“Now, more than ever” seems to be a common phrase in this economic environment, and to manufacturers it can mean so many things. Perhaps now, more than ever, there is an opportunity to look at yourself and audit your company’s manufacturing operations to see exactly where your weaknesses lie. We all have them, yet there is always something holding us back from fixing them. For more-established gear manufacturers, chances are that your weaknesses do not reside in your core manufacturing processes. It is the more overshadowed, no-value added processes like deburring that tend to be the bottlenecks. For years gear deburring has been a thorn in the side of productivity. In the past, companies would buy one of the semiautomatic deburring machines, throw it in a corner of their facility, pile boxes of hobbed gears in front of it, and wonder why their “deburring department” was slowing them down. Today, forward-looking gear manufacturers like The Adams Company seek out a better solution for deburring and beyond.
There are not many secrets in the gear manufacturing industry; no company has a magic hobbing machine that drastically out-produces the field. Therefore, to be successful your entire manufacturing process needs to be executed as efficiently as possible. The winners are going to be the companies that are the best at turning that purchase order from their salesman’s desk into a box of parts on a shipping truck headed to the customer. Every second you have a gear waiting in between processes, sitting on your floor idle, is costing you money. And if a no-value added process like deburring is your bottleneck, it hurts twice as bad.
At the 2009 Robots and Vision Show, Compass Automation set up a booth to display their capabilities with industrial robotics. We visited with many different companies about ways Compass could help automate their manufacturing processes. Among those companies were several gear manufacturers looking for a more-efficient way to deburr their gears. Compass researched the opportunity and worked closely with a prominent gear manufacturer for many months to develop the first edition of the Geartek Deburring System, the GTS 350M. The GTS 350M, along with its automated version the GTS 500AL, make up Compass Automation’s new line of robotic gear deburring machines named the Geartek Systems (GTS). Figure 1
Since we claim that our Geartek Deburring Systems are the most technologically advanced deburring machines on the market, what exactly is the technology that sets them apart? Start with the system’s main component, the industrial robot. The six axes of the robot provide unparalleled flexibility for the operator to place the burr tool, disc, or brush into a desired deburring position for an optimal surface finish. The articulated arm of the robot is ideal for most spur, helical, bevel, and spiral bevel gears, as well as pinions and a variety of other parts. Another advantage of the robot is the ability to automatically change tools. Parts that require multiple operations with different tools are no longer a problem. The system stores the part recipe to a database found on the main menu for instant recall.
Other robotic deburring systems on the market are too complicated for your average plant operator and require an engineer to run the system—not so for the Geartek Deburring System.
The differentiating factor of the Geartek System is the user-friendly touch screen interface. Designed and developed by the Compass engineering team, this advanced interface allows the operator to move all of the robot’s six axes with the simple push of a button. When the operator feels the robot is in the ideal deburring position, he has the ability to start the cycle and save that position for all future production runs of that part. The setup screen provides the operator with a number of different options including spindle rotation, table rotation direction, table speed, and more, all to ensure that the operator gets the desired surface finish. The run screen provides real-time feedback of current status, projected cycle times, and the number of operations remaining. All together, Compass’s advanced interface makes it possible for anyone to benefit from the technological advantages of industrial robotics.
Return on Investment
For manufacturers, the competitive landscape—both domestic and global—has never been tougher. Naturally, execution has never been more critical. It appears that the days of mass producing gears are numbered. This means that manufacturers must have the ability to execute shorter runs without succumbing to an exorbitant amount of downtime. That downtime or setup time in between runs is what Compass Automation believes we can eliminate with our new Geartek Deburring Systems. It was the primary reason that a prominent gear manufacturing company located in the Midwest chose to purchase Compass’s GTS 350M.
“The reason we chose Compass was we wanted an easy way to go from one gear to the next,” according to the client, who asks that his company remain unnamed. “We needed the ability to run one piece of part ‘A’ then run one piece of part ‘B,’ etc. We felt a robot would be necessary to accomplish this. Compass has the knowledge and expertise to do this. We also liked the fact that Compass had a close relationship with the robotic OEM that would have the technical support and replacement parts available without delay. Compass seemed to be ahead of the competition when applying this technology to deburring.”
Now, more than ever, return on investment is critical to any capital expenditure decision. As an automation integrator, Compass must constantly demonstrate to customers how they will get a return on their money by investing in our automated systems. Yet, because most of the current deburring machines on the market have long setup times and require an operator to run, ROI is not easily calculated. This is not the case with Geartek Systems. The GTS 350M eliminates the setup downtime in between deburring cycles even when changing over to a different part. Simply load the new part and select the appropriate part number from the main screen and the deburring begins. The time saved with the GTS 350M can be easily quantified into a dollar amount of money saved, but what if it was possible to remove the operator altogether? The ROI would be even greater. That was the mindset behind Compass Automation’s GTS 500AL. Figure 2
Established in 1883, The Adams Company in Dubuque, Iowa, is one of the oldest companies in the Midwest. To be in business that long is a true accomplishment, and management needs to have the foresight and flexibility to shift their business model in an ever-changing competitive environment. In the heart of the recession, CEO Steve Arthur and Head Engineer Fred Rheault saw an opportunity for the company to strengthen their manufacturing processes. They decided that the deburring stage was a good place to start. The management entrusted Compass to design a more-automated approach to gear deburring.
“We contacted a number of companies when we decided that we wanted to develop a gear deburring cell,” according to Rheault. “We went with Compass Automation because they were the only company that could understand what we were trying to do and automate it effectively. They also have created software to make this system very easy to program on the floor. We are a job shop, so our business is always changing, and I feel confident that their company will be there to help us with whatever challenges should arise.”
Compass found a way to integrate the touch screen interface technology used in the original Geartek System, the GTS 350M, with a dual conveyor belt system that automatically feeds parts to the deburring robot. “Machine vision technology” is used to automatically detect incoming parts. When a part is detected, the robot will pick it up off of the conveyor and load it into the workholding, then change tools to start the deburring cycle. After the cycle is complete, the robot will grab the finished part and place it onto the outgoing conveyor. Figure 3
The GTS 500AL was designed with a bigger picture in mind. More handling and time on the floor means less money for marketing, R&D, and salaries, so why not add additional automation to your deburring solution? Compass can load and unload your hobbing machine, convey your gears, wash and rust inhibit, inspect and mark your parts, collect and manage operational data, package, and palletize. High volume, low variety manufacturers aren’t the only ones that can use automation. The technology advances in automation now allow for streamlined processes in the most custom shops.
Compass understands that some manufacturers, especially those working with aerospace, require a more-defined and precise chamfer. In aiming to be a one-stop shop for any company’s deburring needs, Compass has developed a separate robotic deburring system that creates a tool path using CAM software to apply a precise finish to any complex surface.
Compass also understands that not every company has CAD models. Compass has the ability to model your gears, create programs for your parts, or conduct full classroom training for the software. This deburring system can have all the flexibility of the Geartek compliant deburring system, with the precision and consistency to accommodate the highest tolerances.
Every president of a gear-manufacturing company envisions a clean, streamlined operation that is lean and runs efficiently, free of all bottlenecks. Unfortunately, for most manufacturers this vision will never be met, due in part to inefficiencies in the production process. Automated gear deburring and other robotic industrial processes are one way to help create a production line that runs smoothly, efficiently, and constantly—like a well-oiled machine.