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Boost Throughput of Your Quality Parts with Automated Machine Tending

Man vs. machine. It was once a standard science fiction motif, where timeless human strengths were tested against the mysterious capabilities of evolving technology. Nowadays, the storyline is laden with modern practicalities such as “who is going to do work when jobs go unfilled?” Quite simply, the skills gap in manufacturing requires humans alongside automation to produce what customers are paying for. If a manufacturer is challenged to fill available positions, customers still need the work to be done.

Which work are we talking about? Top of the list, in a high-production precision grinding environment, would be repetitive manual tasks where repeatability and quality control are also part of the process. For example, loading and unloading parts fits that description, and is a tedious but critical function for which an automated parts loader is perfectly suited.

Part Loading Automation for Cylindrical Grinding Applications

For cylindrical grinding applications, this type of machine tending actually takes the form of an intricately engineered production cell conceived of and built by UNITED GRINDING North America in Miamisburg, Ohio, that can be linked to OD and ID grinding machines and improve productivity by several orders of magnitude. Known as flexLoad, this standardized solution is capable of performing 90% of the total labor on a given machine per shift – a 33% increase over what a human operator could accomplish in a five-day period.

With workplace safety in mind, flexLoad is designed into a full-system sheet metal enclosure with a flanged side panel connecting the grinding machine and the FANUC robot arm. This side-entry design cuts eight seconds from overall cycle time compared to a front-door access design. The robot remains within its dedicated enclosure, providing all the upsides of collaborative robots and none of the downsides. All doors, pallet drawers and panels are interconnected, locking and unlocking as a single entity only when a machine operator gives explicit instructions. This equips the system with essential safety precautions. A standardized user interface in the FANUC controller enables easy monitoring of both the machine and the loader.

The flexLoad solution can be paired with numerous STUDER OD and ID grinding machines, such as a STUDER S33 CNC universal cylindrical grinder, and in its current iteration incorporates improvements that our customers told us would be meaningful to them since this tool first became commercially available. Thus, without altering the machine’s internal working temperature, today operators can:

  • Achieve load/unload times of six seconds
  • Conduct statistical process control for parts inspection and segregation of rejects
  • Open up to three completed-parts drawers while the machine continues to run at full speed
  • Clear coolant from chucks or tooling with an air nozzle mounted on the robot arm

The system also can incorporate options such as gauging, barcode scanning and other secondary operations that add functionality without increasing cycle time.

Part Loading Solutions for Tool and Cutter Grinding Applications

Users of WALTER tool grinding and erosion machines have a similar opportunity to increase throughput using automated part loading solutions. Here the pace of production is limited only by the tool storage capacity of the machines’ integrated pallet systems and automatic wheel changers. Fewer machine operators are needed to tend multiple machines, and where applicable, machines can be run unmanned and in lights-out mode at night. Higher volume production runs will find the most utility in the integrated FANUC Robot Loader, while smaller production runs can still achieve greater efficiency by implementing the compact top loader option.

In addition, WALTER automatic wheel change systems allow operators to achieve maximum flexibility, accuracy and capacity. A wide range of tool geometries can be produced without constantly having to manually change wheel packs. The ROI on the investment in robots, loaders and wheel changers becomes evident in months instead of years.

Automation Enables More Efficient Deployment of Talent

Automation tools complement a high-performance shop’s assets and can make the production environment flexible, resource-efficient, and confident in quality measures. Without automation, an operator with other skills has little to do between setup operations, but reducing focus on loading and unloading, gauging, conveyance and other machine tending tasks frees up these skilled operators to create value elsewhere in the production cell – value that will never be automated, even in science fiction.

Let’s Get Started!

Productivity gains are within your reach right now. In addition to standardized solutions, UNITED GRINDING can work with you to customize an approach for any of UNITED GRINDING’s eight brands, including integration with diverse manufacturing systems. Harness the expertise our Automation Solutions team has to help you obtain machine tending technology perfectly suited for your unique application.