Five Suggestions for Metal Press Automation

Posted on Dec 30, 2020

Metal Press Automation

When it comes to automating a metal press line, robots will always have a role to play as they are perfect for automating repetitive tasks that humans are not normally willing to do. The types of robots used for the automated press vary upon the different applications, cycle-time requirements, and other specific, etc.

An Overview of Metal Press Automation 

Metal pressing is also known as the metal stamping operation. Now imagine a scenario where dies that weigh more than 15,000 lbs are used to run the press line with relatively low volumes of a variety of metal parts, while multiple dies would have to be changed in a given time frame. This is definitely not ideal and acceptable because such a setup is no doubt inefficient. This is why manufacturers have looked to enhance production by automating the press line. 

In light of the aforementioned, metalworkers use different ways to create press automation for the production line in order to enhance the machining capabilities while keeping the costs at the minimum. In this article, we have organized five suggestions for press automation for metalworkers.

Suggestion 1: Quick Die Change

The quick die change (QDC) is more than just die clamping. It is essentially a highly efficient setup that includes an automated storage and retrieval system for automatic transfer of tools into the press, as well as automatic clamping. With manufacturers becoming more and more reliant on lean manufacturing, production runs become shorter and shorter, which leads to more changeovers. 

This would have been fine 10 years ago as metalworkers may have been more inclined to accept a 2-hour changeover due to the fact that it would be less likely to occur. But not anymore till this day. With tool changes taking place multiple times a day in most cases, metalworkers can no longer accept prolonged changeovers because it could adversely affect their productivity and profitability. The automation brought by QDC may just be able to enhance the efficiency across the board as there has been a dramatic increase in metalworkers opting for (or at least asking about) QDC.

Suggestion 2: Robotic Part Loading and Unloading

When it comes to automating a metal press line, robots will always have a role to play as they are perfect for automating repetitive tasks that humans are not normally willing to do. The types of robots used for the automated press vary upon the different applications, cycle-time requirements, and other specific, etc. 

Other conventional metalworkers might believe that using a robot to handle press automation may require a fully functional six-axis industrial robot that is both compact and feature-rich, but in fact, new robot technology offers something much simpler and cost-efficient. In fact, the recent introduction of collaborative robots, or cobots, offers a low-cost alternative for press line automation with the less demanding cycle-time requirement. They have now become more accepted across the manufacturing industry. 

Cobots for automated press can handle variability, which is also their biggest selling point. They do not require guarding and instead employ pressure and position sensors that enable them to work supplementary to humans. They can also be either portable or wheeled to provide the mobility needed for those who operate the machine.

Suggestion 3: Part-Transfer Systems for Progressive Dies

Many metalworkers are also seeking automated press line systems for metal parts, particularly utilizing progressive dies.

Within the progressive die, each station is responsible for distinct functions, and the press automation allows a part to travel rapidly through multiple steps. The metal parts are moved efficiently through die stations thanks to the linear automated press system, allowing the press to cycle as quickly as possible. 

Automated press systems are able to move each part in a single motion, thereby providing quick transfer and press-cycle times. Many metalworkers continue to rely on this press automation method to boost productivity and profitability while without compromising the safety of operators.

Suggestion 4: Quality Control

Another way to make sure the validity of metal press automation is quality control, with automated press systems integrated into the press itself.

By adopting industrial cameras on the production lines, images of parts with increasing quality can be generated. In fact, metal presses today can be retrofitted with vision systems that closely oversee metal parts as they exit the press, checking dimensions and for any abnormalities of parts in milliseconds without compromising the production efficiency.

Suggestion 5: Machine Oversight and Reporting

Although this is not directly associated with press automation, proper machine oversight and reporting will definitely enhance the productivity of your press line.

Metalworkers need to have a certain degree of control over the process, and they will need to collect data to obtain such control. But gathering data is not enough. A press machine can provide a wide variety of data you want, but how you analyze and filter out the most relevant data is what’s more important, which is why you will always want to deploy manpower on the machine despite its degree of automation. 

Also, some manufacturers have created machines with "smarter" monitoring and reporting capability. Not only are they able to compile data, but to also analyze and report them in a digestible format that can lead to quick action from plant management. Machines like this are able to track many parameters, including productivity, part quality, and downtime. For example, some press machines are able to effectively process downtime data, including operator-supplied reasons for downtime as well as machinery production logs over a specified period of time. 

Results are then sent to management automatically where the data are analyzed to uncover the source of the inefficiency such as material shortage, inefficient operators, maintenance issues, etc. They are not just numbers in a spreadsheet; it's actionable intelligence.

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