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AXILE Machine Blog

Agile Smart Machining

【AXILE technology】 Benefits of automated production in the manufacturing sector.

May 2022
Author: linchiang
Company: Buffalo Machinery Co., Ltd.
【AXILE technology】 Benefits of automated production in the manufacturing sector.

A key technology to continually learn, improve and grow

Automation within a manufacturing background could be defined as the technology dealing with the performance of the machine tools and systems to produce the final workpiece at minimum cost, involving minimum labor intervention, producing components of high accuracy and desired tolerances repeatedly without causing rejections. Despite the claims of high quality from good workmanship by humans, automated systems typically perform the manufacturing process with less variability than human workers, resulting in greater control and consistency of product quality. The growing demands and transition of technology in segments such as Automotive, Aerospace, Power generation and Medical, have ensured an improvement in performance and productivity. With the current scenario of supply and demand, investment in this sector is said to guarantee a sustainably higher ROI in the long run. Additionally, Machine tool automation will ensure you are ready to quickly respond when business picks up and you need the extra capacity, to keep your employees working productively and optimize spindle running time. 

Any type and size of manufacturing company should look at automation 

By our experience, the most common misconception around automating CNC machines is to consider one’s production of having too small volumes for automation. Most manufacturers recognize the need and benefits of automation in the mass – manufacturing context but surprisingly many are unaware of the huge potential flexible automation solutions offer in high-mix, low volume production – also known as variable batch production – characterized by one to some thousands in single workpiece annual volumes. There are classical manufacturing settings which can be classified:
> Mass production with individual workpiece yearly volumes of hundreds of thousands to millions with very low or no variability at all.
> High Mix-low volume means Variable batch production with low-to-medium annual volumes per workpiece – from one to tens of thousands in annual workpiece volumes.
> Very sporadic (one-off) production in very small batches that don’t repeat.
In mass manufacturing, workpieces don’t vary, cycle times are typically short and production rarely faces unexpected changes like urgent orders needing to pass the queues. This is the category e.g. where auto-industry part manufacturing happens most of the time. The production is typically handled with ‘transfer-line’ automation that enables very efficient manufacturing processes in stable environment. From the perspective of automation, the third category (sporadic one-offs) can be difficult to cope with but that needs to be defined case by case. The biggest factors defining the automation case are the total volumes of all workpieces, their variability in physical dimensions as well as quality and lead time requirements. This category can include special spare part manufacturing or special workpieces for R&D or testing purposes. The second setting can be characterized as make-to-order manufacturing of batches. Oftentimes there is medium-to-high variability in workpieces, thus the name high-mix-low-volume. A classic example is a machine shop operating as a subcontractor, or a product-owner requiring much production flexibility. This kind of production is typically automated using flexible automation solutions. 

Pallet changers, zero-point clamping systems, hydraulic fixturing and tailored solutions:

A pallet is a movable & interchangeable part of a machine tool which helps to transport raw or finished parts from the machine in order reduce downtime for part loading/unloading. Automatic pallet changers allow CNC machine operators to load and unload workpieces in one area of the system, while the machine is busy making chips and parts in another. These turntable-style pallets are automatically moved in and out of the machine with a simple push of a button or far more often, included in machining program.
The increases in spindle utilization and operator productivity for these types of machines are dramatic and impactful. By allowing operators to load, unload and inspect parts on one pallet while the machine continues to work without interruption on parts fixtured on the other pallet, machine shops can reduce costs and increase flexibility—without increasing the size of their workforce or shop floor. This in turn, benefits customers, as the machine shop can provide larger volumes of parts at more competitive pricing—without sacrificing quality.

Zero-point clamping systems are also often used to minimize set-up time and supply a maximum reliability. A zero-point clamping system is a system that allows you to clamp parts with accuracy, speed, ease and flexibility using retractable nipples and fast-closing clamps. Zero-point clamping systems can be operated hydraulically, pneumatically, electrically or mechanically. By using a zero-point clamping system, the machining time for theworkpieces on the machine can be used to set up further pallets outside the machine while the machine is running.

Given the ever-smaller batch sizes, increasing diversity of parts and variants, low stock levels and sales-related production, the set-up times and resulting set-up costs represent a cost factor that is becoming ever more important. Companies that can offer significantly reduced set-up times and thus lower set-up costs as compared to their competitors are at a major advantage. They are able to implement minimum batch sizes or even produce single pieces profitably. Hydraulic Fixtures fitted on the pallets of the machines are often incorporated to clamp, unclamp and support the part. Parts are clamped in the exact same sequence, with the same pressure with the push of button (which can also be managed automatically). This improves repeatability, consistency, and loading efficiency needed in production machining. The cutting tool management is also a key factor in cnc machine automation. Nowadays, the machine tracks tool wear and use. The tool monitor alerts an operator when a tool should be replaced, increase up-time by staying in front of issues by running to the expected tool life. Large capacity tool magazines are important to have to ensure the unmanned production remains at its optimal level. It is of course important to Maximize Utilization with Tool Automation. When you need a large variety of different or expensive tools and you are planning to increase unmanned running time and productivity being worried worry about labor costs and availability, then cutting tool Automation enables the use of large size tool magazines which are often called Matrix, in order to make sure that the needed tools is always available. 

