Machine-tending robots are often key components used to enable unattended or lights-out machining operations, adding capacity by taking advantage of time that’s currently unused, like nights and weekends. In many cases, robot integration enables shopfloor employees that were previously loading and unloading parts from machines to perform duties of greater value. Plus, today’s robots are faster and more intelligent than in years past and are also becoming increasingly viable for small-batch/high-mix production. In addition, collaborative robots, or “cobots,” use sensor technology that enables them function safely alongside humans in a shared work environment. That means no more isolating fencing is needed to separate worker and robot.
While much focus is placed on the machinery that moves parts, the features most important for automating five-axis machining are arguably found in the machine tool itself.
Automation: Essential Reading
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New features that simplify robot use have blurred the lines between tasks that shops can automate independently from those that will require the support of an integrator. Here’s what shops should keep in mind to avoid a costly failed integration.
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Automation isn't just useful for large volumes of the same part. Today, it is increasingly being used in machine shops for high-mix, low-volume jobs.
What is automation?
“Robot” is the first picture that comes to mind, but it means more than that. Automation could be machines that are able to do more in one setup, one handling. It also refers to other options like pallet systems for moving work around, in and out of machines. It refers to software that can automate certain operations. Automation is not a replacement or an alternative for people.
What is a cobot?
A collaborative robot or “cobot” is a robot that is safe to run unguarded near people. Most cobots are safe because they are speed- and force-limited, and they stop upon sensing contact with an obstacle. Cobots are also easy to relocate and reprogram for different tasks in a shop.
What should you know about cobots?
1. Cobots, vision and AI all go together.
2. Cobots do not guarantee safety.
3. Cobot applications need not feature collaboration.
4. Automation’s payback period is declining.
5. Trends in manufacturing favor collaboration.
6. Cobot adoption might be held back by lack of people.
7. Advancing AGV technologies make cobots mobile.
8. Attention recognition is coming.
9. Collaborative can be done in different ways.
10. “Collaborative” can be a bigger idea.
How do robots and 3D printing intersect?
1. 3D Printed End-of-Arm Tooling (EOAT)
2. 3D Printed Off-Robot Accessories
3. Robot-Tended 3D Printers
4. Robots As 3D Printing Systems
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Using a collaborative robot to tend a machine with a pallet changer can help shops maximize unattended machining time.
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