- Fujita Works has reduced its dependence on experienced workers and reduced its training period from years to months
- With two cobots working in a constant two-shift operation Jenny|Waltle has been able to boost output by 11% in 12 months