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Metal processing

secure the knowledge of a recognized automation expert
Metal processing

Robotic sawing line RoboSaw

In the metalworking industry today, most manufacturing/production processes are carried out by machines or automated systems. If you take a closer look at the manufacturing/production processes from the point of view of an automation expert, you will see that in almost all cases they are hybrid systems consisting of a human-machine collaboration or only partial automation.

For example, the metal cutting of sheets and blocks is done by machines. Nevertheless, numerous upstream and downstream activities must be carried out by a worker/human before production begins: the required material must be searched for in the warehouse, checked (quality, dimensions), collected and brought to the workplace. The machine operator sets up the slings and clamping devices on the saw and adjusts the material- and size-dependent machine parameters, such as feed rate and cutting speed. Once the first cut has been made, the machine operator must remove the material portion that is not required (residual material) from the saw table using a lifting aid (e.g. crane) and place it aside. The semi-finished material must be rotated/reoriented by 90┬░ for the next main cut and the necessary set-up work must be carried out again. At the end of production, the finished metal blank is stacked on a pallet and can thus be shipped to the customer. The material that is not subsequently required must be returned to the warehouse. Particularly in the case of small production batches, similar processes can also be found in other metalworking processes, such as turning and milling.

In a sawing centre, many orders must be processed within short delivery times and usually with the smallest batch sizes (often batch size 1) with a wide range of materials and dimensions.

Therefore, automation in the field of metal cutting has so far appeared to be technically and/or economically impossible. The Augsburg-based automation specialist AROTEC Automation und Robotik has proven that this situation can be changed with its robotic sawing line RoboSaw.

  • alignment/reorientation station

  • storage tower

  • storage pallet

  • storage pallet

  • transport/infeed conveyor

  • 3d measurement

  • stack of empty pallets

  • finished pallet(s)

  • robot incl. EOAT

  • deburring/brush station

  • vertical bandsaw

The robotic sawing line RoboSaw essentially consists of two towers/bar storage systems (from KASTO), two vertical band saws (from BEHRINGER) and a 6-axis industrial robot (from KUKA) including end -of-arm tool. The robot is mounted on a 16m-long traversing axis to increase its workspace. Within RoboSaw, a production master computer developed by AROTEC takes over the tasks of order management, order sequencing, material and inventory management (warehouse and saws), and overall plant control and monitoring.

The raw material (sheets and blocks, 80 different grades, magnetic and non-magnetic materials, maximum dimensions 1000 x 500 x 150 mm, maximum weight 200 kg) is fed to the sawing line by means of a conveyor belt after entering the grade as well as the arrangement of the rolled edges via a graphical user interface (GUI). At the end of the transport section, the raw material is detected by a 3D sensor and measured with millimetre precision. The information is transmitted to the production master computer. With help of the integrated mixed palletizing algorithm PALGO developed by AROTEC, the software selects the most suitable storage location on all available storage pallets in the material towers or selects the storage location with the least amount of wasted space, thus optimally occupying the storage area. The production master computer then initiates the retrieval of the desired storage pallet. As soon as the storage pallet is ready, the robot moves to the infeed conveyor, picks up the material block and places it at the predefined pose on the storage pallet. The storage and retrieval of material to and from the material towers can take place at any time and in parallel with the cutting processing in the RoboSaw.

If the material storage has a minimum stock of material, the customer orders can be processed. For this purpose, the customer's ERP transfers the customer orders directly to the database of the production master computer. The order data contains, among other things, information about the customer, the agreed delivery date, the cutting dimension, the material quality and the quantity.

Robotic sawing line RoboSaw - AROTEC Automation und Robotik GmbH

 

If the material storage has a minimum stock of material, the customer orders can be processed. For this purpose, the customer's ERP transfers the customer orders directly to the database of the production master computer. The order data contains, among other things, information about the customer, the agreed delivery date, the cutting dimension, the material quality and the quantity.

Periodically, the production master computer checks the available orders in the database. First, it checks whether there is enough material in the material towers to fulfil the customer order. In general, there are several material blocks of one grade and of different sizes in the material towers. Therefore, the production master computer checks with the integrated waste optimization algorithm, which material should best be used for the order. Considering the delivery date and other criteria, the production master computer then determines the sequence in which the orders are processed. In the next step, the production master computer determines all the individual steps/commands which are required for the robot to fulfil order processing ("how to fetch a specific material block from the material storage and place it on a saw, or initiate the first saw cut, or place the blank on a finished part pallet, or return the remaining material to the material storage, etc.) and determines the expected processing time or the expected completion date on the basis of stored process and handling times.

If deviations occur between the promised delivery date and the expected completion date, the order planner can inform the customer of a later delivery date or influence the completion date by changing the order priority.

This order checking and order planning is executed automatically after new orders are received from the ERP or after new material is put into stock. The entire order sequence is stored in the database. If an order cannot be processed with the current material stock, this is immediately displayed to the order planner and the plant operator on the web-based plant visualization.

Another background service handles the individual steps defined in the database and transfers them to the individual machine controls (robot, material storage, saw) with all the parameters required for this.

When operational order processing begins in the sawing line, the production master computer first initiates the retrieval of a corresponding storage pallet. Once the storage pallet is available, the robot picks up the raw material block with use of its motor-controlled 2-jaw gripper and places it in a special alignment station. This aligns the raw material block parallel to the (later) cutting direction, so that high cutting accuracy is achieved. The robot then picks up the raw material block and places it accurately on the saw.

The production master computer transmits to the saw controller the quality and dimensions of the raw material block, the optimum feed rate and cutting speed, considering the type of saw band currently being used, and specifications on how the raw material block is to be clamped. The saw can then perform the first main cut. Since the sawing time is generally much longer compared to the individual handling times of the robot, the robot can take over other tasks in the meantime, for example storage of residual material or retrieval of raw material.

Once the first main cut has been made on the saw, the robot picks up the residual material from the saw table and deposits it on a material buffer inside the saw cell. It then picks up the semi-finished blank from the saw, moves with it to a deburring/brushing station and deburrs the saw face. The deburred semi-finished blank is returned to the saw table according to the next, second main cut. The saw control again receives all the information required for this. Once the second main cut has been made, the newly created residual material is placed back on the material buffer and the finished blank is placed on a finished parts pallet after deburring/brushing.

 

The stacking of the finished blanks also has a special feature. The stacking positions of the finished blanks are also determined by the palletizing algorithm PALGO mentioned above. Regardless of the blank sizes and their quantities, PALGO takes over the task of placing the finished blanks on a finished parts pallet in a volume- or filling-optimized manner. If not all blanks of an order can be placed on one pallet, a second pallet is automatically used.

Pallets are also provided automatically within the sawing line. For this purpose, there is an empty pallet storage within the sawing line, which consists of up to 15 pallets stacked on top of each other. If a new pallet is required, the robot moves to the pallet storage and determines the exact pose of the top pallet by means of a laser distance sensor integrated in the end-of-arm-tool. The pallet is picked up from the stack and deposited at one of 10 storage locations. The finished pallets are removed from the sawing line by a forklift - one of the few manual operations in the sawing line. Nevertheless, the number of storage locations is large enough for the sawing line to have an autonomy time of several hours up to one shift.

The fully automated sawing line developed and implemented by AROTEC is unique worldwide and is a perfect example in the era of Industry 4.0. The sawing line shows what is technically possible today and what potential can be realized in the field of metal processing, especially in high-wage countries such as Germany.

Copyright 2021 AROTEC Automation und Robotik GmbH