Automation tasks are becoming ever more challenging. Using intelligent software in combination with the relevant automation solutions not only enables workpieces to be loaded and unloaded but also means that machine tools can be set up fully automatically through automatic replacement of tools and clamping devices. FRAI strives to be an innovative automation partner and is therefore developing highly flexible robot systems to respond to this trend. Concepts such as the mobileCELL are a complete first and enable a wide range of expansion stages, making them as future-proof and competitive as possible.
Flexible at all levels
Different industries, series production, small batch sizes, a wide variety of machine tools and the uncertainty of many manufacturers as to whether the current product will still be in vogue next year or become a slow seller—all this calls for flexibility in production. For automation, this means keeping pace with the increasing demands: it must produce autonomously around the clock, be flexible to use, and be Industry 4.0 compliant. In addition to the classic changeover of parts, automation also takes on the other tasks such as tool change, parts transport, logistics, host computer functions, part tracking and product history.
The more complex the task, the more elements you need from the “knowhow kit.” The “knowhow kit” is what FRAI calls the solutions that have already been successfully implemented in practice and work under real production conditions. FRAI has already developed many kit elements: parts and position recognition, bin picking, reading and inscribing a DMC (Data Matrix Code), parts contour monitoring, automatic gripper exchange, jaw changes, etc. Depending on the task in question, FRAI also has a network of partner companies which cover other aspects such as host computer solutions.
Multitasking in production
There are several mega and macro trends which will shape not only automation, but also virtually all industrial sectors in the coming years. Firstly, there is individualization: there will be smaller series and more frequent product changes/innovations. Secondly, we have connectivity: everything is networked, each component has a QR code and can be tracked through to recycling.
If you think about a smartphone, making a phone call is no longer the key function. The same is true of automation, in the sense that transporting a workpiece from A to B is not necessarily the main task in every application. Instead, the focus has shifted towards recognition, tracking and multitasking. Camera recognition and gripper exchange systems combined with host computer solutions have become the core components of a flexible solution that is compatible with Industry 4.0. Globally, the trend will move towards a small cell solution with high intelligence and a high proportion of IT.
The above-mentioned trends and requirements call for overall networking, in particular information data acquisition and evaluation. This is becoming increasingly important. We need to be able to acquire, process, evaluate and/or pass data on. This allows to optimize production, the sequence and subsequently the capacity utilization, and meet customer requirements, which call for 100 percent traceability and parts history. Improving the capacity utilization lowers unit costs, while higher quality lowers the cost of poor quality. These are well-known requirements; however, they are becoming increasingly important. So, in future, automation will be about using corresponding hardware to ensure a flexible material flow, handle components and implement a variety of set-up processes.
Automation as an overall package
When it comes to modern automation concepts, holistic customer support starts with the technical sales team. Here, experienced technicians must work hand in hand with visionaries, 3D designers and software specialists to create the most useful overall concept for the customer. These resources must be provided at both the quotation stage and later on for order processing.
On the one hand, this requires training young people yourself and on the other hand to ensure a good mix in all departments so you are well prepared for the new tasks. It’s essential to develop high-tech expertise in your own company and continually adapt as development in these areas progresses at an incredible pace.
Mobile Robot Solution: the mobileCELL
The mobileCELL of FRAI is a hybrid solution, which impresses with its combination of wide-ranging functions and advantages. There was a time when the classic robot cell could only load and unload workpieces. This basic function was then enhanced with gripper exchange systems.
Due to the significant disadvantages of a location-bound robot cell and the costs for intralogistics tasks, a solution was discussed which would produce advantages for the customer. This is how the concept of the mobile robot matured and was converted into a prototype.
A generously sized automated guided vehicle (AGV) with a robot cell design with everything that you need. In other words, the robot, workpiece, and tool gripper, along with buffer positions for workpieces and tools, and the necessary control and safety technology. The machine is freely accessible. It is not blocked or obstructed. The AGV collects the required tools and workpieces in the warehouse, it then travels to the front of the machine, locks itself in place on the floor and exchanges parts and/or tools. The vehicle then moves away again and receives the travel instructions for the next machine. The space in front of the machine it has just loaded becomes clear again.
For a mobileCELL to be useful, there must be a long enough cycle time or there must be other advantages such as flexible, internal transport with the use of several mobile robots. The travel paths must be suitably wide (3 m); that is usually the case for normal forklift operation. The wheels are designed to travel over expansion joints and slots, such as we might have with fire doors or similar, without any problems. A virtual server and a WLAN network must be available, but that is also industry standard these days.