Sharpening the Point of Attack of Automation on the Shop Floor
Manufacturing Engineering Magazine July 2018
By James Lorincz

On machine, near the machine, between machines – the IIoT is never far away.

Flexibility has come to automation, perhaps as never before. And for industries that require precision machining, assembly, and measurement, automation technologies have never been more available. Automation solutions range from the highest precision to production-tested dependability and speed. Almost never are technologies represented as being all things to all people, or more properly all solutions to all problems. It isn’t a case of pick your poison, it’s more one of selecting the most appropriate technology and being able to justify the ROI. Tried and true automation like barfeeders, gantry loaders, simplified pick and place options are never too far from the forefront, but they are being joined by and eclipsed in many cases by new, faster robotic technologies that have the benefit of the versatility that IIoT digital communication can bring to manufacturing.

Precision in Watch Making Led to Scores of Robots

Many company combines speed with precision in its offering of more than 300 robots in sizes raging from 175 to 1000 mm in reach, with payloads up to 20 kg, and repeatability down to 5µm. Typical first applications included parts that could fit in your hand for automotive, medical, electronics, and functions including assembly, machine tending, kitting, inspection and test, and palletizing in virtually every kind of industry.

The newest addition to the Epson portfolio of robots, the entry-level Synthis T3 All-in-One SCARA (selective compliance articulated robot arm), was introduced at a price point with capabilities of speed and precision intended to further expand Epson’s applications in automotive, electronics, medical devices, and consumer products.

Since its introduction in late 2017, the T3 has found acceptance by the market place beyond our wildest expectations. The T3 has a controller contained inside the arm, connection to a PC for programming – all at a price of $7495. It features the same software that we use in our high-end G series six-axis robots.

The T3 is a four-axis robot that will stage from a flat surface to a flat surface and has been positioned as an alternative to linear slides in the shop. Linear slides have to be adjusted continually for changeovers. The T3, with a 400 mm arm and maximum payload of 3 kg, satisfies this need for flexibility with speed for efficient operation, integration in a compact design, and Epson’s RC+ programming software.

Robot Efficiency in Compact Packages

A job shop does something different every day. Putting a workpiece on a pallet and into a magazine and letting a robot move it inside the machine for processing – whether it’s for one, two or five parts. There’s greater acceptance by shops for automation solutions today. Our tooling is being used in many different facets of manufacturing. Our quick-change system between our pallets and our chucks and tool changers for cutting tools and electrode changers on an EDM are a form of automation that a lot of companies don’t think about.

Programming for its robots has been simplified. There are different levels of integration. The most basic is that the robot is the slave of the machine. We have done all the interface work and have interfaces with all the major OEMs. When we come to install, we call the pallet into the machine the same way you call a spindle into the machine. It’s basically one line of code. We have a cell control software that manages the machine and robot rather than the machine’s control. Typically we only need about a days-worth of training with the customers.

The Shop Floor Is a Busy Place

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications for EDMs that enhances user experience and efficiency, and reduces machine downtime. Makino Inc. EDMS equipped with Hyper-I control systems, HyperConnect enables shop managers and operators to monitor and control EDM processes from any PC, smart device, or other Hyper-I control systems on the network.

EDM operators are already faced with too much on the shop floor. The last thing anyone wants is having them running back and forth between machines and office spaces. HyperConnect provides these operators with accessibility to what they need to maximize efficiency, whether they are at the machine, in their office or working remotely.

The HyperConnect suite has four primary connectivity features for shop personnel to monitor, plan and troubleshoot their EDM operations. Of the four functions, EDM Mail and PC Viewer functions are the most commonly used. EDM Mail relays machine status information to operators via email during unattended operation to help reduce downtime and support multitasking abilities. It can deliver periodic, timed interval updates of a machine’s operating conditions, or alert operators of machine stoppage at any hour.

Interlinking Processes Just an Idea Away

When technology offered by a machine tool builder crosses over into otherwise unrelated processes, automation can provide the unexpected productive link. The automation cell combines additive manufacturing with robotics and subtractive processes with the objective of providing post processing for fast, highly efficient finished 3D part production.

Smart Manufacturing Means IIoT Connectivity

Two machine tool builders, Mazak Corp. and Murata Machinery USA Inc. have collaborated to develop a smart manufacturing system by combining Mazak’s machining, automation and smart technologies with the Muratec automated high-density storage and retrieval system. The resulting Mazatec SMS (Smart Manufacturing System) provides untended, lights-out manufacturing and high output as well as IIoT connectivity.

The Mazatec SMS pairs multiple Mazak horizontal machining centers and multitasking machines with Muratec vertically-oriented stocker-type system that has pallets, a material bucket and high-speed stocker crane. To match each manufacturer’s specific production and floor space needs, the modular system can have up to 150 stockers )in different sizes) in a six-level configuration that increases space efficiency significantly.

The Mazatec SMS can incorporate various sizes and types of machine tools into the same automated manufacturing system. Peripheral equipment for the Mazatec SMS includes individual stations for loading and centering, tilt loading, raise and lower loading, work setup and part washing. In addition to keeping the machine tools supplied with work, the system’s stocker crane handles the Mazatec SMS overall input of raw parts and the output of finished ones.

Automation Depends of Software, IIoT Focus

Shop Floor Automations specializes in manufacturing automation software that supplies shops with machine monitoring, CNC networking, tool tracking, and production data management. Advanced technologies work with protocols such as MTConnect. The solutions are successful for CNC machine shops, fabrication shops, moldmaking shops, and any shop that has to do with the manufacturing process. Shops include those making high volumes of aerospace parts, medical parts, firearms, and automotive parts, as well as combination production or job shops.

Customers want to eliminate old media on the shop floor without replacing their machines. They are going wireless and replacing floppy disk drives. While program transfers and CNC revision control are needed, machine monitoring is popular right now. Machine efficiency is very important to customers. So, we need engineers on hand to customize solutions that fit the needs of the customer’s production concerns. Shops want to invest in Industry 4.0 and IIoT standards, so that has a positive effect on our product mix. We always test new solutions to solve the issues for customers of alternative program transfer communication/management methods, increasing machine utilization, revision control, going paperless, and better audit prep. It also helps them take on other goals, such as ISO certification, lights-out manufacturing and integrating with other solutions, like ERP software.