The FlexMT systems, attached to existing machine tools, can increase spindle utilization time up to 60% over manual operations.

Robotic Feeders for the New Technology Ecosystem

Aug. 13, 2014
ABB's FlexMT system puts the power of robotics in a modular form, bringing new automation to old machines.

Today, no machine tool is an island entire of it itself; every tool in a modern factory is just one piece of the system, a part of the main.

Manufacturing in the modern factory is no longer about single machines performing single operations; it's about an ecosystem of integrated technologies and resources – machines, tools, automation equipment, data and skilled labor – all working together to improve the output of the whole.

IMTS this year will highlight that ecosystem like never before – instead of showing off isolated technologies running their rarified tasks, there will be machine tools working in concert with robots that are driven by sensors, optomized by smart analytics and Big Data.

Every piece of the manufacturing technology puzzle is coming together this year. And the results are going to be impressive.

ABB's booth will be highlighting a new robot-driven system perfectly crafted for this new phase of technology.

The company's FlexMT system take high precision, vision-guided robots, matched with infeed and outfeed conveyors and slick, intuitive software controls to create a flexible, modular automation component for existing machine tools. The means bringing automation into shops already up and running, even win small and midsized shops where it is most needed.

According to ABB, the pre-engineered, plug-and-play systems can handle loading and unloading tasks for most any size and type of part for either small batch or high volume production off anything from vertical lathes to 5-axis machines and grinders.

The process eliminates the need for heavy lifting on slow, manual operations, resulting in steady, predictable machine tool utilization of up to 90% -- a 60% increase over manual operation, the company says.

And that is what happens when technologies start working together.

FlexMT Details and Benefits

According to ABB, the FlexMT comes equipped with a choice between a two- or three-finger gripper and six standard plug-and-play options, including two separate deburring tools, a re-grip table, a needle marking unit, a turn station, and an air cleaning box.

The system comes in two variants: the FlexMT 20, which features an ABB IRB 2600 robot, with a 20kg payload and a 1.65m reach; and the FlexMT 60, which features an ABB IRB 4600 robot, with a 60kg payload and a 2.05m reach. Either system comes complete with a robot controller inside its fully integrated control cabinet.

The vision guidance component reduces operational cost and complexity by allowing it to recognize variations in part size and geometrical shape, and enabling it to pick and place parts that are presented on the conveyor in differing positions. This lets the FlexMT to be used with existing machine tools and can run free from operator supervision for up to eight hours.

Control and communications with the robot are tightly integrated into the software, providing a very simple and intuitive set-up and teach-in. With one of the easiest to use operator interfaces on the market, teaching of a new part is possible in less than 10 minutes.

The self-contained nature of the FlexMT improves working conditions by drastically reducing workplace injury related to heavy lifting, exposure to hazardous conditions including the presence of coolants, sharp edges, burrs, tooling and other dangers.

Altogether, the FlexMT helps create the kinds of full ecosystem perspectives being celebrated at this year's event -- it's a new kind of manufacturing with a new, total system approach to output and performance.

Any machine's downtime diminishes the output of every other machine in the shop, we'll see this year. Because each piece of the technology is involved in manufacturing, no single operator can ever know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.