The slim design of the pallet changing system NSR-A from Schunk makes loading extremely close to the machine bench possible. (Photo: Schunk)
Demands for digitalisation, the lack of skilled workers,but also increasing quality requirements,can only be met with greater automation. At AMB, the international exhibition for metalworking, many exhibitors showed how the machining process can be further optimised and made more profitable by means of automation.
The importance attached to automation is reflected in sober figures. The manufacturers are organised in the VDMA sector association “Robotics + Automation”, which recently reported a record turnover of 14.5 billion Euro for last year – a year-on-year increase of 13%. The forecast for the current year:another increase of 9% to Euro 15.8 billion (US$18 billion).
Tool manufacturer Paul Horn provides in his own factory an example of what automation means today: A small number of employees operate several machines, and dirt, noise and hectic activity are things of the past. (Image: Paul Horn)
“2017 was a very strong year for our industry,” says Dr Norbert Stein,Chairman of the association. “The fact that our expectations were again exceeded is evidence of the extraordinary market dynamics in automation. Between 2010 and 2017, the sector grew at an average annual rate of 10%, almost doubling its turnover during this period.”
Up to 80% of machine tools with peripherals
Companies are facing enormous pressure of time and costs. They are obliged to constantly increase the efficiency of their processes. Example of Chiron: Thomas Marquardt is Head of Automation at this machine tool manufacturer: “The use of integrated automation and control concepts facilitates the operation of complex systems and supports the user intuitively.” Therefore a modular, standardised cell control system is currently being developed for all automation cells, which will have an integrated user interface with standardised hardware, software, visualisation and operation.
The latest components in the SmartLine programme have the same objective. All relevant machine parameters can thus be analysed fully automatically. Comparison with a factory-generated “digital fingerprint” shows atypical operating behaviour and signs of wear at an early stage.
The peripherals are becoming increasingly important, as Hansjörg Sannwald, Head of Market and Product Management of CNC systems at Bosch Rexroth, is also convinced: “More and more, end users are demanding complete solutions in order to save costs and to manufacture their products in documented quality. Machine tool manufacturers meanwhile deliver up to 80% of their machines with appropriate peripherals.”
Smooth Tool Management is an intelligent process monitoring solution for protecting valuable tools, and securing and optimising their performance. (Photo: Yamazaki Mazak)
He also explained that, for customerspecific solutions, the loading and unloading systems ought to be easy to integrate into existing concepts and control systems. Ideally, the peripherals must adapt to new products in response to a software command from higher-level systems. Decentralised, intelligent drive systems, like those Bosch Rexroth will also be presenting at AMB, already offer this freedom today, he said. Thanks to the OPC UA standard, applicable to all manufacturers, machine-to-machine communication is no longer a problem.
Henrik Schunk, Managing Partner and CEO of Schunk, draws attention to the significance of gripper systems and clamping devices: “They have a decisive impact on economy, process security and flexibility in the manufacturing process.” Above all against the background of increasing product and size variety, as well as the skyrocketing cost pressure. At relatively low cost, for example, set-up time could be saved, which today in small and medium-sized companies still takes up 10-15% of machine capacity, he explained.
More flexible and agile production
At the same time, production, which is becoming increasingly complex on account of a greater variety of parts and ever smaller quantities, is subject to growing demands regarding manufacturing quality. Fastems Managing Director Heikki Hallila gives reasons:Shorter product lifetimes due to faster technological developments, increasingly individualised products, faster reaction times to customer requirements in a global market with geographically diversified supply chains. All this requires more transparency and better production traceability. Challenges which, in view of the high cost pressure and lack of skilled workers, can only be overcome by means of digitalisation and automation.
From the perspective of the producer of systems for factory automation, development must therefore not only make production more flexible, but also more agile. Hallila: “An agile production system doesn’t mean a purely specific hardware solution, but much rather a future-oriented production strategy.” Which is why at Fastems they are intensively involved with appropriate solution concepts both in terms of hardware and software, he continued. At AMB, they presented, for example, a new type of robot cell for the automation of all-purpose machine tools that is suitable for new investments and for retrofitting.
In perfectly adapted automation technology, machine tool manufacturer Yamazaki Mazak sees an important pillar for the future of efficient machine tools. With its own intelligent control technology, the company has already created the basis for this. For two machine types, there are ready-to-use automation solutions with which the interplay between machine and automation can be programmed in the control system in accordance with customer requirements. These “plug-and-play” solutions may be complete production cells in which the equipping of the workpieces and the tool changes are carried out by an articulated robot or – for unmanned shifts – by means of integrated pallet storage systems.
An inexpensive entry into automation is promised by the machine tool manufacturer Starrag. Managing Director Dr. Marcus Otto talks of increased spindle running times as a possibility. “For this purpose, we developed a machine-integrated linear pallet storage system.” But also high-end solutions are offered that lay the foundation stone for completely autonomous production.
In Stuttgart, Starrag showcased a system with which hall layout and automation can be optimally connected. It is based on driverless transport modules with which machines can be loaded and unloaded fully automatically without affecting the accessibility of the machine.
Automation components as part of the networking
Unreliable interfaces are frequently a problem for error-prone Industry 4.0 systems. This experience was also made by the tool presetting specialist Kelch. ”Reliable peripheral and automation solutions can only work with optimally conceived software,” says Viktor Grauer,member of the Board of Management and Head of Innovation Management, with conviction. Data must be centrally available, always up to date and correct to enable such a complex system to function. “For all modern production, it’s essential that a digital data flow correctly administers and controls all necessary information.” Precondition: All participants in a process chain can communicate with each other.
Volker Wiedmaier, Production Manager, International & Services at the precisiontool maker Paul Horn, says that the digitalisation that is manifest in the term Industry 4.0 has raised the overall system of all activities outside the machine tool “to another level”. “The new transparency makes it easier to recognise and use the potential in the peripherals, which for me also includes automation components. I therefore see digitalisation and networking as the basis for optimum peripherals.”
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