Multi-axis industrial robots and newly born cobots:

An industrial robot has come into existence and its use is expanding into a wide range of applications. While the human body experiences fatigue, a robot is capable of performing repetitive tasks with the highest amount of accuracy. This not only eliminates errors, but also ensures higher productivity. Higher productivity equals higher profits. Industrial robots are credited for faster production as opposed to traditionally existing manufacturing methods, by decreasing the cycle times. The very essence of the robot is its ability to create a leaner and more efficient manufacturing cycle. Industrial robots can be used for diverse operations including robotic handling applications like machine tending, plastic moulding etc. In the automotive industry, these robots are mostly used on machining lines. In a machining line or cell, the robots are typically used for loading/unloading operations. Robots are electrically interfaced to the machine tool controller via typical hard-wired information exchange, or using industrial communication bus protocols, the most widely used being PROFINET & PROFIBUS. 
Cobots are a new generation of supportive automation systems. The name cobot is an abbreviation of collaborative robot. A robot that can work together with both people and cobots. An affordable solution to automate processes and support employees. Cobots are small in size, can be deployed in different places, are able to perform various tasks and above all are safe. Cobots offer several advantages compared to traditional robots and have a unique feature that fits perfectly with the personal development of employees. Collaborative robots (as the name suggests) are made to work together with people. These robots are sensitive and therefore feel touch and the environment around them. They do not have to stand behind large safety screens and the risk of accidents is small. 

The importance of a digitalized automation manufacturing strategy to stay ahead of competition

Digitalization and automated production bring together a huge volume of data generated in a process of continuous cycle between the real and digital worlds. This enables employees in manufacturing companies to make appropriate decisions based on data and respond more quickly to trends and changes. Thanks to networking and data-sharing between the machines, factory managers expect to be able to improve manufacturing times, planning for downtimes and service inputs, as well as considering a real-time monitoring of Energy management Digitalization is also helping to attract younger people to the manufacturing industry, which is faced with a retiring workforce like other industries. It’s making machine tools catchy again and that is an opportunity which should be considered by the manufacturing industry in order to attract a new generation of engineers born with Industry 4.0 technologies as a key driver. Nowadays this is key to develop the integration of intelligent monitoring technology to ensure machining accuracy and to receive the real-time machine status analytics at any location via portable devices for easy management and to assist prompt and precise strategy implementation. To deliver agile smart machining, and that all-important competitive edge, AXILE have created ART™, an intelligent monitoring system that enables to manage 24/7 automated production and eliminates unexpected downtime. ART™ monitors all the wearing components, energy consumption, and fluids such as lubricant and coolant to supply real-time status updates on the machine and its components, and to pre-empt future issues. AXILE’s ART™ empowers manufacturers to make informed decisions, optimizing operations and greatly improving production efficiency. Energy management is a key feature available within the ART™ Technology. The 24-hour energy monitoring function is able to record the machine energy consumption and allows users in effectively tracking the power consumption status. It is now easy to identify energy usage problems via the user-friendly platform in order to arrange efficient energy consumption plan to achieve energy saving and carbon reduction. Axile is using the international standard protocol of OPC UA as data transmission, AXILE system is compatible with umati (Universal Machine Technology Interface) to enforce interoperability across control platforms, to establish horizontal connectivity, to be prepared for the future by standardizing and using open interfaces and to save money and effort to improve the products within the Industry 4.0 background. 

Machine tool automation is a key driver within AXILE’s product development strategy:

Consider the opportunities to improve your shop floor operations. Different types of automation solutions are available depending on what goals you have in mind. Our compact and agile model the V5X Metal can also be complemented with our proprietary loader system, which offers a maximum capacity of 84 workpieces of up to 100 mm X 100 mm X 100 mm in size, and an 8 kg maximum loading weight. The machine and automation system also exist with a graphite processing version. Available with two or six pallets, AXILE’s automated G6 Motorized Pallet Changer (MPC) exchanges raw workpieces and finished parts via a loading bay at the back side of the machine. Operators can load raw workpieces, and inspect and unload finished parts, while machining continues in the vertical machining center 24/7, dramatically increasing operational efficiency. Freedom and flexibility are core to the design concept, as the MPC solution can be integrated upon initial commissioning of the G6 machine, or at a later stage when production capacity expands. And with the MPC-2 (the two-pallet solution), manufacturers can embrace a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS), of 12, 24, or 36 pallets total, by integrating one to three machines and two loading stations, depending on the scale required. AXILE’s automated G6 Robotic Pallet Changer (RPC) solution features a 2-axis robot that keeps machines supplied with workpieces 24/7 from the back side of the machine. Part processing continues simultaneously within the machining center while operators deal with workpieces at the holding area at the back, significantly raising production efficiency to boost throughput. The G6 RPC solution caters to diverse production requirements, with multiple options available based on workpiece specifications:
8 pallets (workpiece max. size 500 x 305 mm; max. weight 220 kg)
10 pallets (workpiece max. size 400 x 305 mm; max. weight 220 kg)
16 pallets (workpiece max. size 230 X 305 mm; max. weight 98 kg) 
20 pallets (workpiece max. size 160 x 250 mm; max. weight 30 kg) 

Defined as extra-large size of 5 axis machining center, DC12’s MPC solutions exchange raw and finished workpieces between the machine and a separate holding area. It can accommodate 4 pallets for overall efficiency and productivity. With a maximum table loading weight of 2.3 tons and maximum diameter of 2,200 mm X 1,200 mm, DC12 is perfect for application in aerospace, power generation as well as mold & die industry. Do not hesitate to get in touch with your AXILE Machine partner as they will also provide the right level of information and recommendations to optimize efficiency and improve cost savings. 

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