New Tool Minimizes Strenuous Finishing Tasks
By Jonathan Katz
ATI’s Robert Little discusses the company’s latest innovation to increase efficiencies and improve
The tedious twisting and turning motion of manual finish- ing tasks can leave operators with debilitating aches, pains, and fatigue. That’s bad news for manufacturing operations and machine shops that are dealing with an
aging workforce and a lack of skilled operators to replace retirees. ATI Industrial Automation, a provider of robotic accessories
and robot arm tooling, is addressing the need for more efficient
finishing capabilities with automated solutions. The company’s
latest offering is a robotic tool called a compliant deburring blade.
It’s a pneumatically controlled, articulated design that gives
users the ability to adjust the contact force to accommodate
specific applications by changing the air pressure. It’s suitable
for medium deburring, chamfering and scraping operations on
materials such as plastic, aluminum, steel, and brass. The
deburring tool also can reduce robotic programming time and
maintain constant force where surface irregularities are present.
NED recently caught up with ATI CEO Robert Little to discuss how
the new tool works and why it’s becoming increasingly important
for manufacturers to integrate automated finishing solutions into
NED: Why do you think it’s important to place a greater
emphasis on automating manual fnishing processes, such
as deburring, in today’s industrial environment?
RL: A compliant deburring blade is the most commonly used
tool in manufacturing for deburring sheet metal, plastics, holes.
It’s typically done manually, which makes it slightly dangerous
in that it is a blade on the end that’s being used. In addition,
it’s a repetitive motion. So as time goes on, it can easily lead
to conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and it’s fatiguing.
So what we have found is that typically people who come into
facilities to do that don’t last very long. And because of that,
the quality sometimes is not there. A newer, less experienced
person might not know the system very well, and they’re not as
skilled because they haven’t been doing it long enough. Also,
the younger generation is not motivated to do this kind of work.
NED: Can you please explain the term “compliant” and why
RL: Robots are stiff objects. They’re not compliant. So, if a
robot was to do this without our tool, it would cut inappropriately.
It would cut too hard, too soft, it would miss spots. The robot has
a certain amount of tolerance in accuracy. Then the parts station
that puts the part out there has a certain amount of tolerance
and accuracy. And then finally you have the tolerance of the part
itself. Some parts, in injection molding parts, come out, they’re
2-3 millimeters different in size. How do you accommodate for
all of that slack, all that missed tolerance? Well, you need to
have compliance. And that compliance has to be engineered
appropriately to get the right cutting force so the robot will have a
memorized point to track. The compliant deburring blade makes
sure that the cut is accurate.
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NED: What is the compliant deburring solution,
and how does it help improve effciencies and reduce
RL: We asked our engineers to look at how the process
was being done by hand; they studied that and then they
designed a compliant deburring tool that is mimicking
the hand force that’s being used. It’s compliant radially
and axially. They also designed it so operators can easily
attach a blade from a manual handle and put it right into
our tool using an automatic blade-changing tool. These
deburring blades also come in a wide variety, all types of
strengths and coatings, so they can be used on a wide
range of materials, including aluminum sheet metal, steel,
iron, and composites.
NED: How do these types of automated tooling help
manufacturers compete in a global marketplace?
RL: If a U.S. company can manufacture here in the U.S.
because they have the robot solutions to help them with
the manpower issue, that’s faster lead time than, say,
outsourcing work to Vietnam, where labor is cheap and
maybe it’s more readily available. By automating, you can
do the work here and don’t have to wait a month for a
shipment to come in, and you save on those transportation
costs. Let’s put it this way: The ability to make the parts
close to your customer does help a lot.