Humans and Robots - Side by Side
Poor concentration and fatigue - never! Robots have always been seen by their human counterparts as reliable and indispensable "colleagues". They are now increasingly handling the welding, bending, cutting, separation, transfer and storage of pipes and tubes. Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, robots are set to become even more flexible and will eventually replace purely repetitive robots altogether.
You turn up at work in the morning, and the first thing you do is switch on the telly. It doesn't seem very appropriate at first sight. But this is precisely what is being turned into reality with the camera-controlled and fully electric manufacturing cell from Transfluid Maschinenbau - the element which is right at the heart of a smart tube forming system. What you can see "flickering" on a large screen is not the latest news bulletin, but valuable details about the energy consumption, CPK value and quantity of the tubes formed up to now.
Robots as an important module
Robots are an important module at the Transfluid tube forming centre and are used in the production of air conditioning lines. As well as a camera monitoring system, the plant has a magazine, a 4-axle handling system, two combination machines for tube forming purposes, a bending machine, a chamfering unit, a dot-matrix printer and two robots.
Before bending can start, one side of a tube is always handled in combination with a tube forming machine, while the other side is chiplessly cut after the bending process and is then also formed. Should this be required, the robot subsequently holds the tube into a deburring device. "Both ends can be visually monitored via a camera," says Stefanie Flaeper, Managing Director of Transfluid. "Alternatively, the robot holds the tube into a labelling unit where it can then be marked at all the required points - and in fact completely without any clamping device."
100 per cent quality
Using a forming system with a rotary table, it would then be possible to join two tubes together with a flange. For the manufacturing process this means maximum safety, a high yield and 100 per cent documented quality - while informative "entertainment" is provided on a large screen as a nice side-effect.
Robots have definitely proved their worth in pipe and tube forming. Flaeper emphasises that they "ensure controlled handling" because a robot is, after all, ideally suited for the manufacturing of bent components. "On the other hand, they tend to be of lesser significance in the handling of long, straight tubes and pipes. Linear systems are faster for this purpose." Robots are particularly widespread in machining, "because this involves either complex handling or manipulating heavy parts."
Use in welding
For Polysoude and its customers robots are a good supplement to conventional automation solutions. A robot makes it possible to guide the torch along the pipes themselves in manual tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding, even where there isn't much space. It also ensures "a high-quality seam thanks to the precision and reproducibility of movements in complex geometries," says Hans-Peter Mariner, Managing Director of Polysoude.
Robots are generally very widespread in welding, but not particularly in TIG welding. TIG is used "almost never in conjunction with narrow gap welding or the welding of pipe-floor joints." This is due to legal requirements which include, for instance, a shielded zone without user access - unlike conventional automation solutions. Polysoude, however, allows the use of robots in TIG welding.
Robots and nuclear fusion
The essential criterion for choosing a specific type of robot is the level of precision which, says Mariner, "is a matter of the TIG welding itself, even under full load, within a range of 5/10 mm." Furthermore, "it's important for a robot to be easy to program and to have sensors, especially for smart tracking purposes."
TIG welding with the use of robots has achieved a certain amount of fame in one of the most ambitious projects in the world, called ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). The project is to prove that nuclear fusion as an energy source can be used for electric power production without major carbon emissions. 35 countries are participating in the design of the planned Tokamaks nuclear fusion chamber.
Images: R. Eberhard, messekompakt.com, EBERHARD print & medien agentur gmbh
Source: Messe Dusseldorf