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Bar feeders are effective in allowing a lathe to create parts on its own from multiple pieces of barstock. Chuckers, on the other hand, require some form of robotics to load and unload workpiece blanks. Some of these lathes have integral robots that perform those duties. But if your existing chucker doesn’t, there are alternatives for automating it for lights-out turning.
For instance, Iemca (Charlotte, North Carolina) has developed a free-standing gantry loading system for chuckers called the Automata 2.5. The device has a cantilever design with a gantry arm that moves and positions a parts picker. The stand-alone unit is not mechanically connected to the lathe, so no vibration from the gantry’s movement is transferred to the machine during the cut.
Each lathe is fitted with a custom door to provide the gantry arm and part manipulator with access to the machining zone. The robot picks blanks from either a palletizer or a stacker housed within the loader’s enclosure, which is positioned at the headstock end of the lathe. Two wheeled carts come standard with the gantry, so one can be loaded with new blanks while the other feeds the machine tool. Depending on the part, nine trays can be loaded off-line onto the wheeled cart.
The robot has dual grippers that allow it to remove a finished part from the lathe’s spindle and load a new blank. Completed parts are returned to the tray. When a tray is completely processed, another tray of blanks is automatically positioned under the robot. Once a full cart of parts is processed, it is removed to allow another cart can be rolled into position. A hand-held control is used to teach the robot through the picking procedure for each job. The program that is created can be saved for subsequent same-part orders. Gantry cycles are initiated by M-code from the lathe’s CNC.
With an X-axis travel of 2,500 mm and a Y-axis travel of 1,200 mm, the loader is suitable for a variety of lathes. Part capacity is 2.5 kg for the workpiece blank, and typical load/unload time is 7 seconds. Post-process inspection devices can be integrated into the loading system. For example, the robot could be programmed to pass a finished part through a laser gage and use that data for dimensional verification and closed-loop feedback to the machine’s CNC for automatic tool-length compensation.