Unlocking robotics’ potential – Design strategies to boost machine-tending productivity

Fanuc Machine Tending

From turning machines to machining centres to presses and press brakes, the evolution of robotic automation continues to address stringent demands, driving industries forward.

Once used in very controlled environments where low-mix/high-volume production was the only viable and cost-effective option for reasonable ROI, more affordable and extremely capable robots have opened the door to highly flexible production environments, fostering greater yields.

To better fill the uptick in consumer product variety, create agile supply chains, and adapt to labour shortages, manufacturers are complementing current operations with versatile robots and their peripheral technologies to create intelligent factories capable of repetitive high-mix production. Because of their perceived ROI over a given payback period, the use of industrial and collaborative robots alike for machine tending continues to be a front-runner for company leaders looking to quickly address dull, dirty, dangerous, and difficult jobs, freeing workers for higher-value-added tasks.

Whether loading/unloading a CNC machine or tending another piece of equipment for grinding, stamping, or trimming, highly repeatable robots are helping to orient and transport parts, minimizing human error, improving worker safety, optimizing system utilization, and facilitating greater efficiency.

Strategic Robotic System Design

Despite the growing use of robotics, each application requires careful consideration where workcell design is concerned. To unlock the full potential value of these automated systems, manufacturers should evaluate the various automation components.

Robot Type

Choosing the proper robot model to complement the existing workspace, along with the weight, size, and manipulation requirements of the part, is key.

First, it is helpful to have a clear grasp of where the robot will be placed. Compact industrial robots that are easily redeployed can be integrated into a machine tool itself, while larger streamlined arms can be positioned outside of a CNC machine’s sliding door or on a mobile platform, tending operations on an as-needed basis.

With robot placement in mind, it is also important to note the existing environment requirements. For example, will human workers be present in or near the robot work envelope? If so, a collaborative-style robot (cobot) could be used. This could entail the use of a cobot that is inherently safe by design and capable of working safely with (or in close proximity to) human workers, or it could mean the implementation of an industrial robot equipped to work collaboratively via one of the four modes of collaboration: safety-monitored stop, speed and separation monitoring, power and force limiting, and hand guiding.

A hybrid option serves to close the gap between operator safety and speed, increasing cycle time with the addition of a safety device such as a scanner, light barrier, or safety mat. These devices can help the robot detect human presence in the work envelope, slowing the robot when necessary. Either way, the determination to use a cobot or an industrial robot with collaborative features should always be based on the completion of a thorough risk assessment.

The condition of the workspace also should be noted because many machine-tending environments tend to be harsh. In facilities where humidity, dust, and water are present, it is beneficial for manufacturers to implement an IP67-rated robot. To facilitate greater layout flexibility without losing capability, manufacturers in these settings are turning to higher-payload, IP67-rated collaborative robots that offer robust programming options.

Mounting Flexibility

To allow for maximum robot reach, it is best to keep the base as close as possible to the equipment being tended or the part being processed. Bases can be fixed or mobile for easy redeployment.

Most robots are lagged to the floor, but sometimes it’s necessary to accommodate unique floor space layouts. For example, top loading, where a robot “sits” on top of a machine, is quite popular for machine- tending applications. In situations like this, shelf-mounted robots with extended- reach capability far below the robot base are ideal. Likewise, a robot installed in the overhead position is well-suited for servicing two machines, often reducing cycle time and costs.

When greater flexibility is needed for high-throughput operations, a linear-motion robot track can be advantageous, adding a seventh axis of motion to the robot’s operating range. Often used for machine tending in the overhead position to improve machine access, optimize floor space, and extend the work envelope (sometimes doubling, tripling, and even quadrupling the space), robot tracks and rails provide exceptional speed, repeatability, and rigidity.

Robots in this configuration can be installed in various positions (floor-, wall-, and ceiling-mounted), maximizing the robot reach while offering optimum load distribution.

For tasks where having a dedicated robot does not make sense, a greater number of highly flexible autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are now being used. Replacing less sophisticated fixed-routed automated guided vehicles (AGVs), AMRs combine innovative technologies (LiDAR sensors, vision systems, custom tooling) to equip robots with a high degree of skill and autonomy. These robotic platforms, which can move on their own through a facility to the task they are assigned, make it easy for manufacturers to redeploy industrial and collaborative robots around factories for machine tending where needed.

