19

Dec

Deep-Hole Drilling Automation Is More Than Part Load/Unload

BY ANTHONY FETTIG, CEO — UNISIG DEEP HOLE DRILLING SYSTEMS

Automation inside deep-hole drilling machines can be more valuable than part handling outside of them.

For deep-hole drilling, part-handling might be the most visible automation element, but it’s not necessarily the most impactful. Often, it’s internal process automation that yields the most significant results even with a manually loaded drilling machine.

When it comes to automating deep-hole drilling, there are challenges unique to the process itself. These include fixturing complexities — where maintaining alignment requires elements such as guide bushings and tool supports not present in a conventional lathe or milling machine — and part attributes such as length and weight.

Long parts mean a long drilling cycle time, and maintaining production rates often requires multi-spindle, deep-hole drilling systems. Unfortunately, stopping a two- or four-spindle machine means two or four spindles sit idle until the parts are loaded and unloaded. So, in these instances, the more parts in the machine at one time, the more automation can actually inhibit cycle time while the machine is running.

Solving this problem in multi-spindle machines requires internal automation to achieve the objectives of lean manufacturing and one-piece flow. In-machine loaders singulate processes so that even within a small four-piece batch you maintain one-piece flow. The operator or automation device puts in a part and takes a part out, and the machine does a bit of maneuvering inside to sequence those four parts in such a way as to minimize spindle downtime while maintaining upstream and downstream processes for one-piece flow. For instance, parts could be loaded onto a smart conveyor, indexed, and lifted into chucks for the drilling cycle before robotic unloading on the out-feed side so that there are no bottlenecks to a steady production flow.

Tool life management is another form of internal automation. Getting feedback to the machine enables the deep-hole drilling process to adapt or halt, if necessary, before tools and parts are damaged.

Tool life management is built into a machine’s control, and the machine senses torque thrust and coolant. Chip condition is usually the first indicator of wear, which would otherwise require an operator present to detect, so the machine actually monitors the process and can predict tools starting to wear and identify when they need to be changed. A tool life management system also can count distances drilled and the number of cycles, then prompt  a tool change at the appropriate time.

That kind of in-machine automation smooths the path for external automation. As the process builds, highly standardized options for robot-ready machines such as an automatic door, workpiece-present sensors and programmable workpiece fixturing makes it easier to add a robot at a later date. These robot-ready machines also create efficiencies before they’re fully automated. Even with manual loading, the automatic doors and programmable clamping make the process more efficient.

In UNISIG’s experience, an embedded reamer tool changer enables manufacturers to manage significant throughput increases, even with an operator. With this technology, operators can maintain the pace of production loading the machine, while eliminating the task of inserting reaming tools for each cycle. This allows the operator to redirect efforts towards tasks such as additional quality checks and off-machine setups.

04

Oct

UNISIG Unveils Next Generation of UNE Gundrilling Machines

Ideal for manufacturers focused on high-volume/low-mix or low-volume/high-mix production environments, UNISIG’s next generation of UNE Series gundrilling machines delivers operational flexibility, improved performance and effortless operation. Now available, the UNE Series is engineered and designed to simplify gundrilling for all those individuals involved in a facility’s manufacturing process. The UNE Series offers gundrilling solutions that are well-suited for various industries, including firearms, automotive, medical, energy, defense and aerospace.

With five models built from two frame sizes, the UNE Series can drill hole diameters from 1.4 mm to 40 mm and depths up to 3,000 mm. The compact frame construction saves valuable floor space as well. Each machine can fit in close proximity to a shop’s existing machining center, lathe or Swiss-style machine for efficient part-processing strategies. Built with quick and easy setup in mind, the machines are also small enough to be relocated when necessary. For added flexibility to grow with future production needs, all UNE models are robot-ready, allowing shops to add a robot whenever it fits into their budgets and production schedules.

“Our feature-rich UNE machines give customers a compact gundrilling solution equipped with the ability to grow alongside them,” said Anthony Fettig, CEO of UNISIG. “A lot of job shops and OEMs have the desire to automate but lack a timeline to do so. Our UNE Series gives them gundrilling benefits for today. It also provides them with security for tomorrow, knowing that they can further improve production by adding automation.”

Several innovative features contribute to the performance and productivity of the UNE Series. The single main spindle servo motor delivers the necessary horsepower for two-spindle machines. When power is applied in single-spindle mode, however, shops can produce holes with larger diameters, increasing their capabilities and adding the potential for new business without adding a new machine.

Unlike pressure-based coolant systems, the UNE Series features a programmable flow-based coolant delivery system designed to provide the right amount of coolant to the tool’s cutting edge. The end result for the operator means they can confidently predict tool breakage and spend less downtime recovering an interrupted process.

