If you run a fabricating firm, maybe even a large fabricating firm, you will see your business transformed in the next five years. Yes, it seems like we are always trying to keep up with changes and now here comes more transformation.
If we look at your business in a “truck-to-truck” manner (truck brings in materials, another truck brings out parts or products), then you will see that automation touches every step. On the inbound side, your materials come in, you scan them, your inventory is updated, and the autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) bring the materials to their correct places.
Once there, the materials are scanned for an upcoming job. Blanks are cut, marked with a QR code, then sorted automatically, and a robot piles them into the correct areas for further processing. These blanks will end up as hand-held parts, and so they are sent to an edge rounding operation, where they are loaded and offloaded by cobots. After edge rounding, an AMR picks them up and takes them to the bending department.
The press brake is being served by a machine-tending robot. It grabs the treated blank and holds it in the positions prescribed in the program. The setups on the press brake already done set in multiple stations, and they got there in a matter of a couple of minutes, thanks to the press brake’s automatic tooling function. After bending, the parts are taken to the welding department.
In welding, the parts are joined at a cobot welder. This is one of several at the company, run by one welder whose long and varied experience comes in handy, and who finds managing several cobot welders an agreeable task. Thus far, the department has no need to grind because of the location of the welds and their efficient accuracy.
If the shop has a paint or powder coating function, it is very easy for a robot or cobot to hang parts for either purpose, then take them down while they’re in motion. Most lines of cobots can handle 20 kg, but some can handle up to 50 kg.
Robots and cobots can help you put parts into boxes or place large parts on a pallet. If you send your parts in boxes, there are many good palletizing applications out there that put the boxes on in the most efficient way possible and make a pallet of materials.
After that, we are back to where we started and the AMR can move the pallet to a holding area or stage it right at the loading dock.
There is plenty more we did not talk about, namely the automation features that are built into today’s machine tools. Such tools include cameras for alignment (or other cameras that track production or look at a lens or cover on a laser head). Machine vision software and certain AI capabilities keep machines moving—or stop them to avoid a catastrophic occurrence.
We have not mentioned software yet. We will, in upcoming articles.
That is a little taste of what to expect in 2028…and perhaps a lot more.