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Defeat Downtime with Speedy Tool Changes

Nov. 4, 2017
Robotic systems from dedicated rails to cobots can increase productivity and reduce startup time with faster tool changeovers.

The single most important measure of success in robotic manufacturing is overall equipment effectiveness. This complex measure encompasses multiple factors: line speed, of course, but also maintenance and idle time for tool changeovers.

For systems utilizing dedicated rails, significant time is required to change tools whenever a change is made to the part being manufactured. This usually requires removing the entire rail with the tools or end effectors attached and inserting a different rail altogether. Changing out a dedicated rail is a heavy, manual operation, as it often requires multiple workers and a crane. And, of course, the rail is typically stored remotely until it is needed again, at which point the whole changeover process must be repeated.

Moreover, in many plants, these dedicated rails eat up valuable press operating space—the tools are mounted permanently on the face of the rails where room is tight, clamp stroke is limited, and dies come close to the tooling.

The advent of quick tool changer technology is poised to address these challenges and radically alter the tool changeover process. In this system, the receiver portion of the tool changer is permanently attached to the face of the rail, but the tools themselves are attached to adapters that easily snap in to the receiver.

How to Perform a Changeover

When using new quick tool changer technology, the only part permanently attached to a dedicated rail is the receiver (a). Tools and end effectors are attached to adapters that snap into the receivers (b) so that tools can be easily changed as needed without removing and storing the entire rail. (Photos courtesy of Norgren Automation Solutions, LLC)

When a changeover is required, a worker grasps the tool (still attached to the rail) in one hand, pushes down the handle to release the adapter with the other hand, and then unhooks the adapter with the tool or end effector from the receiver. Storing just the tools instead of the whole rail appreciably reduces the floor space.

Tooling can easily be removed from the mounted receiver by pushing the handle to release the adapter and lifting up to unhook it. All connections are disconnected automatically.

To install the tooling needed for the next process or part, the operator guides the adapter toward the receiver, aligns it with the safety hook, and pushes it until it snaps in place.

This manual tool changer from IMI Norgren is currently available for crossbar, tandem, and tri-axis press operations. However, it clearly has a future in other robotic configurations, such as automotive assembly and other industrial processes where flexibility is desirable. To install different tooling, align the adapter with the safety hook on the receiver and snap it into place.

This simple changeover process can be accomplished in just a few minutes by one person working alone without special equipment. Through tool changers, tooling or end effectors can be changed quickly and frequently to maximize the utilization of robots for various applications.

Tool Changing and Cobots

Quick tool changer technology goes hand in glove with advances in collaborative robotics. The terms “robotics” and “automation” traditionally bring to mind repetitive tasks and standardized products. However, one of the great advantages of cobots is the flexibility to automate the manufacture of low volumes of customized products alongside the more complex operations conducted by humans. This means robots are going beyond heavy industrial applications to more specialized uses in packaging, food and beverage processing, even lab automation and electronics to assist and enable multifaceted operations.

Tooling changeover can be accomplished manually by a single worker with no special equipment.

The variety of tasks, part shapes, and sizes means tooling or end-effector changeovers are frequent, so minimizing downtime is critical to maintaining overall equipment effectiveness. From retrofitting dedicated rails on old press lines to designing the latest collaborative robot for lab automation, quick tool changers save time and space for increased productivity.

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