The challenge to the work cell’s developers was to design a flexible handling system around a compact turning machine, and to make it scalable, configurable to different machine models, and proven reliable with millions of open/close cycles.

Plug-and-Play, Robot-Based Loading/Unloading

April 10, 2014
Integration partnership Multi-tasking turning/milling set-up Small shops and large plants Capability/benefit versus cost Robot functions defined by product, task Base load/unload time — 6-8 sec No need for third-party automation

Machine shops of all sizes want ways to automate what they do — to improve consistency, save time, and reduce cost per piece produced. In response, machine tool builder EMCO Maier partnered with UltraTech Machinery to offer a modular robotic automation cell it calls a “cost-effective” and “flexible” extension for part loading and unloading with its turning machines.

EMCO is a consortium of machine tool builders specialized in turning and milling and technologies, programs, and training packages.

UltraTech is an Ohio-based designer and builder of high production equipment.

Their new package was demonstrated with an EMCO Maier HT45 SMY universal production turning machine, a versatile, multi-tasking turning/milling center designed for a wide range of production applications on bar stock to 45 mm diameter. The Hyperturn 45 includes high-performance main and counter spindles, two tool systems with a total of up to 24 driven tools, and a stable Y axis with a 70 mm travel in the upper slide system and a Z2 axis in the lower slide system.

“The integration partnership with UltraTech will be a positive for us and our customers,” according to Philipp Hauser, EMCO Maier USA president.

“About 10 months ago we saw more and more sales activity and RFQs for turnkeys and automation,” Hauser continued. “One of our strategies was to find a local, U.S. partner, especially for robot integration. Having Motch & Eichele as one of our bigger dealers, and a partner company of UltraTech, it was clear we should work with UltraTech to develop a solution.”

Defining the Challenge

Bob Hagarty PE, CEO of Motch & Eichele, took up the story: “The challenge was to put a flexible handling solution around a compact turning machine that was also scalable to a use with a larger machine.

“We developed a universal base with left- and right-hand versions configurable to the machine model. It is a production-proven solution with millions of open/close cycles.

Simple, Reliable, Flexible Machine Tending

The automated machine-tending package is called the EMCO Factory Automation Solution: it is designed to be used easily in small shops as well as larger plants.

“The overall package is non-threatening to machine operators,” Hagarty noted. “Often, the most challenging portion of an automation solution is part infeed and outfeed. The multi-drawer part cabinet offers a simple, reliable, flexible method to provide a useable buffer of oriented parts to the robot.

“The user is responsible for very little, including only part-specific gripper fingers and trays for the drawers, robot path-point teaching, and minor program modifications as needed for tray unload / load and machine unload / load.”

Steve LaMarre, director of automation sales, recalled that “since UltraTech’s heritage is in production, we knew what this solution would need to be: machine tool construction, easy to install and use, and highly flexible.”

The fully integrated system is based on the Fanuc M-20iA robot that has a relatively small footprint, with heavier payload and larger reach than most other alternatives, and therefore more machine use options.

Speaks for Itself

“I think the new cell speaks for itself,” Phil said, “and with a very competitive price point, it should be well received on the market.

“Our decision to come up with a great solution has been confirmed by recent industry surveys that indicate automation is becoming increasingly important to our customer industries,” he noted. “The automation package offers a very favorable capability/benefit versus cost, and it can be delivered quickly.“

Sturdy part drawers with heavy-duty drawer slides have a weight capacity of 300 lbs. and can accommodate parts up to 6 ft. tall in a useable area of 18x24 in. Actual part quantity depends on the locating trays supplied by the customer.  

The robot has a 20-kg payload with 14 kg available for customer-supplied finger details and part weight.

Loading/unloading times are application dependent, but 6-8 seconds has been demonstrated.

“Other solutions have a smaller payload and shorter reach,” according to LaMarre. “They also are not fully integrated or modular. Our solution uses I/O blocks and cables so it is literally plug and play. Plus, it includes a secure workpiece storage/service drawer mounted on the platform that is easily accessible safely by the operator, yet the robot can access other drawers at the same time.”

All equipment is mounted on a common base plate with fork lift pockets. The base has drip pan and walk-on grating, under which all robot cables and interconnect wiring are concealed and protected. Simple installation consists of locating the system in front of the machine tool within robot reach, leveling the base using the included screws, and lagging the base to the plant floor. The base package is completely assembled and fully tested prior to ship.

“We are providing an extremely compact solution with maximum utility and flexibility at an affordable cost,” he said. “It is very easy for a shop with no automation experience to install this — all the thinking is taken out, and it is even easier for experienced user. There is no need for a third-party automation house; it is basically a catalog item.”

For end-of-arm tooling, users may select from two gripper models and three different mounting configurations, based on the workpieces geometry and weight.

Software options make programming easier and improve safety, and help to protect equipment from damage due to improper programming. The user has complete access to machine controller without interrupting robot operation, as well as unrestricted access for set-up and tool changes.

Latest from Automation and Robotics

BiancoBlue | Dreamstime
Assn. for Advancing Automation
Andreyi Armiagov | Dreamstime
Robotic arm in an automated production cell.