Cost-Effective Automation of Tube Bending
There is a general perception that investment in automation is financially viable only for large manufacturing firms due to the high investment in technology, quality control, training etc. However, smaller production units can also benefit by the implementation of partial or full automation which leads to savings of time and money. If, for example, a robot loads and unloads a shop’s CNC bending machines, human specialists can focus on more demanding tasks, such as quality control and machine programming. So, what are the factors and considerations for automation in tube bending operations to be cost-effective? We will explore this topic further in this blog.
Correct Feeder Selection
Various factors play a decisive role in metal bending processes. These must be precisely analyzed and accounted for beforehand. Simple bending geometries can be fed into the process via loading tables, step feeders, or conveyor belts. In this case, the length and tube dimensions determine appropriate choice of feeder. For instance, long tubes with a small diameter are not suitable for a chain feeder because of their unstable nature. Here, a loading table or a step feeder would be better choices. The cycle times in the bending process also must be taken into account. If the bending geometry is complicated or has multiple bends, there is no need for a feeder designed for speed. In this scenario, a system with a large loading volume may be the better choice.
In most cases, the workpieces must be separated before loading. Chain feeders are often the best choice here because tubes being fed into the bending process can be placed in the desired starting position—they do not have to be aligned for the bending process. Also, it is now possible to use sensors in a cost-effective way with simple loading systems. This also applies to scanning applied QR codes to call up bending programs during the production process. This makes it possible to change the bending geometry for tubes of the same diameter during the process. In this way, even small-series or individual pieces can be produced without interruptions.
Leveraging of Robotics
At times, a robot is simply the best choice for improving fabrication efficiency by automation. For instance, when tubes are loaded into a right/left bending machine, they often have to go through further processing stages before or after the actual bending process. CNC right/left bending machines with mandrels can rotate the bending head 180 degrees, thus offering the possibility of depositing bent tubes on a conveyor belt in a controlled manner. There are also options for bending machines that cannot rotate the bending head. Tubes can be discharged after the bending process via simple slides and baffle plates onto conveyor belts or directly into collection containers. In cases like these, in which many complex geometries are being processed, robots handle the jobs with the most ease. If a production cell is not an option, a robot that can perform loading and unloading in addition to the handling is usually the best choice. However, a robot always needs some space to make full use of its benefits. As space restrictions often play a decisive role and short distances achieve better cycle times, shops should consider a compact design to make efficient use of machine paths.
The above analysis provides a clear picture that a small, self-sufficient cell comprising a bending machine with simple overhead handling, in combination with a chain feeder and a conveyor belt for unloading, can be an extremely economical system, even in the smallest of spaces. It should be noted that automation always needs to be tailored to accommodate a steel fabrication shop’s specific environment, needs, and material flow to be truly successfully and efficient. In summary, automation can be a viable choice for every size shop to combat today’s challenges such as labour shortages, quality improvement, and production efficiency.