While the initial setup for AMRs may be more difficult and costly than installing a robot on a stationary riser, for example, the use of AMRs can assist with rapid-scale production during periods of demand volatility. Conversely, stationary robots equipped to work collaboratively can facilitate the loading/unloading of items on and off AMRs for enhanced flexibility in high-mix/low-volume production. Using robots in this way is another option to quickly, accurately, and ergonomically handle parts for organized material transfer and consistent throughput.

End-of-Arm Tooling

One of the most complicated aspects of machine tending is how a robot grasps a part.

Whether it’s a pneumatic, magnetic, electric, or hydraulic gripper, the design of the end-of-arm tool (EOAT) is of the utmost importance, and special consideration should be given to the grasping point.

At this point, these questions need answered:

  • How fragile is the part?
  • Can the part surface be marred?
  • Is there an interference that the EOAT might impose when handling or loading the part?

To empower shops with the peripheral tools needed to adapt to changing production requirements quickly, robot suppliers and gripper manufacturers are partnering to provide off-the-shelf ecosystems for ISO-compliant gripper packages that often are easy to install and program. Typically used for collaborative applications, most of these plug-and-play options come standard with plastic fingers that are well-suited for low-weight, easy-to-pick parts.

While there are a lot of standard EOAT options, unique grippers with custom-machined aluminum or steel fingers that accommodate the weight and shape of the part to be tended may be required.

To save time and reduce costs, savvy manufacturers may benefit from 3D-printing gripper fingers in-house. For high-mix production environments, where one robot will be tending to multiple part sizes, it is often wise to invest in a tool changer, because it saves valuable time and resources.

Part Buffering Stations

Determining how a part will be presented to and disposed of by the robot (pre- and post-machining) is vital to the success of any machine-tending task. Depending on part size and dimensions, configurable trays, drawer systems, conveyors, and bins frequently are used.

If a robot needs to grab a raw part, localization is needed so that the part can be retrieved correctly. The trick here is to find balance between convenience and flexibility.

A dedicated drawer or racking system is a relatively simple option and is well-suited for use on the same type of part over long periods.

Regardless of the option chosen, to achieve the fastest ROI, it is important to position the robot at the optimal distance for part loading and unloading, as well as test how the part presenter works in conjunction with the gripper.

Vision Capability

To overcome costly bottlenecks for tasks such as loading/unloading, as well as for handling randomly presented parts, manufacturers have many pre-engineered 2D and 3D vision options for robot guidance. While one could assume that a more structured environment is better-suited for a 2D vision system and that a more chaotic, random environment is more ideal for a 3D vision system, determining the proper option for use really depends on product specifications and standards and environment, as well as the end result trying to be achieved.

Along with this, decision-makers may want to consider whether a camera should be mounted on the robot or off of the robot. While this usually is determined by the application, it is sometimes forced by the camera technology because some 3D vision systems require an off-the-robot camera and some 2D options can use either. It is important to note that off-the-robot cameras typically make cable management easier, provide a larger field of view, and facilitate parallel operations.

Again, to ensure they are choosing the proper robot and peripherals, manufacturers should have a thorough risk assessment performed by an experienced robot supplier or integrator. This will go a long way in answering system configuration questions, as well as adhering to ISO standards for the utmost safety.

Unlocking Greater Potential

Implementing robotic automation for machine tending can enable multi-shift operation, minimize manual product transfer damage, free human workers for higher-value-added tasks, and optimize product work flow in manufacturing facilities.

From greater precision and consistency to increased efficiency and quality, robots provide considerable benefits to labour-intensive tasks. Moreover, robust yet easy-to-program robots equipped with multi-function EOAT and other innovative peripherals are readily deployed and redeployed on demand, adding greater flexibility on the shop floor to meet increased customer demands for various materials in nearly every shape and size.

By: Dean Elkins

Via: https://www.canadianmetalworking.com/canadianmetalworking/article/automationsoftware/unlocking-robotics-potential





What’s Your Best Workcell for Cobot Integration?

Workcell for Cobot Integration

Many manufacturers are seeking to benefit their operations by integrating cobots into one or more of their manufacturing workcells. Manufacturing management wants assurance that the cobot-integrated workcell will quickly deliver a high return on investment. You’ll deliver a better ROI if you choose a workcell that will deliver the greatest benefit from cobot integration. But how do you identify that “best” workcell?

Let’s look at advice from experts, starting from quick but less accurate approaches to more time-consuming but more accurate approaches.










