Latest Advancements in Material Cutting Robotics
Automated finishing tools have advanced in precision and flexibility over the last ten years. Because of the accuracy and speed offered by robotic cutting tools, companies are relying on automation for processes that traditionally use CNC machining or manual methods. Popular tooling includes laser cutting, waterjet cutting, and routing. All these tools perform cutting tasks using different techniques and are tailored for cutting specific materials. Industries interested in material cutting applications usually manufacture parts that demand accuracy or output beyond what is capable of manual processes. Research and investments using artificial intelligence and 3D vision lead to advancements in these techniques, allowing better precision, flexibility, and output.
Advancements in Laser Cutting Tooling
Laser-cutting robots have evolved considerably since their introduction in the 1960s. This equipment offers greater performance that comes close to matching the precision offered by CNC machines at a higher production speed. Laser cutting is used for trimming steel structures, die-cast aluminum, automotive panels, and more.
Laser cutting can be achieved using various methods such as vaporization cutting, melt and blow, thermal stress cracking, and reactive cutting. All these methods use a high-power laser to slice through the material in a small spot, causing a smooth cut through the piece. Attached to a six-axis robot, the tool can cut along any desired edge, creating a finished-shaped part. Some companies are creating an even more flexible production line by combining welding robots with laser-cutting tooling, specifically, the automotive industry.
Manufacturers looking to speed up the secondary and finished-cutting process for parts without compromising precision should consider laser-cutting robotics. They offer a faster output than manual cutting and CNC. With new technology, laser cutting offers a higher level of flexibility and precision. Companies are taking advantage of automated laser cutting equipment to eliminate product waste and maximize the output of product-cutting processes.
Advancements in Waterjet Cutting Technology
Robotic waterjet cutting has been used in manufacturing
applications for almost 70 years. Waterjet cutting uses a high-velocity stream of water to cut or drill through the material, and unlike laser cutting, it involves no thermal process. Manufacturers opt to use waterjet cutting to eliminate the need for grinding or smoothing down cut edges and applications that cannot use heated cutting techniques such as food, paper, and certain fabrics.
Abrasive waterjet cutting is a newer technique that mixes garnet particles into the water stream to erode harder materials. Companies use this cutting technique to work with dense materials such as stone, metal, and ceramics. The versatile use of waterjet cutting allows it to be extremely flexible in production. A manufacturer can choose to switch from a softer material such as paper to something as hard as titanium with no problem.
This cutting technique can be used with a wide variety of materials; however, it is not suited for everything. Certain materials, like tempered glass, risk shattering when cut with a waterjet. Before choosing a cutting process, it is ideal for companies to invest in research and development to select the application best suited for their task.
Advancements in Routing Technology
Automated routing is used in manufacturing for material removal and trimming of parts. It is used with tasks that require precision beyond what is capable of manual processes. The repeatability of a robot arm allows the parts to be drilled and trimmed the same way each time, improving the final product and increasing product output. These robots are usually found in the automotive, aerospace, marine, and prototype industries.
Routing robots use a six-axis robotic arm with a spindle and routing bit attached as the end effector. It then uses programming and visual software to drill through material or trim around the edges of the product. One company uses its automated routing system to drill fiberglass boat parts, cutting their production time by half. The parts produced by the company must be drilled and cut in an exact way. The process was previously done by hand, taking a lot of time to make sure the job was done correctly. With the new automated tooling, workers can direct their time to more valuable tasks, and parts are finished faster.
When it comes to material cutting applications, there are multiple options with automation. However, to successfully improve the cutting task, options must be weighed carefully. A company should always research which cutting technique would fit their task best; considering the size, material, and thickness of the product and the flexibility and fixtures needed to cut it. When integrated properly, automated material cutting offers incredible benefits such as higher production output, fewer product errors, and more flexibility in operations. With new technology like artificial intelligence and network connection on the horizon, the possibilities of robotic material cutting are bound to expand into new territory.