What Can Machine Tending Robots Do?

Machine tending tasks can be repetitive, boring and dangerous work for humans, which makes machine tending a great candidate for automation. But what is a machine tending robot and what can it actually do in an industrial setting? This blog will explain the basics.

What is Robotic Machine Tending?

Machine tending, by definition, is the act of loading raw materials or parts into a machine, unloading the finished product upon completion of the cycle and then restarting the process. For human workers, machine tending jobs tend to be repetitive, which leads to boredom as well as injury from performing bending, lifting and twisting actions. However, it is an ideal application for robots who never grow bored or tired.

As a matter of fact, the speed and accuracy robots bring to the table also allows them to do the job more efficiently without breaks or time off and with fewer mistakes than is possible when the same job is performed by human workers. The ability of automated machine tending solutions to perform efficiently and accurately helps to increase throughput and reduce bottlenecks and the accuracy helps improve quality and consistency of products, while also reducing errors, material waste and re-work. In addition, eliminating on-the-job repetitive motion injuries will also improve the safety record of a facility. All of these factors provide significant financial benefits for those who employ machine tending robots.

But what exactly is robotic machine tending? Robotic machine tending is an advanced form of automation designed to more efficiently load and unload parts and/or perform several functions in a single application. Robotic machine tending is different from robotic material handling applications in that the robotic machine tending system communicates with the process machinery and performs several functions in a single application.

Machine tending robots are able to easily change from one step to the next and offer adaptable programming, superior precision and greater flexibility, which allows machine tending robots to seamlessly handle complex machine tending operations with high levels of efficiency and accuracy.

What Tasks Can Machine Tending Robots Perform?

Today’s machine tending robots utilizing AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robot) technology are able to run a production line with no human supervision and can handle complex manipulation and transportation of materials, allowing them to pick up products from a supply location, take it to the proper machine, place and orient it according to programmed specifications, operate the machine and, finally, remove the finished product, place it on the outfeed and begin the process over and over again until it runs out of materials or is programmed to stop.

The most common applications for machine tending robots are in machine shops where they tend CNC machines, lathes, mills and presses. But recent advances in machine tending automation, are leading to their use in many other applications, including:

  • Grinding
  • Injection or compression molding
  • Welding
  • Etching
  • Raw or scrap material handling
  • Stamping, punching, trimming and forging,
  • Hazardous material or product handling
  • Quality control and inspection
  • Powdered metal tending
  • Furnace tending
  • Upstream and downstream assembly tasks

In these types of applications, machine tending robots have a wide range of capabilities including:

PickingDoor Opening
Raw materials can be selected from a tray, rack or bin.Machine tending robots can open machine doors to place or remove parts or materials.
Placing and Removing ItemsTool Changing
Raw materials can be accurately placed into machines or onto conveyors and then removed at the end of the process.A machine tending robot with the proper end-of-arm tooling and programming can swap out tools in addition to performing its other functions.
CleaningPost-Processing Tasks
After removing a finished product from the line, the robotic machine tender can place it into an automatic cleaner or dryer to remove residues and lubricants from the manufacturing process.Machine tending robots can be programmed to perform tasks such as deburring or polishing finished parts after processing.

In addition, machine tending robots with intelligence, vision systems and flexible programming are even able to perform specific tasks such as recognizing and picking up different types of parts, loading and unloading parts from different machines, basic assembly, connecting and disconnecting hoses, cables and the like, adhesive dispensing, and cleaning and lubricating machines along with their other duties.

Under What Circumstances Does it Make Sense to Use Robotic Machine Tending?

Automated machine tending brings a lot of advantages to the applications discussed above, including efficiency, increased throughput, improved safety, higher quality and reduced waste and rework costs. However, there are certain circumstances that make the installation of a machine tending robot almost a necessity, including labor shortages, the inability to maximize a machine’s output and the desire to run “lights out.”

It’s no secret that the labor market is tighter than ever and finding skilled employees willing to stay in repetitive, boring and potentially dangerous machine tending positions is a real challenge for manufacturers. An automated machine tending solution will eliminate this issue and may, in the long run, be less expensive than paying salaries and benefits.

If you’re having difficulty getting the necessary output from a machine, it may be time to introduce robotic machine tending as the efficiency and speed robots provide will eliminate any human-induced bottlenecks. In addition, robots move at higher speeds than humans and do so without breaks, shift changes or time off the line, making their output much faster.

And finally, as many manufacturers are seeking to run production lines without human supervision during the night or for a set period of time, machine tending robots make this a possibility. As long as the robot has enough material and the application is one that can be run without human interaction, it can be set up to load and unload parts all night long unattended, helping reach the “lights out” goal of many of today’s manufacturing facilities.

For more information on whether an automated machine tending solution is the right choice for your application or situation, please contact JHFOSTER.