Tending is defined as caring for something (or someone.) In our context, machine tending would be loading it with material or unloading it with parts or both. In many machine shops, this work is not automated, using their manpower for loading and unloading machines, and then restarting the program once the finished part is out of the way. But the shops are finding it increasingly difficult to hire workers. So they are adopting robots to make up the shortage.
The most common use of machine tending robots is loading raw material into and removing the finished part from the CNC machine. The desired process is repeated an infinite number of times until the raw material or finished parts run out.
How to Implement Machine Tending for a Small Shop?
Most machine shops that face difficulties with hiring workers are small enterprises that have tiny budgets for buying robots for their shops. Another constraint of machine shops is the high mix of parts going across the machining centers, but none of these parts are run for a long period.
One way to deal with these constraints is to rearrange the shop machines to allow one robot to load and unload two CNC machines, or even three. This amounts to increasing the uptime of these machine tools. Since machine tending solutions are usually less expensive than CNC machines, the production efficiency alone could pay for the robot.
Robots are are much more flexible today, its gripper can handle workpieces of various shapes and sizes. Robotic programs are also made simpler for the user. The combination of hand-guiding, flexible robot arms and adaptive grippers has enabled machine operators to easily figure out how to set up robots on their own. Since the robot can be reprogramed in a few minutes, time is also freed up for machine operators to check on the quality of production or prepare for the next setup.
What is the Cost of a Machine Tending Cell?
There is a variety of options for the machine shop. Here’s a brief list:
The DIY Kit
A custom cell can be assembled from a collaborative robot and an end effector. You can then custom it to your requirement. Robots with handguiding functions can be built cheaply using low-cost grippers and no safety guards. This setup is easy to integrate and you will probably recover the outlay quickly.
The Off-the-shelf Kit
Some robot manufacturers and industrial automation integrators offer pre-engineered packages that are tooled and programmed to meet the needs of your operation. These loading cells usually have small footprints, are rolled up quickly, and flexible. However, these systems can cost considerably more because of the required accessories and integration time. The setup is still relatively short, and investment costs can be recovered quickly.
The All-in-one Kit
Now we are talking about a huge investment. In fact, if you want more than a robot standing between two machines, you may have to integrate the machining process as well. These robots are able to work in high-volume, high-production applications where a number of parts are run over and over again. See what can be achieved if you set your mind on doing it:
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