The Autocoupler, from Technitron, Cincinnati, provides unmanned cable connection of rotary tables in pallet pools, which boosts productivity and efficiency while reducing downtime and costs.
The Autocoupler is for 400-mm-pallet applications and larger. "By making the Autocoupler smaller and more compact," says Mike Ortman, vice president of marketing and sales at Technitron, "we've made this technology available to a large base of companies employing cellular concepts, permitting them to more fully optimize the advantages of cellular manufacturing."
The operator plays a critical role in a typical application of one or two HMCs being served by a pallet pool of 8, 10, or 12 pallets with one or more 5 or 6-axis rotary tables.
Until now, with a rotary table in the cell, the operator had to couple and uncouple the cables from the machine tool to the rotary table through an operator-coupled interface. Now, the Autocoupler, cell controller, and machine tool take care of all coupling and uncoupling. The operator is not involved.
With no need for an operator, shops can run true lights-out manufacturing. In addition to cost saved by not having an operator on the third shift, other savings come from reduced downtime, the result of not having an operator climbing in and out of the machine making manual connections.
The Autocoupler fits most HMCs. One side of the coupler affixes to the center post of the HMC on the pallet-shuttle door, outside the harsh environment of chips and coolant. The other side of the coupler mounts to the back side of the rotary table. A guide pin on the coupler mounted to the machine tool ensures precise mating of the Autocoupler halves and the electrical and pneumatic connections between machine tool and rotary table.
The machine tool's PLC and the cell controller communicate so the machine tool knows it has an Autocoupler, as opposed to manual coupling, and the cell controller knows that it's picking up a pallet with a rotary table equipped with an Autocoupler. The machine tool knows when the pallet has been delivered. Once machining is complete, the PLC and cell controller again communicate and the Autocoupler disconnects and the pallet moves out into the pool.
Ortman points out the Autocoupler is virtually maintenance free. "If this were in a big cell," he says, "once an hour would probably be at the high end of the number of times a rotary table would be brought to the machine to run a part. This means coupling and uncoupling about 24 times a day. We have an Autocoupler system on our floor that's run more than 18,000 cycles with no maintenance — the equivalent of more than 750 days of continuous operation."