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Flexible cable carriers for reliable robotic automation

Flexible cable carriers for reliable robotic automation

A precondition for successful use of robotics within automation systems is ease of integration into existing production lines. And here, flexible cable carriers have an important role to play.

Industrial robots are on the advance worldwide, and for a good reason: they are very versatile and enable short cycle times in production. But those benefits count for little if they cannot be easily, efficiently and effectively integrated into production lines.

German integrator KUK-Automation has been providing robot integration services to customers for many years. "KUK supports users across all industries with the commissioning and setup of robot systems," André Röttger, managing director of KUK-Automation. The company offers the entire range of services from one single source to provide best possible customised automation technology - from planning and implementation to customer service.

In the field of robotics, KUK takes on the planning, design and manufacturing of robot cells for handling, separation and assembly tasks. Robots from ABB, Kuka, Mitsubishi and Fanuc are used. Services include project engineering, switchgear manufacturing, system installation and software creation. "We design manual workstations or robot gripper systems, for example," explains Röttger. "Whether small or large robots, they are always integrated perfectly into the existing production plants." This is ensured by virtual real time simulations and by test installations at the KUK workshops. The KUK engineers also optimise the setup and the motion programs of the robots and configure the control systems.

To minimise downtime, KUK uses ROBOTRAX cable carriers from Tsubaki Kabelschlepp, which are designed to ensure maximum freedom of movement for the robots. "Undamaged cables are a prerequisite for uninterrupted operation of the robots," says Röttger. "This area of application also entails special requirements which ROBOTRAX can fully meet."

Werner Eul, product manager for cable carrier systems at Tsubaki Kabelschlepp, explains: "The ROBOTRAX system consists of the cable carrier and special accessories. This allows us to really meet all the challenges which arise in this special area of application with 3D movements."

The ROBOTRAX cable carrier itself is designed especially for use in industrial robots. It consists of individual plastic links with spherical clip connections on both sides which support the three-dimensional swivel and circular movements of the machines. The forces are not only transmitted through the ball joints, but also through a steel cable at the centre of the cable carrier, making it suitable for extremely high towing forces and accelerations.

Röttger explains the benefits: "The steel cable design creates very high strength in the cable carrier. Additionally, the manoeuvrability of the ROBOTRAX can be adjusted individually. The robust cable carrier supports the robot movements in the best possible way and features a very long service life in continuous operation."

The cable carrier is easily fixed to the robot with quick release brackets. They can be attached to any chain link and can be individually adapted to the movement of the machine. KUK also uses the 'Pull-Back Unit'. This is an active pull-back mechanism which additionally extends service life and decreases downtime. The device keeps the cable carrier under tension, preventing unwanted contact between the cable carrier and the robot to protect the cables inside. "In measuring robotics in particular, it is very important that the cable carrier is not in the way and is always kept taut," Röttger explains. "This also protects the very expensive 3D sensor in the long term."

Another component of the ROBOTRAX system is the Protector stroke system which is available for all sizes. During fast movements and in large work envelopes it protects against hard impact, excessive abrasion and premature wear. It also limits the smallest bending radius. Downtime is minimised as only the Protector rather than the entire cable carrier has to be replaced in case of damage.

The collaboration between KUK-Automation and Tsubaki Kabelschlepp has now developed further, with KUK providing detailed feedback and making suggestions for improvement which are then used in the further development of the cable carriers.

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