Simplifying the Integration of Robotic Automation
The LoadAssistant from Halter CNC Robotics is designed to simplify robotic automation technology in terms of programming, integration and setup.
Editor's Note: Scroll to the bottom of this page to watch the LoadAssistant in action.
Machine-tending robots free shopfloor employees from performing repetitive loading and unloading of parts so they can carry out more valuable tasks, such as setting up other machines, writing part programs, deburring or assembling parts, and so on. They also increase spindle uptime, boosting throughput while enabling shops to realize the benefits of unattended or lights-out machining strategies.
One trend in robotic automation technology is simplification in terms of programming, integration and setup. The LoadAssistant from Halter CNC Robotics is an example of a machine tool loading system that the company believes offers those benefits. Now available in North America, the LoadAssistant is said to easily connect to a shop’s existing CNC machine tool while providing the flexibility and reconfigurability to accommodate a range of jobs, as well as be easily moved from one machine to another. Plus, the company says it is well-suited for small batch sizes, and the average payback period for the system is six to 12 months.
Although the LoadAssistant features a six-axis FANUC robot available in 22-, 44- and 77-pound load capacity versions, the company says the system is more than just a robot arm. Rather, it is said to be a complete, compact robotic loading solution that typically takes just five minutes to connect to a CNC mill or lathe and set up.
The system includes a rotating part-loading table that is available with seven different grid plates to accommodate cylindrical workpieces with diameters ranging from 0.394 to 9.055 inches and prismatic parts measuring 9.055 by 9.055 inches. These universal grid plates are adjustable in height for parts as tall as 9.843 inches and can be used for both milled and turned workpieces. Operators can safely access one half of the rotary table to load new material or remove completed parts while the robot continues to work.
The system’s SmartControl with 15-inch touchscreen display features intuitive, step-by-step programming software that is said to enable quick and simple change-over to new jobs, even for operators with no prior robot-programming experience. Essentially, all an operator needs to do is specify gripper type (two- or three-finger grippers are available to accommodate a range of part geometries) and enter part dimensions. The software supports both milling and turning jobs, and part programs can be saved in the software and called up as needed.
The system does not feature the fencing that commonly surrounds robotic loading arms. Instead, it uses a floor scanner that senses an operator’s presence and safely slows and stops robot motion. That way, the machine tool is accessible to an operator at all times.
The LoadAssistant can be moved from machine to machine using a pallet jack, and the company says quick realignment is possible using three-point, self-centering leveling pads. The system does not require any type of robot interface from a machine tool supplier. Instead, a Halter technician uses a programmable logic controller (PLC) to make the connection between the machine and the LoadAssistant. The machine must be equipped with an automatic door opener, although a Halter technician can install this type of door on machines that don’t have them.
Several exhibitors at the recent EMO show in Hannover, Germany, featured demonstrations of robotic arms wielding live cutting tools such as end mills or face mills. Perhaps the most dramatic demo was presented by Delcam to showcase this CAM developer’s PowerMill Robot Interface.
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