Powered by Siemens, UNE Series machines feature intuitive controls that give operators a full process picture at a glance on a rich color interface with touchscreen capabilities. The control’s heavy-duty buttons also function when operators are wearing gloves.

Ergonomically designed and engineered with the building owner and operator in mind, UNE machines offer an automated door option, which can benefit companies with or without automation. “Adding an automated door eliminates the repetitive task of opening and closing machine doors,” said Anthony. “Not only does this reduce fatigue, but it improves throughput and gives the operator an opportunity to focus on adding value in other areas.”

All UNE bases are FEA optimized and machined on five sides in single setup for the highest overall precision. This allows for simplified installation with no foundation work required, and 3-point leveling on machines rated up to 1,000 mm length.

UNE Series Overview:

  • Three two-spindle models available with maximum hole diameters of 12 mm, 20 mm and 32 mm. Hole diameters even greater when used in single-spindle mode
  • Two single-spindle models available with maximum hole diameters of 25 mm and 40 mm
  • Five rated workpiece designation options between 750 mm and 3,000 mm
  • Solid-carbide, brazed and indexable gundrill tools
  • Automation ready
20

Sep

Deep-hole Drilling and Automation Make for Productive Work Cells

Across every industry, manufacturers are working to meet growing customer demand in a globally competitive market. Despite a widening skills gap, by organizing advanced technology into highly optimized work cells, manufacturers are maximizing productivity through automation.

Specialized equipment, like a deep-hole drilling system, often is challenging to integrate, which quickly can create production schedule bottlenecks. To eliminate the risk, shops that perform deep-hole drilling should seek out OEMs that understand the needs of high-production manufacturers and have the capabilities to bring technology into the factories and work cells of the future.

Deep-hole drilling systems, which can produce holes that exceed a 20-1 depth-to-diameter ratio, are a unique class of manufacturing equipment because of the focused tasks they conduct. An increasing number of machining centers boast deep-hole drilling capabilities, but these machines simply cannot operate at needed speeds, particularly for parts that require exceptionally high accuracy. Manufacturers that must perform deep-hole drilling capable of rapid production and high throughput should instead select machines designed for the task.

Automating Holemaking

These shops increasingly opt for deep-hole drilling systems that also work with automation. In a typical deep-hole drilling work cell configuration, such as one for producing rifle receivers or automotive shafts, the equipment can use automation to time its cycle completion to mesh with other production processes. For straightforward automation, conveyors and pick-and-place robots move and position parts for deep-hole drilling with exacting repeatability and accuracy while automatic toolchangers, doors and inspection stations keep parts moving swiftly into, out of and around the cell.

Because deep-hole drilling tends to apply to long, cylindrically shaped parts, workpiece configuration eases or complicates some aspects of automating load-in and load-out cycles tied to drilling operations. Workholding axes, for example, can provide automatic part gripping with pneumatic or hydraulic chucks operated through advanced controls for deep-hole drilling systems. In this configuration, machines can pick up a part, drill it and set it back down on a conveyor or part collection area. In deep-hole drilling systems themselves, specialized designs also offer automatic chucking, while robot-tending systems can add further flexibility with end-of-arm tooling, workholding and measuring systems.

As the automation configuration grows more complicated, however, manufacturers require an OEM that can act as a collaborative partner to find available solutions or engineer individualized products for unique applications or production lines. Shops that depend on deep-hole drilling as part of a high-production environment should seek a partner that has a demonstrated record of working directly with manufacturers to modernize processes and create robust automated work cells.

Gundrilling Application

UNISIG, for instance, worked with a manufacturer of rifle barrel receivers to help it accommodate growing demand and relieve production bottlenecks. The manufacturer’s older gundrilling machines were replaced by a multiple-spindle machine, the UNI25HD. It had the power and controls necessary to apply indexable gundrilling tools, significantly improving feed rates.

To enable fast one-piece-flow manufacturing, UNISIG integrated the system via automation for in-feed, pick-and-place, conveyor loading and automatic clamping, which fed two lathes that turned the parts. The result was an effective work cell that produced more than 100 parts an hour, a dramatic financial and process improvement.

The viability of automated deep-hole drilling production can depend on tool life and part length. At extreme depths, for example, some parts require more than one set of inserts to produce a completed hole, and the high level of hardness of some workpiece materials causes rapid tool wear. To overcome this challenge, UNISIG programs its machines to detect wear and predict when a tool will reach its breaking point, allowing operators to prevent a failure that could stop the line.

For further process efficiency, deep-hole drilling machines should have either a CNC or programmable logic controller. Both can integrate with other control systems and interface with a controller in the work cell. Systems such as a fully automated barrel cell are capable of unmanned, lights-out production with efficient programming.

