Why automation of older CNC machine tools isn’t so complicated

15 July 2019

Robert van Soest refutes a common misconception of the robot interface

It is often thought that older CNC machines cannot be automated because the interface between robot and machine becomes too complex. In fact, just the opposite is true; our experience is that the HALTER LoadAssistant can enhance the production of any CNC machine tool. With good planning, it is almost always possible to interface with a CNC machine tool within a day. It is not rocket science nowadays, says Robert van Soest, Product Specialist at HALTER CNC Automation.

The HALTER LoadAssistant takes over the repetitive tasks of the CNC operator. The robot takes a workpiece from his buffer and waits until the machine is finished. Once the machine has finished, the door is opened, the robot takes the finished workpiece, puts the next workpiece in the machine, starts the NC program and puts the finished workpiece away.” This sequence indicates how simple the core of the interface between machine and robot actually is. The robot requires only a limited number of signals from the CNC machine tool. Older machines often have a push button and a foot pedal. Such signals are enough for HALTER CNC Automation to connect the robot safely and cleverly using existing safety features. The robot acts as an operator and therefore uses the machine’s own safeguards.

Automation is simple and safe
Modern CNC machine tools are usually equipped with bus connections. To automate such machines, our engineers choose to communicate via the bus system, for example via Profibus. To do this, we only need to consult the machine manufacturer a few times. The fact that many people think that such an automation interface is complex is due to the history of robotics. In the automotive sector, the interfaces have to process many more functions, such as program changes, spindle orientation, safety rules, and so on. This is not relevant to our systems. “For our robot we only need a small set of signals.”

Increase your return in one day
What does this mean for an average manufacturing company? First of all, the interface is never a bottleneck in an automation project. We now have a great deal of experience in installing the HALTER LoadAssistant; we have automated many CNC machines tools from several different brands. The total installation of the interface takes about three days. After this, the production can start running again and our customers get an immediate return on their investment.

Automate the older machines
In summary, companies that work with older CNC machines tools can automate very well. For them, the ROI is usually even higher because the machine tools have already been fiscally depreciated. Calculate what it means if such a machine delivers just four extra hours of production every day. Don't wait for new CNC machines tools if you are thinking about automation. The HALTER LoadAssistant is compatible with all CNC machines tools, regardless of their age.

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