Mike Sykes, Manager – Automation Systems at Yamazaki Mazak UK & Ireland analyses Industry 4.0
UK manufacturing is on the cusp of a new age. The fourth industrial revolution – which goes by various names, including Industry 4.0 or the Internet of Things – is well underway, which will see manufacturers embrace connectivity and smarter ways of working, to drive further productivity and reduce costs. While this way of working may be familiar to multinational manufacturers operating across multiple sites, the principles are just as relevant for subcontractors with only a handful of machines. Industry 4.0 may seem daunting at first but, as Mike Sykes, Manager – Automation Systems at Yamazaki Mazak UK & Ireland explains, it is within reach for manufacturers of all sizes.
Industry 4.0 has been an industry buzzword for a number of years, and it has often been met with a mixed reception as a result of conflicting definitions and varying levels of take-up. However, if you cut through the chatter, it effectively centres on four key principals: interoperability, information transparency, technical assistance and decentralised decision-making. If you view Industry 4.0 within these parameters, the picture becomes a lot clearer.
Take technical assistance, for example. This can be defined in a number of ways, including the collection and fast analysis of data to quickly solve problems; and the ability of cyber physical systems to support humans by conducting tasks that are difficult, exhausting or are unsafe. In other words, automation.
Automation should be a familiar concept to most manufacturers, and often just changing the way a system is set-up or controlled, with a view to optimising interoperability and information transparency can go a long way to achieving Industry 4.0 best practice.
For many, the elephant in the room when it comes to automation is its perceived impact on a workforce. It is this negativity that needs to be addressed and eradicated. In short, automation is not a threat to jobs. It is well documented that the manufacturing industry is suffering from a skills shortage, and automating some of the more menial or manual processes is a logical way of freeing up more time to upskill the current workforce.
Robots are a popular example of automation systems whose use in industry is continually increasing. They can lift heavier work pieces, and at a faster rate, than humans; and can operate lights-out through the night. It would cost significantly more to employ a human to do that role. Instead, that person could be used more effectively in an operation, design or programming role; all of which are areas the UK manufacturing industry is vastly under-resourced.
One of the most valuable attributes of a robotic automation system is its scalability. Whether you have one single robot loading and unloading workpieces on a machine tool, or 40-cells working in tandem, the productivity benefits are clearly identifiable.
Yamazaki Mazak has an illustrious history when it comes to automation systems, and has been involved in the design and manufacture of them for over 30 years. It’s latest offering for the subcontractor market is the new UK-manufactured QUICK TURN 250MY and TA-12 ‘plug and play’ turning centre and robotic machine tending solution. First unveiled at EMO 2017, it is designed to appeal to customers requiring a single source supplier for both machine tool and automation.
Ideal for applications that require lights-out unmanned running overnight or at weekends, both the machine tool and the robot are controlled from the Mazak SmoothG CNC, which provides a seamless interface and extremely fast set-up.
The centre piece of the TA-12 automation solution is a FANUC M-10iA/12 robot, which is one of the fastest handling robots in its class. Ideal for the pick, place and machine tending demands of the TA-12 cell, the robot has a reach of 1420mm and is capable of moving a maximum payload of 12kg. Benefitting from very high axis speeds and acceleration, the slim 6-axis wrist design promotes easy access and straightforward integration into the compact TA-12 work cell, and is equipped with separate grippers for loading and unloading. Internal cable routing through the arm and wrist extends cable life and prevents the risk of cable interference, while sealed bearings and brushless maintenance-free AC motors provide protection and improved reliability for long operational lives and minimum downtime.
A peripheral laser scanner is built into the cell to ensure the robotic arm will immediately pause if an operator comes within a set proximity of the cell during operation. The cell also benefits from a unique workpiece stacking principle which utilises interchangeable workpiece support pillars, with layout and set-up guided by a GUI (Graphical User Interface), which is also integrated into the SmoothG CNC.
With Industry 4.0 being central to Mazak’s R&D process for the TA-12 solution, the ease of integration between machine tool and robotic automation – all controlled via SMOOTH Technology – is a perfect example of how Mazak can deliver turnkey solutions to shorten lead times and lower indirect labour costs.
Ultimately, Industry 4.0 and industrial automation may seem daunting, especially to those manufacturers who are yet to start their own Industry 4.0 journey. In reality, however, it is about doing many of the things they are familiar with, but in a smarter and more efficient way.