The benefits of automated machine tending

The sheer impressiveness of an automated factory floor lies in the speed and accuracy that a robotic workforce achieves for a variety of different manufacturing processes. In production facilities around the world, production lines are achieving new levels of efficiency in jobs that have traditionally been difficult to optimise due to their strenuous or even dangerous nature.

Machine tending, however, is often a sticking point and a bottleneck in the automated process, slowing down cycle times to the scale of human handling rather than the speeds at which robotic machines are capable of working. But with the addition of an automated machine tending robot to act in unison with its manufacturing counterpart, a host of further advantages can be unlocked on the factory floor – and these advantages can make all the difference.

What is Automated Machine Tending?

At its core, machine tending refers to the automated feeding and removal of materials from other machinery on the production line. Robotic machine tending systems are often used for the loading and unloading of parts for CNC applications, as well as welding, injection moulding, milling, and grinding. The specific processes required of a machine tending robot will vary with the needs of every product and each individual producer, but all stand to benefit from the additional speed and efficiency they can deliver.

Here are just a few of the many benefits of automating the loading and unloading process.

Greater Speed

Automation of the tending process significantly reduces loading and unloading time, allowing an automated production line to produce more parts than human operators could manage. Without human intervention needed for the feeding and removal of raw materials, these robotic teams are able to work collaboratively 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without taking a break. Saving even a few seconds on each manufacturing cycle can add up to an amazing increase in productivity over time.

Higher Accuracy, Better Quality

In all robotic manufacturing applications from welding to CNC machines, accuracy is essential not only in the work of the robot, but in the positioning of the part itself. The loading and unloading process is therefore just as essential to ultimate quality as the welding or cutting work itself. Compared to manual loading, machine tending robots are able to outstrip human workers in not only speed, but accuracy as well; translating into fewer rejected parts and higher overall quality.

Improved Safety

Depending on the work being done, human workers can be exposed to harmful fumes, dust, debris, or burn hazards (in painting or welding, for example). In addition, the highly repetitive and often strenuous work of moving raw materials for extended periods can lead to strain injuries over time. Automating the machine tending process enhances safety and allows these workers to focus on other tasks while staying out of harm’s way.

Surprising Affordability

While manufacturing robots represent a significant capital investment to those companies that decide to take advantage of them, they are able to provide significant returns rapidly in ways that not only cover the cost of the robots themselves, but allow lower operating costs far into the future.

Small Footprint

Those concerned about how much extra floor space might be required will also be pleasantly surprised. There is no need to have an individual machine tending robot in front of each machine, as many would assume. Machine tending models are usually highly compact and flexible, and can often be installed overhead (servicing more than one machine at a time), or even inside the machine itself (in the case of very large CNC machines, for example). The most common configurations will have the machines laid out in such a way that a single robot can tend to various machines from a fixed location. This saves space and improves productivity on the factory floor simultaneously.

The Bottom Line

In our increasingly globalised markets, competition in the manufacturing sector has never been more fierce, and achieving higher throughput and better quality on a long-term basis can mean the difference between success and failure. Machine tending by human workers has for years been a happy compromise in the world of automation, but more and more businesses are choosing to make the added investment of robotic machine tending to streamline production even further.