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Automation and Innovation Teach Old Machines New Tricks

Matrix Design, LLC

When it came time for a major automobile manufacturer to retool their line, they decided to build automation into the system as well. The company had 12 Saginaw vertical twin spindle turning centers which were using a combination of hand loading and some simple pick and place automation. The pneumatic, servo-controlled systems were slow, unreliable and required daily maintenance, not to mention a lot of operator intervention. The goal was to achieve better reliability and increased productivity without replacing the machines or relocating them within the plant.

First Look: Assessing the Realities

The customer required the machines to be open to the aisle ways for 100% access to the front-mounted controls for operators and maintenance crews. Ceiling height was also an issue. It was so low that a robot on a high railway would not work. Another standard arrangement that was quickly discarded was having a larger robot reach into the cell. The space was too small for articulation. Plus the environment inside the cell was wet and hazardous with chips and coolant everywhere, so the system had to be completely sealed. That meant a stationery robot on a beam was also not an option since it wouldn’t allow the door to be shut during operation.

Thinking Outside (and Inside) the Box

After a careful study of the situation, we went to work. To achieve the desired results, the smallest robot possible was selected – the FANUC LR Mate 200 iD. We custom engineered it to work in conjunction with a telescoping overhead gantry rail system. The operation sequence was established:

  • Pneumatic parallel grippers pick the raw parts
  • The automatic door opens for machine loading
  • Robot enters the machine through door via telescoping gantry mechanism
  • The gripper swaps finished parts on the spindle with raw parts
  • Robot exits machine through door via telescoping gantry mechanism
  • The door seals shut for operation
  • Robot places finished parts on pallet conveyor, picks raw parts

About That Door…

The telescoping overhead gantry machine tending solution was great on paper, but one problem remained. The location of the door. The top and front of the cell were out of play, and the Saginaw doesn’t have a door on the side. No door – no problem! We had the machines shipped to our plant where we custom engineered an opening and closing side door. The end result was fully automatic and completely sealed for clean, safe, efficient operation. We now had a working unit that matched all the customer’s requirements.

Bonus: Seamless Flexibility at a Touch

The Saginaw is capable of several varieties of operation sequences using the same equipment. Several of the machines we worked on were set up so each spindle can perform a different operation. The customer has the ability to change tooling and parts and easily reprogram the system through the HMI screen on the control panel. This allows them to react to the needs of the marketplace or fluctuations in inventory.

Building Long Term Relationships

Our long-standing relationship with this customer allowed us the ability to work closely with them on this project. More than a standard vendor/customer relationship, we have built a true partnership, which gives us the opportunity to meet their challenges head on to create optimal solutions. The newly automated line delivers better profits today and is totally adaptable to the needs of the future. Projects like this show why we have a reputation for designing and delivering quality industrial automation solutions to manufacturers worldwide.

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