Increasingly shorter product life cycles, smaller batch sizes, many variants: there is no question that assembly automation is undergoing a change. The suppliers of systems and components are having to react to these changes, as AUTOMATICA will show from June 3rd to 6th.
Indeed, producers are facing a number of decisive questions at the start of production planning today. A primary issue to clarify is how much automation should there be? In this context, the analysis of the product range to be manufactured and the required flexibility of the assembly solution are the decisive factors concerning the degree of automation. Difficult-to-foresee product life cycles connected with small numbers of pieces speak more in favor of manual or hybrid assembly systems. On the other hand, highly automated system solutions are always the first choice if a high number of product pieces is to be produced over a long life cycle.
Luckily for the manufacturers, if there is uncertainty in advance concerning these decision criteria as well as the success of a product, economic assembly systems can also be found today for requirements-oriented production. Leading manufacturers are exhibiting highly flexible, modular solutions at AUTOMATICA. These can be adapted flexibly to production needs, for example, in that linear transfer systems can be expanded to almost any extent, manual workstations replaced by automated ones, or upstream or downstream process steps automated.
“The creativity that manufacturers are putting into their assembly systems is impressive. As a result, users can start with low-cost automation solutions and adapt them step-by-step to increasing output rates if required. These “co-growing” assembly solutions are often the deciding factor for realizing especially innovative products, because they make production possible in the first place thanks to manageable investments,” said to Patrick Schwarzkopf, managing director of VDMA Robotik + Automation.
Although traditional linear transfer systems are still the first choice when it is a question of optimum flexibility, completely automatic rotary transfers systems are the benchmark in matters of output. At AUTOMATICA, the latest systems of leading companies will be demonstrated to trade visitors, with capacities of 150 cycles per minute and more. Another novelty. Thanks to intelligent design, rotary transfer systems of the newest generation are considerably superior to their predecessor models not only in performance, but also with respect to flexibility.
Progress for all industrial sectors
Users from all industrial sectors can profit from the high performance level in assembly and handling technology. The companies are offering systems and components for all possible production environments from “rustic to clean room”. There are not any restrictions for workpiece weights today either. The range shown at AUTOMATICA extends from micro-assembly to part weights of a ton. The trend to module formation is increasing weights by leaps and bounds, especially in the automobile industry. Of course, front-end modules, in which radiators and headlights are already integrated, are substantially heavier than bumpers of former times. The same applies to doors and cockpit modules, vehicle seats and lots more.
However, not only manufacturers are betting on module formation; manufacturers of assembly components are also employing this strategy on the other side. While selecting parts was a time-consuming matter in the past, in which up to 10 different parts had to be selected from different manufacturers with a lot of effort, this is much more user-friendly today. Today, the design engineer simply selects a complete functional module including pneumatic cylinder and valve, proximity switch, position sensing, bus interface and external sensor connection – finished. The trend to increased functionality in a product is of course not only limited to the example of those selecting parts, but is also continued in all areas of automation. The winners are the users who save time and money.
Focus on sustainability and energy efficiency
There is a great variety of possibilities to optimise energy consumption in assembly and handling automation. This starts with handling modules, continues via drive engineering of the systems and ends with quality assurance.
Of course, pneumatic handling modules are fast and inexpensive and consequently widespread. However, the use of electric modules is increasing in popularity. Harald Mikeska, VMT machine vision specialist from its beginnings, would like to remind all that quality assurance can also influence sustainability in production: “We can provide inline inspection procedures for many applications today, which immediately exclude expensive reworking or defect products without causing further production work. As a result, machine vision contributes decisively to efficiency and sustainability in addition to its primary goal of zero-fault production.”