Robotic Tending Boosts Machine Performance

March 5, 2015
New robot innovations are changing the way manufacturers load and unload machines
About the Author
Mike Bacidore is the editor in chief for Control Design magazine. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or [email protected] or check out his .Say good-bye to expensive manual machine loading and unloading in harsh environments. Say hello to robotics.

If you haven’t been introduced already, robots are designed to help with reducing production costs, increasing flexibility and improving production, explained Allen He, base application manager, discrete automation and motion division, at ABB's Robotics Business Unit.

"Robotics can help automotive and Tier 1 suppliers, as well as general industries including foundry, metal fabrication, machine tools, plastics and rubber, food and beverage and electronics," He said in his presentation today at ABB Automation & Power World in Houston.

250,000 robots worldwide

ABB Robotics employs 5,000 people in 100 locations in 53 countries, with manufacturing in Sweden, China and Auburn Hills, Michigan. "There are 250,000 robots installed worldwide," He said. More than a third of those are used for machine-tending and material handling applications. Only spot welding and arc welding combined employ an equal percentage of robotics applications, while 8% of them are used for painting.

Typical machine-tending applications involve die-casting machines, injection machines and machine tools. The types of tasks that comprise machine tending are part insertion and extraction, loading/unloading and post-processing, such as deburring.

"Are high productivity, high throughput and uptime required?" ABB's Allen He discussed the several criteria by which to judge whether robotic tending is suitable for a given industrial application.

"It doesn’t sound complicated, but we have a lot of technology, such as MultiMove, to ensure that these tasks are executed correctly," He said. "For machine tending, automation is the key in this industry. We have 35,000 ABB robots installed in machine-tending applications, and we partner with system integrators, who can help the end customer."

Boost health, safety and productivity

In addition to maximizing productivity and reducing operational costs, robots also are designed to reduce capital investment and improve health and safety conditions. Machine tending doesn’t do the process itself, He explained. It works with other machines.

Machine builders wanting to know whether robots are the right solution should look for some common process characteristics and needs. "Are high productivity, high throughput and uptime required?" He asked. "Do you need positioning accuracy to load and unload? Can you integrate with other robotics or a machine? Does it need to be easy to program and operate?"

One ABB client, Peguform in Germany, is using robots for unloading and grinding. The facility produces 1,400 bumpers per day. The robotic solution reduced extract time by 5%, He said. "The robot site is on top of the injection molding machine," he said. "It takes the bumper out and puts it on the other side for post-processing. Extract time was reduced by an additional 10% through machine sync, and production improved by 7%."

Ljunghäll in Sweden is using ABB robots for machine tending of die-casting machines, post-processing and spraying. "The working environment is not so friendly for humans, but robots can do this," He said. At Ljunhäll, the use of robotics reduced the number of manufacturing stages, which helped to increase production. And one robot cell can do the jobs of up to eight workers.

Collaborative robots and standard cells

ABB robots have a payload of up to 650 kg and a maximum reach of 3.5 m. "This year, we’re launching an 800 kg payload, and we’ve introduced the YuMi collaborative robot for use in the assembly process of small electronic products such as the iPhone," He said. "FlexMT is a standardized automation cell that we launched in 2014. It’s a standardized, modular, plug-and-play product. You can place it beside your machine."

FlexMT 20 has a 1.65-m reach and a 20-kg payload, and FlexMT 60 has a 2.05-m reach and a 60-kg payload. While RAPID, the standard language for all of ABB’s robots, is the foundation of FlexMT programming, the interface is designed to make setup and operation easy. "You just input the parameters of the part via the interface," He said. "That’s all of the programming needed. We’ve tried to minimize the requirements."

Husqvarna’s operation in Sweden has improved its product quality and realized a 25% increase in efficiency by installing FlexMT cells. "The facility works in four shifts, requiring four people to do what the FlexMT does," He said. "This is significant because of the high labor costs."