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Need to Know: Robotic Cells Promise Higher Efficiency

July 29, 2006
for Machining Permanent Molds

Anderson Global CEO John McIntrye has set several goals for his Muskegon, MI, company, formerly known as Anderson Pattern Co. One of these is to provide permanent-mold tooling for metalcasters on a global basis using robotic cells that operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The way McIntyre sees it, fully automated robotic manufacturing of complex foundry tooling will be required to meet the demands of this industrial sector as it progresses globally, commercialy, and technologically.

McIntyre identifies three justifications for a robotic cell to produce foundry tooling: higher utilization of expensive machines dedicated to the cell; automation of non-value-added steps previously done by direct labor; and reduced lead times.

To achieve higher equipment utilization, McIntyre projects that a robotic cell may operate with a spindle up-time of 87% for a CNC machine, versus 40% in a conventional tooling manufacturing plant.

Anderson’s first step in this direction is using an automated cell to machine contours. The contour machining cell will employ 10 high-speed machining centers, one electrical discharge machine (EDM), and one coordinate measuring machine (CMM).

The CNC, CMM, and EDM machines will be controlled by automation software. All controls, machines, robots, and software must be capable of “talking” to each other without translation problems. Also, the cell’s automation system needs to be flexible. The tooling produced may change from job to job, during operation, and some workpieces may be put on hold while other, higher priority jobs are run through the cell.

To accommodate this additional machinery, Anderson Global has purchased a building adjacent to its plant to house its engineering department and the automated machining center. A connector between the buildings will make it possible to move products between the sites. The new installation will be capable of running unmanned, around the clock, tended by a rail-based system of industrial robots.

“A robot will take a workpiece from a storage area and move it to the machine that is calling for it,” says McIntyre. “When the workpiece is done being machined, the robot will return it to the finished-piece section of the storage area.”

Tool changes also will be handled automatically. According to McIntyre the concept follows one implemented by a Canadian manufacturer of plastics injection molds.

McIntyre calls the contour machining cell “the heart of the business, because it creates the shape we sell.” He predicts that quicker throughputs derived from the robotic cell will help Anderson Global to increase sales 75-85%.

Steps two and three in the evolution will be developing a cell that focuses on the machining of pockets, plates, frames, and rigging for the tooling, and another cell that assembles the many parts involved in the final tooling configuration.