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Tool changers increase reliability in automotive body shops

Tool changers increase reliability in automotive body shops

Automatic tool change systems for robots are booming. This is no surprise, because they contribute to a significant increase in productivity in car manufacturing and in numerous other branches. Due to the complexity of the systems, however, their reliability plays a crucial role in the efficiency of entire production lines. We talk to the experts at Stäubli Connectors Division about how reliability can be improved.

Demands on production lines and robot cells are continuously increasing in the automotive industry, in particular. This involves factors such as quality and flexibility, as well as energy efficiency, sustainability and productivity. Additional 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.

The use of automatic tool changers is an excellent way to achieve these goals. If robots are capable of independently changing grippers and tools, then more complex tasks can be set up. Automatic tool change systems enables robots to perform a wide-ranging tasks, which improves their deployment and, therefore, their efficiency. Additional benefits: With tool changers, the degree of automation and autonomy of robot lines can be significantly increased. Where there is the possibility for additional vehicle variants to be manufactured on the same production line, the inclusion of robot tool changers offers manufacturing flexibility enabling future production lines to produce vehicles in a flexible manner to answer changing customer demands.

Whether in press shop, body-in-white lines or in assembly, the functional reliability of the changers plays an essential role every time. The failure of a tool changer can have fatal consequences, particularly in production lines where hundreds of robots are used. If only one of the systems fails, the entire line stops. 

In the design of its own tool changers, Stäubli has concentrated primarily on the heavy payload area and covers nearly every imaginable application in the load capacity range up to 1,530kg with torsional moments of up to 12,500Nm. The tool changers can be equipped with various modules and components for media, data and electrical energy supply corresponding to the customer-specific application. The innovative products are based on know-how gathered from nearly 60 years of experience in coupling and connection technology. Valuable synergy effects also arise from close collaboration with the in-house brands Stäubli Robotics and Multi-Contact. The result is technologically leading tool change systems with superior performance. 

In the process, the manufacturer defines performance not only by productivity, but also safety. Stäubli offers tool changers in various customer-specific designs. Stäubli pays particular attention to adherence to Safety Category 3, Performance Level d. For this exacting standard, Stäubli has the appropriate certification accompanied by long-term know-how, by means of which the optimal layout of all possible changer variants can be found quickly. In this case the tool changers speak the user’s language. This means the systems are compatible with all common bus systems and can be operated without limitation using the likes of Profinet, Profibus, Devicenet, Interbus and other systems.

The tool changers can be configured to meet a wide variety of customer specifications. The modules can be flexibly positioned around the locking system to fit our customer´s connections. Precision-fitting coupling modules for the widest-ranging media are available for each application. The locking mechanism serves as the basis. It must function quickly, safely and reliably under the dynamic forces which arise during robot movements even in the event of a power failure. The locking unit is an important component in regards to production quality as it ensures repeatability. 

The modular design of tool changers with the widest variety of combination possibilities enables their precise configuration design for the customer-specific task. As a result, systems can be configured quickly and can be easily adapted to changing conditions. A large number of different modules is available and can be exchanged or integrated at a later time.

The modular system is basically comprised of seven different module types: a pneumatic and cooling module, a MultiDNet module for the signal and power supply, a primary circuit plug connector for welding current, a fibre optic cable, a mass flow module, and a high-pressure hydraulic module. The material transfer module enables fastener systems to transfer fasteners such as rivets, screws, studs, etc. through the tool changer to the tool. All modules are available in various versions and sizes, such that the theoretically possible number of different variants lies in the six-digit range. 

Along with the large number of solutions, Stäubli offers docking stations for the tools which are precisely tailored to customer specifications. The layout of the docking station is also based on a modular design from which all customer-specific variants can be derived. Even special requests such as weld gun cooling in docking stations is easy to integrate with the Stäubli Multi-Coupling technology. As part of an intelligent system, the docking stations are equipped with integrated safety systems which prevent accidental unlocking and thereby prevent damage to tools. 

Stäubli tool changers are used worldwide by leading automobile manufacturers. The systems have been proven in round-the-clock multi-shift operation in continuous industrial use for many years. The consistent quality, in-house level of vertical integration and decades of expertise in coupling technology make the Stäubli tool changers reliable automation components which assure the maximum efficiency and cost-effectiveness of every robot using them.

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