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PRACTICAL APPROACHES TO AUTOMATION

Stabilizing and Standardizing Processes

If at First Your CNC Machine Shop Doesn’t Succeed with Robots, Automate Again

Derek Korn | Modern Machine Shop

Alexandria Industries struggled with its first robotic machining cell. However, the aluminum extrusion components manufacturer — now with more than 20 robots — discovered that by simplifying and standardizing its automation strategy, it could reap the benefits of unattended machining even for relatively low batch sizes.

Automating the production process often involves tradeoffs.

These can include running at lower production speeds or using cobots with lower payload capacities. Making small concessions here or there can enable shops to simplify and standardize their production process, leading to long-term productivity and capacity gains.

In this story, Alexandria Industries struggled with automation – specifically, machine-tending robots. Right before a cell consisting of two CNC machine tools, two conveyors, a camera and a robot anchor went into production, a downturn in the telecommunications industry caused the company to lose the job. So, Alexandria identified an existing repeating job that featured a family of like parts that the cell could be redeployed to produce. The goal was to also work in other jobs on the cell to keep it busy, but this strategy did not work out well. In the end, the company learned that simplification (in addition to standardization) was the true key for automation success. Simplifying the cell by dedicating it to the family of like parts increased its production output. The company has since applied this way of thinking to the design of various robot-tended machining cells.

Sometimes the Trickiest Part of CNC Machining Is Holding the Part

Derek Korn | Modern Machine Shop

Finding a way to fixture contoured marine propellers proved to be this shop’s biggest challenge in developing an effective automated machining cell.

This complicated, hydraulically actuated fixture was key to the success of XL Machine’s automated turning and five-axis machining cell that produces 20 different boat propeller models. By standardizing the workholding, this shop found a way to automate its high-mix, low-volume production.

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Lights-Out Machining

For many machine shops, the most promising avenue of expansion is not a new market or an addition, but instead the untapped nighttime hours that could be captured for automated, “lights-out” production.

The Human Factor

Automation can be a hot-button topic. Some believe it is taking away jobs; others believe it is making jobs better for skilled workers. One thing is undeniable: Automation is transforming human jobs.

AMT Tech Trends Podcast: Full Automated

Episode 29: Ben and Stephen host Russ Waddell, the Managing Director for MTConnect at AMT for some standards learning. Ben brings up an article on the future of robot safety. Stephen closes by drooling over the Sony PlayStation production line.