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Machine Tool Trending Automation

Understanding Which System is Best for Your Application

Machine tool tending automation systems come in many different brands and styles, but there are really only two main categories: workpiece exchange and integrated fixture exchange. Both automation system types come with pros and cons depending on the machining application.            

Workpiece exchange involves the automated exchanging of raw material in and out of an automated clamping medium inside the machine tool, often a pneumatic or hydraulic vise or chuck.

Operators typically set up the raw material outside the machine tool in a grid pattern. The material type, shape, and size determine specific robotic end-effectors and clamping mediums—systems with this setup have an excellent return on investment in high volume – low mix applications.

Every time the grid changes, the robot needs to be re-trained. Also, the end effector and clamping medium need to be modified or exchanged to accommodate changes in the material shape and size. For these reasons, workpiece exchange systems are not ideal for manufacturing facilities with a high mix of parts, small or even medium-sized production run quantities.

Manufacturers with a high mix of parts and/or low to medium-size production run quantities should look at integrated fixture exchange systems for their automation needs.           

The most common type is integrated pallet exchange. These systems feature a static end effector and clamping medium that only exchange a pallet. The tooling mounted on top of the pallet can be configured in many ways (vise, chuck, etc.) as long as it fits within the specified work envelope.

The pallets are often expensive, and the system requires additional top tooling. The price of these components typically delivers a poor return in high volume – low mix applications. This is due to the sheer number of fixtures you would need to achieve “lights out” manufacturing status.

RockLock Pneumatic Zero-Point Base That Interfaces with Clamping Studs

RockLock Pneumatic Zero-Point Base That Interfaces with Clamping Studs

Recent developments in integrated fixture exchange automation utilize zero-point clamping studs to circumvent the need for a pallet. The affordable clamping studs manage the reliability and repeatability of the entire system and process. Operators combine the clamping studs with a pneumatic zero-point base inside the machine tool, such as the new RockLock pneumatic base from 5th Axis. 

Similar to the pallet exchange, the end effector and zero-point clamping base are static components, and the workpiece shape/size has no bearing. For example, the robot doesn’t care what you put in the vise as it is only ever picking up the vise.

The robot does not require much interaction once these systems are installed. These simplified systems are very popular for that reason. Once installed, just about anyone can be trained on the proper use of the system.

Use caution as some systems feature a fixture design that includes the automation gripper/end effector interface. This design will limit you to the clamping range of the specific vise or chuck. If your workpiece size or shape changes, you need to re-invest in new workholding.

5th Axis modular automation components utilize a simple, modular cleat that is separate and external of the workholding. The simple, robust design allows it to be attached to several different fixture styles, shapes, heights, etc. Even existing workholding can easily be made compatible, often eliminating a need to reinvest in a new workholding brand or type.

Understanding what type of machine tool tending automation system best suits your needs will allow you to invest with confidence and ensure you select a system that offers a good return that will meet your current and future manufacturing needs.

Eric Nekich
Sales Manager
5th Axis

For more information on 5th Axis RockLock zero-point bases specifically, please visit RockLock.

For assistance in selecting the correct RockLock base for your machine tool make and model, please visit our 3D Compatibility Tool,See what fits your machine.