Automation, networking and robotics are rapidly gaining ground in metalworking, storage and sawing technology. Storage systems and sawing machines are increasingly being integrated into a uniformly controlled material flow in which all processes between incoming and outgoing goods are fully automated – from the storage of long goods to the dispatch of palletized finished parts.
This enables metalworking companies to make their production processes much more flexible and efficient, improve working conditions and significantly reduce operating costs. At Kasto, these topics have long since ceased to be visions of the future – the company is solving those issues today.
Whether their customers are in the steel trade, the automotive and supplier industry, or in mechanical and plant engineering, metalworking companies across many industries have faced increasing demands for years. Customers expect ever greater production flexibility, from small batch sizes to mass production.
As the variety of materials and sizes steadily increases, quality standards are rising, as well – and it’s all happening in the midst of continuous pressure to cut costs. To hold their own against international competitors, these companies need versatile and efficient solutions for a variety of production tasks.
Increasingly, metalworking companies rely on automation and intelligent networking of individual workflows in production and logistics. In most manufacturing facilities, those efforts begin with storing raw material. New technologies are, understandably, reshaping the ways companies approach their operations. As an example, instead of the commonly used floor or cantilever storage method, companies are increasingly relying on fully automatic long goods storage systems. For example, Kasto’s Unicompact honeycomb storage system utilizes a gantry crane that quickly delivers requested materials to outfeed stations. The storage system can be customized to reach heights of up to 85 ft. high and handle materials in up to 10,000 cassettes measuring 10 ft. to 45 ft. in length.
These automated, software-controlled systems have revitalized the way companies handle significantly higher storage density, making it possible to achieve fast access times and maximum inventory transparency.
Cassettes, the compartments where material is stored, are utilized as load handling devices for the storage of long goods. With an automated solution, storage and retrieval machines automatically transport cassettes to one or more transfer stations. This is in line with the “goods to the next process” principle.
These systems can be designed differently for their respective requirements, as fixed stations, for example, or in movable form as longitudinal or transverse
In addition to being faster than manual handling, automatic storage and retrieval systems protect employees from accidents and injuries, as the heavy and bulky goods do not have to be moved by hand. In an automated facility, orders are processed at the push of a button via the warehouse control system or directly through a higher level ERP system, to which the control system is connected via an interface.
The first step in a manufacturing or fabricating process is usually tied to sawing materials to length, and those materials must be retrieved from their storage areas. With an automated solution, processes can be initiated and carried out without human participation.
As seen with modern Kasto sawing machines, a cutting job can be seamlessly connected to the raw material warehouse by means of manipulators and conveyor technology, which are supplied with the required materials. Depending on how it’s equipped, the sawing machine can also run by itself – fully automated. In such a scenario, material is automatically fed to the saw, and an intelligent machine control system sets all of the parameters, such as cut length and speed. State-of-the-art production saws can also carry out a variety of jobs in succession with different materials and diameters and can operate autonomously for long periods of time.
Rise of the Robot
When it comes to handling and processing cut parts, industrial robots have considerable potential, depending on the production cycle, of course. For example, robots can remove cut parts from a machine at maximum speed, eliminating a repetitive employee task.
In addition, robots can be outfitted with value-added tools for tasks such as deburring, chamfering, marking, centering, cleaning, measuring and testing materials. Furthermore, materials can be weighed, sorted by size or order, and stacked on pallets or in tightly packed containers.
For complex processes with different work steps, combinations of several robots and clamping devices can also be realized. Further connection to driverless transport systems, such as automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), is also a common practice with Kasto’s customers.
Sawing processes are relatively easy to automate with volume saws that process only a few component geometries. The situation is somewhat different with individualized job saws, however, as they have to flexibly process numerous materials and dimensions. Understandably, the greater the diversity, the more challenging it is to fully handle all the tasks.
For example, the optimal selection of robot tools is key – the robot should be able to manipulate all the objects to be handled with as few aids as possible. This reduces procurement costs, minimizes idle times and increases productivity. Customers can choose from mechanical, magnetic or vacuum-driven grippers. The grippers should be as compact as possible to give the robot easy access to the cut parts.
Choosing the right robot tools doesn’t have to be handled solely by the customer, however. Kasto supports its customers by defining the optimal tools the customer may need for its tasks today and in the future. And, once those tools are in regular operation, the robot is able to independently decide which one is best suited for the task at hand. Decision criteria include the accessibility of the material as well as the optimization of the stacking pattern, among others.
With the right components, storage, sawing, automation and robotics, technologies can be combined to form decentralized and highly integrated systems that are seamlessly integrated into one continuous material flow. Kasto’s storage-sawing-robot systems combine all storage, handling, sawing, marking, palletizing and bundling processes to run fully automatically – from the storage of raw materials to commissioning of cut parts.
The big advantage is that the entire system functions with uniform control software, which can be connected to existing ERP systems with only one interface. This significantly increases transparency and efficiency.
With additional production machines, such as a lathe or milling machine, the storage, sawing and robotic systems can be linked to form a fully digitized and automatic production system that organizes itself independently, which is in line with Industry 4.0 principles.
Automation and robotic support offer significant advantages for metalworking companies, which can significantly increase productivity with fewer personnel because many processes are not only unmanned, but also run much faster.
Overall, an automated approach makes it much easier to compensate for staff absences. Production can even continue during breaks or at the end of shifts. The result is lower personnel costs and a high degree of flexibility in terms of capacity utilization. Companies can process order peaks more efficiently and drastically reduce downtime all while increasing profitability.
Additional – and sometimes hidden – profitability can also be realized as working conditions are improved by the automated technology. When employees are relieved of heavy, tiring and monotonous work, there is a reduced risk of accidents and injuries and also a reduction in employee turnover rates.
Finally, the quality of cut sections is also enhanced. Day in and day out, a robot can process all of its parts uniformly and precisely, sort them reliably and stack them cleanly. This ultimately benefits a company’s reputation and, in turn, results in happy, returning customers.