The new Robo-Tend system is modular, mobile and makes automation viable for lower volume production, so bringing true robot automation within the reach of traditional subcontract engineering businesses.

Says Nigel Atherton, managing director at XYZ Machine Tools: “The availability of skilled labour is an issue that will not disappear and one way of addressing this for small- to medium-sized businesses is to automate lower skilled jobs, such as machine loading/unloading, freeing up valuable skilled employees to add value further down the line. We have taken our time to research systems that are available and concluded that none met the needs of our customers perfectly. Therefore, we developed this partnership with Adelphi Automation to create Robo-Tend, which we believe will open up automation to a much wider audience at a very competitive price.”

Robo-Tend is a flexible modular system that can be adapted quickly and easily to suit changing working situations, with its standard interchangeable interface making it suitable for a wide range of CNC machines. The system is based around a self-contained KUKA Cybertech KR10 R1420 robot, with a rated total load of 10 kg (larger capacity robots are available). The robot is managed via the KUKA KRC4 compact robot controller, which is integrated within the system’s handle, this handle is used to manoeuvre and reposition the robot in front of the machine. The robots vision system is then used to calibrate it, using the orientation plate fixed to the machine.

With the robot in place, components are presented to it in a secondary storage trolley. Components are held in four drawers that feature dual access, one side where the robot picks from and the other where the drawers can be pre-loaded out of the working area. These drawers are configurable to allow a mix of raw material blanks and finished parts in many configurations, for example 8 by 10 kg billets or 20 by 3 kg billets. Parts up to 120 mm high are accommodated. For bigger jobs, the drawer system can be changed or, a conveyor system fitted. A series of location/orientation pegs within the drawers ensures that parts are loaded correctly. Once in place, the robot locks on to the storage trolley and automatically identifies its contents.

With the robot and storage unit connected, the guards interlock and create a safe working environment for the robot and the operators outside. There is an access door to the front of Robo-Tend that has a ‘request to enter’ button. Upon request, the robot moves to a safe park position and becomes inoperative. The door is opened, allowing the operator to access the front of the machine for tool change over or maintenance purposes. If greater access is required, Robo-Tend can be disconnected and wheeled away, utilising its modular and mobile features.

The versatility of Robo-Tend means that it is equally at home servicing a machining centre as it is a turning centre, features such as component ‘flipping’ for second operation work are also available. With a standard vision system Robo-Tend can identify parts and change grippers, and work on multiple batches of components throughout the day, with productivity and throughput being enhanced by the 320 kg storage capacity for raw materials.

“Robo-Tend provides a versatile, user-friendly, modular approach to companies that need to improve productivity, but are struggling to find the personnel to operate machines. Depending on the component, Robo-Tend can be left unattended for a full shift, or even operate 24/7, with the only manual intervention being to restock the raw material in the part storage system if required,” Atherton concludes.