CNC Automation that Combines Variability and Volume

July 22, 2021
Turning and milling with robotized work-cell loading/unloading is just the beginning: the goal is “multi-batch automation,” making it possible to achieve high-mix and high-volume production.

BMO Automation is a Dutch company established in 2008 to make loading more effective for CNC turning and milling machines. Customers, mainly working with metal and plastic workpieces, can make use of complete and modular packages for machining, characterized by high-quality, user- friendly, and flexible automation. In collaboration with Faulhaber, BMO developed a servo gripper that connects to a robot arm used for the automatic loading and unloading.

With their robot cells, BMO Automation helps manufacturers achieve automated production of widely varying batch sizes. "Performance at BMO is defined as flexibility² times productivity. Using the servo gripper developed by us, flexibility is increased significantly and customers can automate for batch sizes as small as 1. This is the future!" stressed marketing manager Maarten van Bun. "A simple robot or cobot performs the same job 1,000 times, but we believe that the future is more likely to be the automation of smaller product series in a single pass.

“We call this multi-batch automation. We can also automatically manufacture 1,000 parts but split into multiple series with low volumes. The result is both high mix and high volume."

The margins in manufacturing small quantities are generally higher than in mass production. At the same time, however, it is more labor- and cost-intensive if the workpieces need to be manually loaded between individual turning and milling processes. Thus, a solution that achieves both high variances as well as high volumes when using CNC turning and milling machines in metal and plastics processing is a breakthrough. For their approach, BMO Automation combines the advantages of pallet automation with the option of being able to load individual workpieces fully automatically. "High mix / low volume" thus becomes "high mix and high volume".

This is possible by, among other things, servo-controlled gripper jaws with precision and reliability provided by Faulhaber drives. In the servo gripper, a Faulhaber motor drives the gear spindle that is part of a linear guide system. The gripper fingers, connected to the guided blocks, thereby move to the desired position for the product that is to be loaded into the CNC machine. The dimensions of the workpiece may change following the turning or milling process. Here, the servo gripper automatically adapts the position of the gripper fingers and does so without changing the loading and unloading cycles. As a result, it is not necessary to change the gripper.

"Harco Hermans, responsible for research and development for us, knew Faulhaber from previous projects, where he had very good experiences with the Motion Control products," explained Maarten van Bun. The appropriate motor was selected using Faulhaber’s online Drive Selection Tool. At the same time, BMO Automation received support from Faulhaber, for example in checking the script files for communication with the BMO Intelligent Control Software.

Development lasted approximately one year, including a two-month test phase with reference customers. The biggest challenge was to integrate a reliable solution that is available in the smallest possible dimensions, with a low weight, thus minimizing the impact on robot’s load capacity. "Here, Faulhaber offers a very compact and yet high-performance solution, in both the mechanical as well as electronic part, that convinced us."

With its concentration in CNC automation, many years of experience, and good contact with manufacturers of CNC machines, BMO offers complete integration for robot-automated machining production.

"CNC automation increases productivity, reduces processing time and offers a way to avoid issues associated with the shortage of specialists," stated Maarten von Bun.

The advantages were highlighted again during the Covid-19 pandemic. "Corona had a large impact on the metal industry. At the start, customers were more conservative with investments. The segment quickly changed, however, as it became clear that CNC automation is not only a solution for the future but also for today,” according to van Bun. “A robot does not fall ill and, even with limited working hours, a human operator can maintain the production level together with a BMO robotics solution."

Automated manufacturing also makes production possible on-site, thereby eliminating the disadvantages of outsourced production, such as closed borders, restrictions on travel and the movement of goods, longer border and customs inspections and local lockdowns, all of which were considerations during the pandemic.

"If you would like to automate, it is important that a precise process be created that constantly guarantees a high level of safety. This precision and, in particular, the repeatability are important; because everything happens fully automatically, the error rates are low and our automation solutions function without an employee needing to be present. A reliable process is, therefore, extremely important. The products from Faulhaber guarantee us quality, safety and nothing that we need to worry about," van Bun concluded.