Thanks to a new AMADA HG 1003 ARs, sheet metal working at Wölfle GmbH in Ochsenhausen, Germany is now fully automatic, with the machines running around the clock and with no additional personnel. In combination with the AMADA HD 1003 ATC, the robot-assisted bending cell is part of the new corporate strategy that is based on increased growth and ongoing automation in its metal forming activities in order to ensure the company’s long-term competitiveness.
When the factory siren sounds just after midday, peace and quiet descend in the production hall at Wölfle GmbH in Ochsenhausen. It is only further behind, in the sheet metal working department, that operation continues. Here, a robot arm swiftly grasps large sheets from the material stack, transports them to the press brake and then uses this to perform many different forming operations. The gripper then takes the finished part and positions it on the conveyor belt for further processing.
This process is one of the tasks of the AMADA HG 1003 ARs, which has been in operation here since February 2016 and is responsible for the fully automatic production of housing components for the driver’s cabs of construction vehicles, cranes and agricultural machinery. The portfolio of this family-owned company, which was founded in 1972, also includes parts for the electronic and air-conditioning systems installed in these cabs. The average batch size for these components is approximately 50 parts per order. In total, Wölfle GmbH manufactures some 3,900 metal assemblies that have to be produced here in two or three shifts per day at top quality, with absolute precision and with varying levels of vertical integration.
Independent production around the clock
“With the new HG 1003 ARs, we have made a quantum leap in our sheet metal working,” explains Thomas Wölfle, a qualified engineer and the company’s Managing Director. “It is an independent, fully automatic system that runs unstaffed practically around the clock. It minimizes unit labor costs and simply makes our production more efficient.” The employees present on site operate the new machine during their shifts without the need for any other workers. Thanks to their successfully concluded training in the programming of the system, they are able to program and equip the HG 1003 ARs themselves – in a period of only twenty to thirty minutes. This is due to the fact that the entire system has been designed to be particularly simple and user-friendly. “A key consideration when purchasing the system was ease of programming, which had to be proportionate to our average run size of approximately 50 parts. And in actual operation, we have confirmed that programming is indeed absolutely straightforward and intuitive without any need to enter complicated codes and coordinates,” says Wölfle whose robotics studies have made him an expert in the programming of components of this type. As a result, during practical operation, all that is necessary is to enter the required components at the HG 1003 ARs’ programming console. Verification is then performed at the machine where the robot slowly travels to every critical point and waits for confirmation or any correction that may be necessary. When everything is right, the operators simply pushes the start button to start the bending process. In this way, Wölfle GmbH is able to manufacture simple parts just as easily as geometrically complex components with up to twenty bends.
Fully automatic production and unloading
In addition to the minimized unit labor costs and the fast, simple programming, the HG 1003 ARs also ensures improved production and part quality. This is because the system always functions at an identical level of precision without the day-to-day fluctuations that occur, in particular, when workers have to perform complex bending operations. Overall, therefore, the new robot-assisted bending cell also represents a considerable increase in capacity for Wölfle GmbH and it has been welcomed throughout the company as a valuable aid to work. “Another positive effect is that we can now manufacture rarely needed special parts in top quality, at any time and extremely quickly without start-up difficulties or waste,” says Wölfle. “There are no downtimes at the HG 1003 ARs because, thanks to the ARs system and automatic gripper and tool changer, it is possible to manufacture two completely different parts independently of one another,” adds Lothar Liegmann, Sales Executive at AMADA. “Another advantage lies in the various unloading station options in the form of a pallet solution or conveyor belt.
And if you choose a belt, then it, too, automatically moves at the same speed as the loading system, with the result that the entire process can genuinely run completely unstaffed.” Exactly this type of 5,1-meter conveyor belt is also installed at Wölfle GmbH. In the future, it will be complemented by another belt in order to increase capacity specifically for difficult-to-stack parts.
A new working strategy started with the HD 1003 ATC
For Wölfle GmbH, the HG 1003 ARs is the logical continuation of its sheet metal working strategy in partnership with AMADA, which started in December 2013 with an HD 1003 ATC. “At that time, we had to decide whether to outsource our entire sheet metal working operations or to transform them into a high-performance, forward-looking source of activity within the company,” explains Wölfle. “After examining all the available market and machine options, we decided to work with AMADA.” At the time, the vital criterion influencing the choice of the HD 1003 ATC was the greatly reduced setup times. Ultimately, in any given shift, it was necessary to retool seven or eight times, with the setup time alone taking an average of approximately eight minutes for each process. With the HD 1003 ATC, setup times were reduced to approximately 60 seconds per order. One of the main reasons for this is the Automatic Tool Changer (ATC), which provides the upper and lower tools fully automatically immediately after reading the barcode. The worker then simply has to process the part in the machine as shown on the screen. “The result is that we benefit from guaranteed outstanding continuity, process reliability and uniform high quality that is vital for our success,” says Wölfle. “What is more, in this system, all the tools are stored safely and securely in the ATC and the risk of damage, for example when they are removed or installed, is completely eliminated,” adds Liegmann. “Last but not least, the traveling foot pedal that automatically moves with the operator makes the machine even easier and more comfortable to use– quite apart from the fact that with the ATC, it is no longer necessary to load the heavy tools by hand.”
Working together for success
Taken together, Wölfle GmbH’s investments in the first HD 1003 ATC and the new HG 1003 ARs have more than paid for themselves. “Our strategy of keeping our sheet metal working operations in-house and relying on continued growth coupled with ongoing automation has been extremely successful,” is how Mr. Wölfle sums things up. “We have been able to become vastly more efficient and ensure even greater quality, availability and reliability in the long term. These factors have made us more competitive and ensure our success, which we want to build on further in the future in the company of our strong, reliable partner AMADA.”
Pictures: Udo Schönewald