by kip hanson
Tool presetter manufacturers and their partners continue to make a good thing even better
With all the magazine articles and trade show coverage they’ve received over recent years, it should be clear by now that offline tool presetters are a no-brainer for shops large and small. Even a basic presetter helps reduce setup time as well as costly crashes, while more advanced systems provide tool management functions, CAM integration, inspection capabilities and more. Considering their widespread availability and quick return on investment (ROI), the message is clear: if you haven’t already done so, it’s time to climb on the offline presetting bandwagon, because using your CNC lathe or machining centre to measure tools is a humungous waste of time, and risky besides.
The weakest link
Hold on though: we bought a presetter last year, you’re thinking. Yes, our setups are a bit faster, but it didn’t stop us from having a crash last month. And while that Industry 4.0 tool management stuff sounds cool, who has time? We’re too busy making parts to even think about it.
This viewpoint is understandable, but let’s at least address the crash and how to keep it from happening again. So here’s an uncomfortable question: are you one of the many shop people who use a presetting system, but hand-key the tool offsets into the control? If so, you can be sure that there will be a future crash. Why are you still doing it?
Granted, any presetter is better than no presetter at all, but there are much faster and safer ways to enter these values, says Brendt Holden, president of Haimer USA LLC. For starters, most presetting systems—Haimer’s included—allow post-processed tool data to be sent to the CNC via USB, Ethernet or RS-232, in which case the setup person can skip all the manual data entry and simply execute a small program to upload the offsets.
In this example, the only potential crash would come from the operator sticking a tool in the wrong pocket or turret station. Sadly, though, it happens; even the most attentive machine operator has a bad day now and then, which is why Haimer and others have developed RFID and QR-code functionality that can verify that Tool #5 is actually in Pocket #5 before proceeding, as well as software able to manage this and other tool information.
“Our RFID system is available in manual and automatic versions, and both offer read/write capability,” Holden says. “So not only can we get tools and tool offsets into the machine in a foolproof manner, but when the tool comes back out, we can automatically update the RFID chip with data saying, ‘Tool assembly 12345 was in the machine for 800 parts’ or two hours, or was used on Job 8942, or whatever other values they want to record. This allows shops to measure and analyze their tool performance in ways that were previously impossible, in turn providing significant opportunities for process improvement.”
The case for automation
Zoller Inc. is another presetter and tool management software (TMS) provider with an eye towards process improvement. Industry 4.0 Center manager Matt Brothers says the company is a pioneer in this area, offering numerous TMS packages, automated data exchange capabilities, and even fully-automated presetting systems, something that he says may be worth considering.
“Our »cora« (short for Collaborative Robot Assistant) is a software program and robotic arm, which when integrated with the presetter and storage cabinets, combines to make a fully automated presetting system,” he says. “It picks, cleans, assembles, clamps, measures and stores tools and tool assemblies, then places them into a tool cart for dispatch to the shop floor, and is completely automated.”
For a shop still working through the basics of tool presetting, »cora« might sound over the top in terms of expense and complexity. Maybe so, but like any piece of automation (and like presetting itself), ROI is often quite fast, best measured in weeks or months rather than years. As for complexity, Brothers says »cora« is simple to use, especially for companies already using one of the company’s TMS systems.
“It’s really a matter of telling »cora«, ‘here are the tools I need for this job and here’s where they’re located,’ and the robot takes it from there. This is possible because everything—the CAM software, the machine control, the presetter, the toolholders and cutting tools, and even the cabinets—are tied to the same database. And because the robot is collaborative, it can be placed anywhere on the shop floor without guarding. It’s just a great system.”
Getting a grip
Someone particularly interested in automated tool presetting is David McHenry, engineering manager at toolmaker Rego-Fix Tool Corp. He says the »cora« unit on display at IMTS 2018 was equipped with a Rego-Fix powRgrip toolholding system, and that the company has since received numerous inquiries about the presetting cell from large manufacturers in the aerospace, medical, and automotive industries. “It’s still gaining traction, but things are definitely headed in this direction,” he says.
Another thing gaining traction is the RFID tagging that Haimer’s Brendt Holden mentioned earlier. McHenry says Rego-Fix has installed more than 2,000 such data chips so far this year, with no sign of a slowdown. “Compared to previous years, RFID, and to a lesser extent QR codes, are enjoying unbelievable growth. People are using them for tool presetting, which speed throughput and eliminate operator errors, as well as tool life analysis afterwards. To me, it’s one of the next big things in tool presetting.” SMT