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ABB FlexLoader M family brings the power of modularity to machine tending

POSTED 10/27/2021

  • Smart robotic machine tool tending cells with standardized modules offer easy expansion to meet changing future needs
  • Flexibility to handle range of requirements; new workpieces can be introduced in minutes
  • Easy vision-based programming eliminates need for specialist skills and increases machine utilization

ABB has launched a new family of modular machine tending application cells for the metals industry aimed at maximizing flexibility and machine utilization while minimizing lost productivity caused by unforeseen production stoppages. Featuring six different versions, the FlexLoader™ M family offers a variety of ways of loading and unloading machines based on the size, shapes and amount of the workpieces being handled, making it ideal for applications such as foundries and die casting operations producing multiple types of products in varying quantities.

“As customers demand greater variety and shorter delivery times, metals producers need to have a manufacturing process that can respond quickly and offer the flexibility to achieve high mix, low volume and batch size one production,” says Andrea Cassoni, Managing Director for business line General Industry for ABB Robotics. “FlexLoader M is accelerating this move by providing a single unified machine tool tending platform offering the flexibility needed for handling a wide variety of production demands, whilst also improving productivity by eliminating the time, cost and disruption traditionally associated with production changes.”

The launch starts with Tray and Conveyor variants, with further variants due for release over the coming months. The FlexLoader M Conveyor uses a simple but powerful vision system to enable easy loading of workpieces with complex shapes, providing the flexibility to handle a variety of workpieces with a single cell. The FlexLoader M Tray is a drawer solution offering easy machine tending. With a minimal footprint that allows it to be located almost anywhere, it is ideal for handling a variety of workpieces with variable shapes such as cubes, cylinders, plates and pipes.

Featuring standardized interchangeable modules, the FlexLoader M offers a flexible and expandable solution for a wide variety of machine tending applications including lathes, mills, CNC and machining centers. A key benefit is the ability to use the same base machine, exchanging in and out feed modules as requirements change. The FlexLoader M’s modular approach makes upgrading and scaling up easy, with just one to two days needed on average for installation and commissioning.

The FlexLoader M meets the demand from manufacturers for a simple automated solution that produces more workpieces in less time. The FlexLoader M robot cells are extremely user friendly and quick to program, even without specific robotics expertise. A smart wizard enables new workpieces to be programmed in less than five minutes with no vision programming expertise required, while changeover between pieces which are already programmed is possible in less than one minute, making “Batch Size One” production a reality. The simplicity of the programming software means that full operator training can be completed in less than half a day, further reducing the time needed to put the cell into operation.

The FlexLoader M can reduce labor costs for machine tending processes by up to 90 percent, with one operator able to handle up to 10 cells simultaneously. The automated system delivers machine utilization of over 97 percent, compared to 40-60 percent in manually operated machines.

All the variants can be equipped with a vision system that identifies the workpiece’s position and gives commands to the robot, machine tools and other cell equipment such as air cleaning stations, part marking, deburring and measurement systems. The vision system can use either a 2D camera or 3D sensor depending on the application.

The FlexLoader M also incorporates data-based optimization features, including remote monitoring, enabling operators to monitor, troubleshoot and optimize their robot systems, while its vision software provides added functions including condition monitoring, fleet management and performance and order management.

The FlexLoader M will replace ABB’s current family of FlexLoader cells, which have established a reputation for providing reliable and predictable output. Delivering benefits including higher machine tool utilization and the opportunity for lights out production through unmanned operation, FlexLoader cells have proven their ability to deliver a much faster return on investment whilst giving users a sustainable competitive advantage.

For more information about ABB’s machine tending solutions, visit https://new.abb.com/products/robotics/application-cells/flexloader