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Choosing the Right Machine Tool Tending Automation System

Authored By Arthur Alexiou

Maximizing Efficiency: Choosing the Right Machine Tool Tending Automation System for Your Manufacturing Needs

In the world of robotics and automation for manufacturing, machine tool tending systems are a crucial process.

These systems are available in various brands and styles, but there are two main categories: workpiece exchange and integrated fixture exchange. Each type of system comes with its advantages and disadvantages, which must be considered when selecting the appropriate system for specific machining applications.

Workpiece exchange systems involve the automated exchanging of raw material in and out of an automated clamping medium inside the machine tool, typically a pneumatic or hydraulic vice or chuck. In this setup, operators position the raw material outside the machine tool in a grid pattern, and the robotic end-effectors and clamping mediums are tailored to the material type, shape, and size. Workpiece exchange systems deliver an excellent return on investment in high volume - low mix applications. However, the robot must be retrained and the end effector and clamping medium modified or exchanged every time the grid changes. Therefore, these systems may not be ideal for manufacturing facilities with high part mix or small to medium-sized production runs.

Integrated fixture exchange systems, on the other hand, are suitable for manufacturers with a high mix of parts and/or low to medium-sized production runs. The most common type of integrated fixture exchange system is the integrated pallet exchange, which features a static end effector and clamping medium that only exchange a pallet. The tooling mounted on top of the pallet can be configured in several ways (vice, chuck, etc.) if it fits within the specified work envelope. However, these systems may not be cost-effective in high volume - low mix applications due to the expense of the pallets and additional top tooling required.

Recent developments in integrated fixture exchange automation utilize zero-point clamping studs to eliminate the need for a pallet. The affordable clamping studs ensure the reliability and repeatability of the entire system and process. These systems, such as the new RockLock pneumatic base from 5th Axis, utilize a static end effector and zero-point clamping base, and the workpiece shape/size has no bearing. Once installed, the robot does not require much interaction, making these systems popular for their simplicity.

5th Axis modular automation components employ a simple, modular cleat that is separate and external to the workholding. The design allows it to be attached to various fixture styles, shapes, and heights, making existing workholding compatible without requiring investment in a new brand or type.

In conclusion, selecting the appropriate machine tool tending automation system that best suits specific manufacturing needs is key. Understanding the pros and cons of each system type can help ensure that manufacturers invest with confidence and select a system that offers a good return and meets current and future manufacturing needs.


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