Machine tool automation - does one size fit all?
The short answer is ‘no’. However, one automation company that offers an array of robotic solutions for improved manufacturing efficiency, that can be scaled to fit almost any application is REM Systems Erowa.
For over 30 years Erowa has been providing factory automation to most of the world’s advanced manufacturing industry sectors. Its recently launched new LoadMaster range builds on the company's renowned reputation for precision and quality to offer automatic loading and unloading of large workpieces, up to 4,000 kg. Even at this size the Erowa system provide an exceptional return on investment, one aspect that customers have come to expect.
Raw material billets, part machined components and cast workpieces weighing up to 4,000 kg can be transferred using LoadMaster. Thanks to its ingenious kinetic system with a very limited space requirement. Equipped with a 360° swivel function, any position in the magazine and on the machine tools’ tables can be reliably reached.
The magazines are designed to stack vertically with the storage positions arranged over two, three or four levels, saving on floorspace and subsequently cost. Each level is optimally configured for typical workpiece sizes.
Managing Director, Ian Holbeche, explains: “Erowa support a plan called the ‘Flexible Manufacturing Concept’ (FMC). Following this plan customers equipped with an Erowa system can typically increase productivity by a factor of five using various manufacturing technology, including die sinking EDM, multi axis milling and turning, as well as measurement and inspection.
“Now, the new LoadMaster allows manufacturing businesses that produce larger, and therefore heavier, components to increase their productivity. Typically, this might be large press tool plates, multi cavity injection moulds, valves and pipe fitting as well as aircraft structural and propulsion components.”
Operator setup stations are integral components of the LoadMaster production lines, with access via sliding doors or walk-in stations. Versions are available with lifting units, with rotating and tilting table, or with indexing table. The setup positions are also accessible via overhead crane.
The overall process control system assists the operator in the daily production flow, with clear displays of system status.
The transfer unit moves between the magazines and machines on solid rails. The grippers optimally support the various application scenarios. ‘TwinFork’ double grippers for faster chip-to-chip times or ‘MultiFork’ end effector for the loading and unloading of different pallet sizes.
The TwinFork double gripper significantly reduces chip-to-chip time when changing pallets, whereby the fresh workpiece is held in one gripper is exchanged for the finished workpiece removed from the machining envelope. This is an important factor when long transfer distances are combined with short machining cycles.
In systems with different pallet sizes, the MultiFork gripper provides an efficient alternative to changing individual grippers. The gripper width seamlessly adapts to different pallet dimensions. Solid technology for large workpieces.
Offering maximum flexibility, the pallet storage units, also called magazines, or storage locations, can be fully adjusted. Both the level height and arrangement by level can be adapted to the workpiece sizes used. The vertical stacking up to four levels high provides the optimal use of space.
The magazine modules can be combined in series and there is no limit on the number of units that can be connected. The total rail length of the LoadMaster depends on the number of machines and their positioning.
CloudNC was established 4 years ago to develop the Artificial Intelligence (AI) required to make CNC machining autonomous. By automating the CNC machining, the company’s goal is to enable engineers and buyers to get components manufactured in any quantity at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time currently taken.
By building fully autonomous, fully flexible AI powered factories, CloudNC’s aim is to make the dream of automatic manufacture a reality. Today, the company’s impressive manufacturing facility in Chelmsford, Essex, houses the very latest high-performance machine tools from Mazak and DMG Mori. These machine tools can operate around-the-clock thanks to an Erowa Robot Multi system that automatically loads raw material billets into the machines and removes finished parts.
Co-founder Theo Saville says: “Much of what is being manufactured today is done so inefficiently, and the aim of our software is to address this. If we are going to make parts quicker, we need to ensure that the spindles can keep turning and an important part of that is the loading of raw material and unloading of the finished component.”
Here, the Erowa Robot Multi supports CloudNC’s advanced machine tools. Supporting the different system pallets used the Robot Multi switches automatically to adapt to it. The workpiece magazine offers up to 270 defined locations, and with this level of stock, the autonomy of a CNC machine is greatly improved. In the gripper dock, the various grippers required for the automatic change are stored in a space-saving arrangement.
The Robot Multi can reliably changes electrodes weighing just a few grams up to heavy pallets weighing up to 80 kg each efficiently onto the machine. For the absolute maximum return on investment and productivity gain the Erowa Robot Multi can also be configured for double loading, whereby a single robot is located between two machine tools such that both can be attended by the robot. One self-contained automation system keeping two spindles running efficiently.
Gosport-based Norjon Engineering provides bespoke and tailored precision engineered components for the food, marine, aerospace and power industries to name a few. Here, a number of smaller Erowa automation solutions are employed. Norjon’s latest Hermle C 22 U 5-axis machining centre is equipped with an Erowa Robot Compact 80 automation system. With 32 pallets fully loaded with the raw material required for its high precision components running on a 2-hour cycle time the system can produce 30 parts unmanned over a weekend.
Also running continuously for 60 hours every weekend to meet customer demand on a family of complex aluminium components, a recently installed high performance 20,000 rpm Makino DA 300 5-axis machining centre was also specified to be equipped with an Erowa Compact 80 robot system. As well as keeping the machine operating the automation system addresses shopfloor space constraints faced by the business.
Occupying just 2 m of expensive workshop floor space, the Erowa Compact 80 features a slim and elegant design. Loading or raw material can be via a swing door or optional workpiece loading station. Mixed component sizes with suitable pallets can be accommodated in the configurable magazine rack, with pallet loads up to 80 kg being supported. For complete flexibility, the Compact 80 can also be manually removed and relocated to its position in front of the machine tool to allow operator access for ‘emergency’ machining jobs.
“Erowa systems provide ‘free’ machining time,” explains Managing Director, Kevin Fox. “For production work an Erowa automation system is a ‘no brainer’. When you look at the numbers, the first question has to be ‘why wouldn’t you?’”
The next step
Important things need to be planned, and any manufacturing businesses next step is certainly one of the important. “It is your start into a new, efficient era,” states Ian Holbeche. “REM Systems Erowa is pleased to be with you on this path. As consultants and for practical assistance, we have the experience and the product portfolio that can get you to your business goal. Get in touch and take the next step.”