ABB Launches New Machine Tending Cells for Metals Industry

ABB FlexLoaderM 400x275

October 27, 2021

ABB has announced a new family of modular machine tending applications cells for the metals industry, aimed at maximizing flexibility and machine utilization while minimizing lost productivity caused by unforeseen production stoppages. With six different versions, the ABB FlexLoader M family offers several ways to load and unload machines based on the size, shape and amount of workpieces being handled. ABB said the FlexLoader M series would be ideal for applications such as foundries and die casting operations that produce multiple types of products in varying quantities.

The series launch begins with the FlexLoader M Tray and FlexLoader M Conveyor variants, with further variants (called Random Feed, Bin, AGV and Zero Point) due for release over the coming months. The FlexLoader M Conveyor uses a powerful vision system to enable easy loading of workpieces with complex shapes, providing the flexibility to handle a variety of workpieces with a single cell. The FlexLoader M Tray is a drawer solution that offers easier machine tending. With a minimal footprint that allows it to be located almost anywhere, it is ideal for handling a variety of workpieces with variable shapes such as cubes, cylinders, plates and pipes. ABB said the FlexLoader M series will replace its current family of FlexLoader cells.

“As customers demand greater variety and shorter delivery times, metals producers need to have a manufacturing process that can respond quickly and offer the flexibility to achieve high mix, low volume and Batch Size One production,” said Andrea Cassoni, managing director for the general industry business line at ABB Robotics. “FlexLoader M is accelerating this move by providing a single unified machine tool tending platform offering the flexibility needed for handling a wide variety of production demands, while also improving productivity by eliminating the time, cost and disruption traditionally associated with production changes.”

ABB FlexLoaderM Conveyor800px

The FlexLoader M Conveyor enables easy loading of workpieces with complex shapes.

With standardized interchangeable modules, the FlexLoader M offers solutions for several machine tending applications, including lathes, mills, CNC and machining centers. ABB said customers can use the same base machine, exchanging in and out feed modules as requirements change. The FlexLoader M’s modular approach makes for an easier upgrading and scaling process, with just one to two days needed on average for installation and commissioning, ABB said.

In addition, the FlexLoader M can meet demand from manufacturers looking for an automated solution that produces more workpieces in less time. ABB said the robot cells are “extremely user friendly and quick to program,” even without users needing specific robotics expertise. The system includes a smart wizard that enables new workpieces to be programmed in less than five minutes with no vision programming expertise required, while changeover between pieces that are already programmed is possible in less than a minute. ABB said this means full operator training can be completed in less than half a day, reducing the time needed to put the cell into operation.

ABB FlexLoaderM Tray800px

The FlexLoader M Tray variant offers a minimal footprint and can handle worpieces of variable shapes, including cubes, cylinders, plates and pipes.

ABB added that labor costs can be reduced for machine tending processes by up to 90%, with one operator able to handle up to 10 cells simultaneously. The automated system delivers machine utilization of over 97%, compared to 40% to 60% with manually operated machines.

All of the variants can be equipped with a vision system that identifies the workpiece’s position and gives commands to the robot, machine tools and other cell equipment, such as air cleaning stations, part marking, deburring and measurement systems. The vision system can use either a 2D camera or a 3D sensor, depending on the application. 

ABB FlexLoaderM Series Variants800px

Additional variants of the FlexLoader M series will be launched in coming months.

The FlexLoader M system also utilizes data-based optimization features, including remote monitoring (operators can monitor, troubleshoot and optimize the robot remotely), while the vision software provides features such as condition monitoring, fleet management, and performance and order management.

For additional details about ABB’s machine tending solutions, visit its website here.

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