How to Double Your CNC Production With A Robotic Arm?


Posted on March. 7th, 2019 | By WayKen Rapid Manufacturing, WayKen Project Manager

Automated production has been a fantasy less than 50 years ago. Today, it is as common as a vending machine installed in an airport corridor due to the appearance of the CNC prototyping service industry. If only a few years ago, you had to hire a highly qualified specialist to install a robotic arm loader for you, now a lot of the CNC manufacturing equipment has preset options that allow you to connect the arm yourself. However, the need for automation of any CNC production must be reviewed scrupulously because robots are essentially very expensive.

When A Robot Is Necessary?

It has been originally considered that CNC automation should be used for monotone work, for extremely precise operations that humans can’t do and for hazardous production supply chains. Today, robots have become cheaper and I’d say that the most important reason to choose using robots is this: considering the cost of the robot itself, it will bring you more profit in the next five years than you will get if you didn’t purchase it. Basically, count your costs and profits. Split the price of the robot by five and look at your production plans. If manufacturing automation will boost your CNC production so that you can take up enough new jobs to overcome 5th of the price of the robot this year, definitely get it.

CNC production-02

Choosing the Arm

There are a lot of robotic arms for different automated production purposes. Some of them load or unload the parts into and out of the machine tool thus speeding up the cnc process, others can perform welding operations, assemble some elements into a machine etc. The simplest and most efficient robot for CNC companies (low-batch CNC production companies) and prototype manufacturers are robotic arms that load and unload parts.

CNC production-6

Now, the arms differ by the way you program them. Previously, it was a very complex and time-consuming process so it was only viable if you had hundreds of thousands of parts or if you required the ultimate positioning precision. Nowadays, there are arms that can learn cycle. How? Well, you basically set it in the learning mode and move it manually from the first action and up to the last. The arm remembers what you did with it and will mimic your actions. The positioning precision is not as precise but it takes considerably less time to program such an arm.

The Main Advantage Of A Loading Robotic Arm

CNC production-03

Their main advantage is that if you have a batch identical of parts to manufacture on a machine tool, you can CNC automate the process completely up to a point where you bring a box of the blanks and go home, return tomorrow and you have the whole batch done. The arm will work a second and a third shift for you.

What You Need To Install And Setup The Arm

CNC production-04

So, you have considered everything and decided that creating a smart factory will benefit your business. Maybe, you’ve even purchased the arm. What now? Well, the two devices need to work in unison . The main important factor here is that they can send information to each other and receive it. Since the arm works when the machine tool is paused and vice versa, they don’t need to understand much about the operations of each other. You’ll mostly need them to receive a signal to start and to send a signal when their part of the cycle is complete.

The arm to the machine tool

The arm needs to start working once the machine tool has finished processing the part and has opened the door. It must receive that signal , pick up a blank, move it to the machine tool fixture , let it go, and take its standby position. There are some nuances at the letting go stage though. For some processes, like turning, the part needs to be fixed in place (or held) while the clamping is done. So, the program will be slightly more complex as the arm will need to send the signal to the lathe that it’s time to clamp and the lathe will need to send the signal to the arm that it’s finished clamping.

The machine tool to the arm

CNC production-05

How do you connect the arm to the machine tool and make them understand each other. Well, if you know mechatronics, you can connect any arm and any kind of CNC machine tool to each other. There are different ways, like setting it up through a USB port or connecting it straight through one of its equipment relays. Then, you can write a small conversion program to make the output signal of the arm be understood by the programming language of the machine tool. For example, that the arm will send the signal of an M program to close the door instead of just an unknown output.

However, if you are not a mechatronics engineer, I suggest, you look at what kind of equipment or control panels the arm you want to buy is compatible with. If your machine tool isn’t included in the list, I’d suggest consulting the manufacturer. They will surely know and will be able to assist you with the setup. They may even have some manuals that will help your CNC company save some money on technicians.

The programming Of the CNC machine tool door

An important feature when setting up the automated production for CNC precision machining is the door of the machine tool. It must open or close automatically. If you don’t have this option on your machine tool, I suggest you start by purchasing it. And even having purchased a brand new automatic door, there may be some issues. The main one is that the door requires some time to open. So you’ll need to setup a delay for the arm to wait or it will collide with the opening door.

Another serious problem is that when you enter the “open door” function into the program and something afterwards, the control panel may think that the door is jammed because it doesn’t open immediately. If you have such a problem on your machine tool, the simplest course of action would be to program your arm to push the “open/close door” in the control panel itself ( like a human machinist). It is not hard to do and will save you a lot of time and effort at tinkering with the control panel and the door.

How WayKen Can Serve You

We is an expert in making rapid prototyping services and  low volume production to support the development of new automated CNC product solutions. We  own strong production capacity and  excellent supply chains to provide custom  CNC machining and rapid injection molds within the shortest possible lead times. If you are interested in how we can be your strategic partner, please feel free to contact us.

Hi,click here to send us a message.