Here we will look at an application where fabricated sinks, counters and other trim parts were finished with a robotic cell. The parts were long term items the company produces where a reduction in labor and an increase in volume were needed. Both were had with a single robot with a tool changer. The ability to grind the weld then shift to blending the finish are one of the reasons robots work so well. It is not a matter of one aspect getting addressed but rather the entire process.
When you start to look into automation be it a finishing application, welding or any number of other processes labor tends to be at the top of the list. There are some things you should keep in mind as you go through the process.
I get a constant flow of questions and in an effort to spread the info to those who may be curious about the same I am going to share a few more here.
In some cases it comes down to "I don't know where to start" and that is what I want to touch on just a bit. Every case will have its own unique aspects but in a general sense the steps are much the same.
Working with an extrusion is one of the things that seems easy but the devil is in the details. Its a product where the final finish can make or break its acceptance. In some cases it can be as difficult or more than mirror polishing. As you tend to see the grain finish through the top coating on an extrusion the margin for error is much smaller. If the finish is not even or straight it will at minimum mean rework or possibly rejection. When you apply the grain you have to be careful not to over round any profile and go just the right depth with the grain. Too shallow and the top coat fills it in and it vanishes, but too deep and coating ends up thin in places and the grain is too pronounced. With the cost and headaches involved with top coating extrusions rework and rejection need to be avoided.
A question I get often is robot vs CNC for finishing work. While there is not a clear yes or no type answer there are a few points that can help to guide the person faced with the question.
Small parts are one of the challenges most shops face at some point or every day in some cases. They can be tough to manage and tend eat up a lot of time while in some cases being dangerous.
I thought I would share some of the most common questions I get and the related answers. This will not be a deep dive by any means but rather a few of the most common.
Automating a finishing process is one of the more complicated things you can take on. When it comes to finishing the definitions tend to be more in the eye of the beholder. There is not one clear standard for finishes and in some cases the end user will confuse all manner of words. It is not uncommon for companies to say they need to polish something and when you dig a bit deeper you find they need a standard #4 type grain. To them that is polishing but to someone else it would not be. This is what complicates finishing processes the most. With bending or cutting the specs and tolerances are more clearly defined for example. The labor consumed by finishing makes it a prime candidate for automation. Being able to free up 3 to 5 people by automating finishing is common and it allows the labor to be moved to other areas of need. It is also an area that tends to have poor retention as it can be some of the dirtiest work in the facility. You can gain repeatability and more consistency as well as speed while reducing labor needed and improving retention.
Dealing with tasks that require a lot of labor or hand work is a way to improve processes and trim costs. This is not to say eliminate jobs but rather put the staff to tasks that better use their skill. Helping to make the people more efficient by providing better tools is a way to do this. From finishing enclosures to mirror polishing the finishing tasks tend to be the most manual.
Rather than have four people doing bur removal by hand a through feed machine can speed this way up and provide more consistent parts. Don't size the machine based on you starting material size but rather the part size you cut from that material. Getting a machine sized to your starting material tends to be a good way to spend more than you need to. Machines like the Loewer also let you do the small parts that tend to be done by hand safely.
In a situation where there is a small army hand finishing enclosures bring a stroke sander online. With a good twin belt unit you can cut handling and greatly increase speed. If you opt for one that has a 3D part mount it increases the speed and ease of use further. One belt will cut the welds and the other blends the finish all with out a belt change or moving the part. Quality and speed are both increased while maximizing labor. KBM machines come setup to fill this task by default.
Polishing tends to be a massive labor sponge. Real polishing where you are going for a #8 mirror takes several steps with several abrasives. It is also dirty and physically draining. The best polisher cant keep the same quality level all day as they get tired. That causes a variation in finish just across their parts each day. Now compound that by 6 or more people polishing and consistency becomes a pipe dream. Custom polishing systems tend to have a high buy in but make massive improvements once running. From worker safety and morale to part consistency every aspect tends to see sizable improvements. Getting a higher volume of parts with a much more consistent finish is just the start. Anything from high volume CNC to fine detail robotics are possible with Autopulit and they are built around your needs and not a one size fits all.
Tube finishing is another area many struggle with. As with other material the same issue exist here. Your standard chuck it in a lathe is just so slow and ties up an other wise useful machine with a task it was not designed to do. There are small machines that can put any finish you need on tube and safely. Machines that spin the tube should be avoided if possible due to safety issues. As even a slight bend can cause things to go from zero to crazy in a blink and no one wants to see someone injured. A small simple planetary style tube sander can process 3 feet or more per min and automatically feed the material through the machine. Its a simple yet genius machine that can drastically speed up the process with fewer people all while being safer. Here is where the ML machines from NS can resolve the tube sanding issues quickly and safely.
Looking at the finishing side is an easy way to trim production costs while using fewer people and getting better parts overall. With the reduced quality of raw material most are having to use this becomes more of a key point. What was labor intensive with good materials has now gotten much worse. We can help with these issues and more and advice is always free. If you have a specific issue talk with us and take advantage of the years of experience we have is improving finishing processes.