Robot-Assisted and Fully Automated for the Implementation of Industrie 4.0

Grinding, Deburring, and Mechanically Processing Aluminum Structural Components in a Single Process

Automobiles are becoming increasingly lighter, due to steel being replaced more and more by lighter materials, such as aluminum, during the manufacturing process. SHL AG has seized upon this development and created a system that grinds, deburrs, and then mechanically processes aluminum structural components – in a single, fully automated, robot-assisted process. SHL designed the manufacturing line as the general contractor for a medium-sized automotive supplier that is very enthusiastic about the line’s performance. 

The growing use of light materials also requires processing technology. The processing of aluminum structural components with complex geometries is challenging; the requirements for surface quality are high. Robot-based solutions that carry out several steps in a fully automated manner are advantageous here. They make processes leaner, saving the user time and money. When designing the manufacturing line, SHL used its over 30 years of experience in the processing of aluminum, thus providing an important element for connected production in the context of Industrie 4.0. With the help of industrial robots, structural components, such as suspension strut supports, are ground, deburred, and measured in a fully automated manner. Then comes mechanical processing with drilling and milling. Afterwards, the components are straightened, inspected, and riveted. „This is done in a single process. As a general contractor, we offer our clients service from a single source with dedicated contact persons,“ explains SHL project manager Daniel Welte. Several production runs have already taken place at company headquarters in Böttingen, to the full satisfaction of the supplier. 

The belt grinding units developed by SHL offer users long-term ideal grinding results combined with cost-effective consumption costs. An audit report from TÜV highlights the suitability of SHL solutions specifically for aluminum grinding. In the new, 3,000-square-meter hall for application technology, SHL can easily design and install entire large production lines. The company currently supplies all renowned foundries with systems and grinding know-how from Böttingen. The processing procedure on the manufacturing line begins with the aluminum structural components on a heat treatment frame. An employee enters a data matrix code; the MES system then approves the „grinding“ process. Afterwards, the component is placed on the loading table. Robot number one grabs the components and brings one after the other to two SHL FKS 250/450 free contact wheel grinding machines. These have retrofitting spindles, contact wheels, and grinding attachments. The robot then activates the SHL P 550 deburring unit and completes interior processing. In a direct „Shake Hand“ procedure, it hands over the component to robot number two. Then comes exterior processing, using the same machine configuration as in the first step. The component is then placed in the blow-off port, where air pressure removes dust particles.

After that, the component is handed over to the handling robot. This robot has a data matrix code scanner that decides the next step. If problems arise during the grinding process, such as a drop in air pressure or belt break, robot number three unloads the component on the Non- Compliant belt. “If the system does not detect any problems, the components are placed in the straightening system and positioned accordingly,“ explains Daniel Welte. If there are discrepancies, components will also be unloaded on a separate belt, reworked, and reloaded via the Sequence Part Control. Only after that does the robot activate the CNC machine for the milling process.

Since the component is subjected to powerful forces during milling, a distortion check is carried out. If this verification is OK, robot number three applies two/ four blind rivet bolts, the correct position of which is verified through a force/ displacement measurement. If there are deviations from the prescribed norm, the component has to be reworked. If this is not the case, the robot removes the component and places it on the belt; the process is complete. The system is available for the next component. With this manufacturing line, SHL developed an automated solution with an overarching SPS that communicates with application-specific MES systems. The ability to test processes under real conditions at the SHL location in Böttingen represents a significant advantage for the user. „This makes integration in later manufacturing at the user facility simple and enables a rapid production start,“ states Daniel Welte.