The “Past Experience” Approach

In a recent survey (from TechSolve, Inc.), manufacturers said that cobots have worked successfully with the following workcell types: part loading and unloading, cleaning of parts, pick-place-orient-pack parts, packaging, welding, assembly, inspection, and any repetitive operation. The same survey revealed that workcell tasks that are boring and/or dangerous should be given high consideration for robot automation.

In another survey from TechSolve, the perceived percent benefit to a group of manufacturers performing a broad set of cobot-integrated manufacturing workcell tasks is shown below.





Small to medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) can make use of the past-experience approach to decide what workcell to select for their first or next cobot system implementation.

The “Complexity-Impact Quadrant” Approach

A step-up in complexity has SMMs identifying candidate workcells exhibiting the highest levels of both “high impact” and “simplicity” (from Robotiq, Inc.).

Application criteria for simplicity consists of elements such as the workcell task, manipulation requirements, process consistency, part variation, precision, integration, cycle time, and cost. Application criteria for impact consists of elements such as volume, part value, health & safety, work-in-process, production, cycle time, and quality. The skill-level of the current workforce at each stage in the candidate workcell is also factored in to determine the suitability of each candidate workcell for cobot integration. SMMs finally select workcells with the highest levels of both impact and simplicity.









The “Key Elements Weighting” Approach

In this approach, an SMM estimates the importance of each one of a comprehensive set of key elements to be considered when integrating a cobot-based system into one or more candidate workcells. The categories of elements suggested by experts consist of performance, usage, workforce, financial, and miscellaneous. This approach is thorough, and therefore might take a significant amount of time for an expert, or a team of experts, to complete. Elements considered of lesser importance can be trimmed in pursuit of timeliness.

To make a good assessment for a work cell, manufacturing experts need a reasonably accurate estimate of weights for each key element in each candidate workcell, based on that element’s relative importance, allowing for both negative and positive weightings. Then all weights can be summed up to get a final score for each candidate workcell.

Obviously, the workcell with the highest scores, will be the workcell that will most likely to produce the best return on investment. Manufacturers/integrators might ignore several of these elements and add other elements, as they see fit.

Here are those key elements in the various categories:

A: Key elements for performancee.g., padding on cobot arms and eye safety might still be required with a cobot, along with safety measures such as fencing/light curtains, which can also result in low operating speeds or multiple stops, if humans are detected in certain parts of the workcell.

  • Safety for and desirability from humans to work at the workcell
  • Number of operations per unit time
  • Available shop floor footprint for the robotic system
  • Reach of the cobot adequate to the task or tasks
  • Accuracy of cobot arm motion throughout the entire reach of the cobot
  • Repeatability of cobot arm motion throughout the entire reach of the cobot, and its relevance to the task
  • Maximum payloads allowed per cobot compared to human accuracy/precision (including humans with exoskeletons) per the required payloads
  • Cobot arm speed adequacy to the task
  • Cobot system longevity
  • Chosen end effector (gripper) grasping and moving effectiveness for given part types or material
  • Cobot works for many types of use cases (e.g., material handling, machine tending)
  • Minimum and maximum part feature size resolution of cobot gripper and tools satisfies the requirements of the workcell tasks
  • Ability to adapt to widely and frequently varying production requirements, i.e., system agility


B: Key elements for usage

  • System setup, cobot integration, reconfiguration, programming, reprogramming, programming complexity, hardware changeovers, relocation, testing, maintenance, handling multi-product changeovers and mixes, and use (programming or reprogramming is typically given high importance)
  • Cost of learning and integrating one or more computing languages, computer programs, and hardware interfaces (e.g., PLCs, HDMI, USB, and software languages), with the understanding that cobot technology is relatively simple to integrate and program
  • Human decision-making requirements in the workcell
  • If vision sensors are required on or near the cobot: requirements and cost of vision system setup and reprogramming
  • Duration of downtime prior to successful workcell operation
  • The proposed cobot system automates more workcells than one
  • Robust with respect to damage, e.g., are the parts under test expensive and fragile?
  • Key elements for workforce
  • Technical suitability of manual operators for maximum desired production volumes for the candidate workcell
  • Danger to workers of the candidate workcell operation
  • Boredom of workers for the candidate workcell operation
  • Resistance of workers to learn programming languages
  • Resistance of maintenance workers to learn robot system maintenance
  • Ability of maintenance workers to learn to work with the cobot
  • Availability of local maintenance/service experts
  • Availability of cobot system integrators
  • Distributers and resellers are often motivated to help and perform demos
  • Type and level of skill gaps in current workforce (higher skills imply greater benefit with cobots)
  • Workers’ union resistance










