Unified automation systems, such as those offered by Helios, are integrated at the factory from the machine tool OEM. This offers several advantages for the lifetime of the machine.
“Gear manufacturers continue to upgrade their machine tools to find improved levels of productivity, and frequently, automation is a leading choice for such upgrades,” said Adam Gimpert, president of Helios Gear Products.
Manufacturers will find no shortage of automation options to weigh: robots, cobots, gantry loaders, bowl feeders, rotary conveyors, linear conveyors, ring loaders, pick-and-place systems, and more. Consequently, third-party integrators often deliver automation systems, but gear manufacturers should also evaluate the benefits of a single-source supplier.
Automation systems offer the obvious: labor recovery.
“Compared to manually loading a machine, automation frees the operator to perform other more valuable tasks, and such automation typically makes sense for lot sizes of 50 or more pieces,” said David Harroun, vice-president of Helios. However, consistency offers additional benefits by automating. Once a job is set up, programmed, and dialed in, the gear manufacturer can rely on repeatable performance from that operation. By removing variables associated with manually loading jobs (e.g. bathroom breaks, human distractions, operator errors) quality can remain high and production time can be reliably minimized. More predictable operation time allows the gear manufacturer to more accurately allocate resources and increase overall productivity of workflows. Such benefits can even be found from automating mechanical (not CNC) equipment.
High-volume applications, such as those for automotive customers, can justify unique, customized automation systems. However, for other gear manufacturers with low- to medium-volume jobs, versatility is very important. For example, the automation system should easily adapt to handle most part types that fit on the production equipment. Gear manufacturers must consider all aspects of changing over the automation system such as carriers, magazines, conveyors, distributors, grippers, etc. Are these easily adjustable? Can a changeover be performed in under 30 minutes? Will the automation adapt to the machine’s full range of part sizes? These are only a few questions to ask when choosing an automation system, and if the machine OEM offers a unified solution, this was likely designed to meet such needs. Conversely, a third-party integrator will choose a best-fit solution after-the-fact, which may or may not meet the tests for versatility.
Unified automation systems offer gear manufacturers a single source for service solutions. Because the machine and automation system are built as one from the factory, gear manufacturers benefit from a consolidated resource for preventative maintenance, technical issues, and training.
“Over the life of a machine, this can add up to significant savings in service expenses by consolidating visits, calls, and spent resources,” said Troy Kutz, service manager for Helios. Moreover, technical issues between a machine platform and an automation system can be solved faster and are more likely to avoid integration problems because the two are unified as one.
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