Deep-hole drilling equipment’s application-specific configurations suit the production of parts that necessitate techniques and processes that go beyond the easy capabilities of general-purpose equipment. In years past, many manufacturers thought of this kind of specialized equipment as old-fashioned and a drag on production. But with the right equipment—and a partner with the right engineering and applications expertise—deep-hole drilling in work cells can keep up with the productive factory environment that manufacturers need to succeed.

 

09

Sep

Deep Hole Drilling Aids Change in Auto Manufacturing

The future of the auto industry is interesting but uncertain. No one knows how quickly electric vehicles are going to replace gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles, how completely it will happen, and when it will occur in passenger cars as opposed to SUVs and heavy trucks. However, we do know that fuel economy standards continue to progress and drive vehicle design toward smaller displacement, higher-technology engines.

Off-center automated drilling machineAs a result, technology that was developed years ago for high-performance vehicles is now becoming mainstream. For example, sodium filled valves, which formerly were used in only extremely high-performance engines to manage heat in the valve train, are becoming more common. The same goes with hollow camshafts, which reduce energy-consuming rotational inertia and provide opportunities for engine management.

Within vehicle drivetrains, today’s automatic transmissions now have as many as eight or even 10 speeds instead of five or six. This wide selection of gear ratios enables smaller displacement engines to provide better fuel economy and deliver higher performance.

These kinds of technological upgrades for higher performance and economy are not new, but previously were considered too costly for general use. Now, advanced manufacturing and materials technology make common application of these upgrades viable.

Enabling Cost-Effective Production

Deep hole drilling is one advanced manufacturing technology that allows for the cost-effective production of key features of those performance-boosting parts. Sodium-filled valves, for example, have holes drilled the length of the valve stem in which liquid sodium circulates and draws heat from the valve head. Precise deep hole drilling methods enable hollow and more energy-efficient camshafts to be manufactured. Complex multi-speed transmissions feature shafts with multiple off-center holes of varying depths for lubrication or hydraulic sequencing. The holes in the shafts are too deep to produce effectively on machining centers, so deep hole drilling machines are critical in those instances.

Balancing Volume Output with Flexibility

Other manufacturing challenges in automotive production can also benefit from today’s advanced machine tool technology. For decades, the automotive industry focused nearly exclusively on volume production. The emphasis was on making as many parts at the lowest cost possible. Flexibility was merely a minor consideration.

Market changes have made balancing volume output with flexibility a major issue. If volume drops on a vehicle program, there remains a need to produce the vehicle cost-effectively. Expanded product mixes created to meet customer desires for different powertrains and other options demand high efficiency regardless of volume.

Consequently, flexibility and spindle utilization have become the main drivers of deep hole drilling machine design. Instead of having a gang of four spindles pounding out parts, a two-spindle machine with a rotary table and X-Y positioning system can provide extremely high spindle utilization along with flexibility. Technology such as automated setup through servo motion to reduce changeover time is also considered in the early concept development of the machines. These systems allow manufacturers to plan and implement small, agile cells to replace large, old-school, high-volume systems.

Benefits of Machine and Fixture Design

A recent customer experienced significant benefits with UNISIG’s machine and fixture design. Previously, the customer was processing a challenging family of parts on a system that involved nearly 20 fixtures. Each part required multiple holes with varying depths and diameters. A bulky, dedicated machine created an unnecessary expense and bottleneck in their production.
UNISIG provided a machine that allowed the company to manage deep hole drilling of these parts with just two pallet-changeout type fixtures, and requiring only the selection of a new part program. By eliminating fixturing, setup, and programming time, the company experiences significant savings every time the machine runs.

Lighter Yet Stronger

In addition to production benefits, a future opportunity for automotive manufacturers that involves deep hole drilling technology is in making vehicle parts lighter yet still maintaining or even increasing their stiffness and strength. Deep hole drilling can produce thin-wall parts such as axles and power transmission shafts, for example, that provide significantly higher mechanical integrity and better improved energy economy.

For instance, drilling a 20-mm axial hole through a heavy 30-mm diameter shaft makes the shaft much lighter while maintaining its stiffness. This lighter shaft has less rotational inertia which, in turn, reduces energy consumption. Designers continually search for such small gains in efficiency and will seek ways to enhance lightness and stiffness throughout the automobile.

As machine tool manufacturers, our job is to listen to our customers, understand what they need, and develop those needs into a solution that is viable from a cost and reliability standpoint. With ongoing advancements in engineering technology, machine manufacturing, and service, what might have been very expensive to do only three or four years ago is now viable. Concepts that once seemed a bit far-fetched are now quite common.

Because of that, we design our machines to provide both flexibility and utilization that will enable our customers to successfully face the expected—but not yet fully known—major changes in the automotive manufacturing industry.