D: Key elements for financial

  • Lifecycle costs of cobot with human compared to just a human worker
  • SMM’s budgeted amount for the whole cobot integration project compared to the prorated cost of the total cobot system project
  • SMM’s level of risk tolerance
  • Time to full ROI. When generating the ROI, make sure it is done holistically, which may imply that using cobots may not the best solution, or may reveal that a manual solution or non-robotic automation solution will be the faster, better, cheaper, and safer solution. Common experience reported by seasoned robot system integrators are that ROI can typically be reached within 14 months and SMMs should budget around 3 times the price of the cobot system to cover integration costs, however, some MEP experts have experienced as little as 1/2 to 1 times the cost of cobot for development, fixturing, end effectors and deployment
  • Availability and variety of leasing options and payment plans
  • Product bundles availability
  • Availability of application-specific packages for the cobot system











E: Miscellaneous key elements

  • Study what the SMM’s business is, study each workcell and start with a simpler workcell operations since there is a significant non-technical danger in picking the “wrong” workcell
  • Use “right and ready” assessment document from South Dakota MEP
  • Favor starting with a simpler workcell operations since there is a significant non-technical danger in picking the “wrong” workcell
  • Part of a community of users/researchers
  • Number and magnitude of process changes in each workcell
  • Number and magnitude of product changes in each workcell
  • Ensure that enough monies are available to be allocated before deploying the cobot
  • Cobot system has been “mainstreamed” or widely used
  • Availability of tooling and accessory options
  • Scalability requirements to support automation growth over the long term
  • Cost of delaying the move to cobot technology
  • Compliant to standards

SMMs could also choose a subset of all the candidate workcells, using the “past experience” approach, and then apply the more complex approaches (“complexity-impact quadrant” and “key elements weighting”) to that smaller set of candidate workcells. This approach would save time and still discern the workcell(s) that will return a good ROI.

Source: https://www.industryweek.com/technology-and-iiot/article/21146581/whats-your-best-workcell-for-cobot-integration


The Advantages of CNC Machine Tending with Hanwha HCR Collaborative Robots

CNC with Hanwha cobot

Machine tending is the procedure of loading and unloading components into a computer numerical control (CNC) machine. Usually, this process has been done manually by a human worker. Over time, machine tending has demonstrated to be tedious and potentially unsafe for workers. Therefore, manufacturers are having an increasingly challenging time finding employees willing to tend machines.

Manual machine tending procedures are slower, less precise and less consistent. Collaborative robots offer an encouraging solution for more efficient machine tending.

Why Utilize Hanwha HCR Collaborative Robots for CNC Machine Tending?

There are several reasons why a collaborative robot is exceptionally effective for CNC machine tending applications. Firstly, Hanwha HCR collaborative robots highlight fast deployment that diminishes integration expenses and allows for simple changeovers when a different job needs to be automated. Easy programming further improves the speed of implementation and reallocation.

Collaborative robots come at a much lower price point than industrial robots. This lower initial price allows companies to quickly accumulate return on investment to start noticing productivity advantages straight away.

The Advantages of Hanwha HCR Collaborative Robots in CNC Machine Tending Applications

The most direct and impressive advantage of using Hanwha HCR Cobots in CNC machine tending applications is their capability to build up productivity. For cutting, routing, grinding, or milling, Cobots function with considerably superior levels of uptime than human labourers, resulting in substantially greater output. When this element is considered alongside the vast cost savings created by collaborative robots, the result is superior productivity and efficiency.

In addition to greater efficiency, Cobots tend to generate greater levels of safety in operations. They permit human employees to concentrate on other more cognitive-oriented jobs that are safer and usually have strong characteristics to prevent damaging accidents. When contrasted to industrial robots that require security barriers and larger safety equipment, collaborative robots are small and take up very little room on the factory floor.

Collaborative robots are ideal for CNC machine tending applications. They’re safe, productive, and they allow human workers to focus on more value-added tasks in production. CNC machine tending, when done physically, can be inconsistent and a blockage in production. Collaborative robots help companies ramp up production for more competitiveness on a global level.