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Increase production flexibility with a robot arm tool changer

Increase production flexibility with a robot arm tool changer Across manufacturing there is increasing demand for more versatile production lines, responding rapidly to market needs, producing smaller quantities of a range of products, profitably. The ability to quickly, safely and automatically change tools on a robot arm becomes essential, particularly in hazardous areas where human intervention needs to be avoided.

Continual design modifications and product improvements require automated production lines to become more and more adaptable. Process utilisation needs to be maintained while different model variants, calling for different tooling, are run though the same production line. Typically in the automotive sector the same line will produce a number of model variants e.g. saloons, hatchbacks, coupés and estates. Automated tool changers are a key element in increasing production flexibility across a wide range of industries and processes where robots are called on to perform multiple tasks.

Additional manufacturing cell operations usually require additional robots; but with the facility to quickly and automatically change the tools on a robot arm, the need for a second or even third robot is eliminated, significantly reducing the capital investment required, improving payback and often reducing the overall cell footprint.

Stäubli's MPS range of automatic tool changers can handle payloads up to 630kgs and withstand the high bending and torsional moments created by fast moving robots. All the services required by the tool are simultaneously connected and electric or pneumatically activated locking mechanisms ensure fail safe security. They are designed to operate for a minimum of 1 million connection cycles and in many applications the tool changers have significantly exceeded this level.

The locking system is crucial to any tool changer; it must be robust, fast and secure and safely handle all the dynamic forces resulting from the movement of the robot as well as the geometry of the tools. Stäubli's MPS 630 is designed to handle tools weighing up to 630kgs and the locking mechanism can accommodate the high moments (up to 5000Nm) that the latest, fast moving, high payload robots can place on the tool holding equipment. The system will even withstand the forces created by the pulsating pressures required by self piercing guns and metal clinching tools.

Tool changers are directly mountable onto the robot flange and require little mounting space. Retention of the tool on the robot arm is ensured by an innovative design of locking mechanism which can be either pneumatically or electrically actuated. Both systems provide high security; fail safe locking; the design using a series of locking balls to connect across a large diameter. The electric version is specifically designed for applications where the services installed in a robot cell need to be minimised, such as in the nuclear industry.

All the systems required by the tools are connected automatically, employing the latest connection technology and guiding mechanisms used in Stäubli multi-coupling plates, ensuring no loss of fluid or ingress of air into the circuits. Typically, connections are for fluid lines (e.g. compressed air, gases and liquids); signal and data transfer through sensors, bus systems, Ethernet or fibre optics as well as energy connections (e.g. electricity and hydraulics). Consumables such as bolts or rivets can, where appropriate, also be automatically connected and fed through to the tool. The modular design means that the tool changer can be configured with precisely the type connectors required for each specific application.

Stäubli have the benefit of over 50 years of connector expertise, they take a broad approach to market requirements by designing tool changers that are suited to all robot makes and types. Retrofitting to an existing production line is also a realistic option and the modular design, developed by Stäubli, ensures the system can be adapted to include new technology or modified to perform different tasks at any time. Tool changers and docking stations can be supplied separately or as part of a complete system including cooling circuits, power connections and additional stands.

Dramatic advancements in productivity and operational flexibility can be achieved using automated tool changers by minimising robot down time and ensuring correct connection of all services, each and every time. The level of capital investment required for additional robots is reduced too, by fully utilising all of the capabilities of the installed equipment. Coupled with the improvement in operator safety by eliminating any need to enter the cell to change tools, Stäubli tool changing mechanisms bring major financial and production benefits to an increasingly competitive manufacturing sector.

Typical applications in the automotive sector are self-piercing riveting, resistance spot welding, stud welding and metal clinching joining techniques; as well as material handling, gluing, gripping, transfer mechanisms and numerous second operation tasks across all industries. Stäubli engineers, well experienced in connection and tool holding technology, are available to advise on the most appropriate solution for any application.

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