CADCAM developer Delcam will link with industrial-robot manufacturer KUKA to demonstrate machining by robot at the JEC exhibition to be held in Paris from 13th to 15th April. The companies believe that robots could provide a lower-cost alternative to machine tools for the manufacture of larger composite components, both in the machining of master models and tooling, and in the trimming and drilling of the moulded parts.
Until now, machining by robot has been limited to a small number of specialist production operations. However, developments undertaken recently in Delcam’s PowerMILL machining software have made it far easier to program robots for a much wider range of applications. The ability to program the robot offline from 3D CAD data is both faster and more efficient than the "teach and learn” approach that is often used to create instructions for the equipment.
This easier operation could enable composite manufacturers to take advantage of the many potential benefits of using robots. Firstly, the cost of installing a robot is far less than the price of a large machine tool with a similar working envelope. In addition, the flexibility of the robot means that complex operations can be carried out in a single set-up, so cutting production times and reducing the number of fixtures needed.
Robots do have their disadvantages since they struggle to machine harder materials and cannot match the tolerances possible with modern machine tools. However, they can be used successfully in any area where softer materials need to be machined to accuracies of tenths of a millimetre. This can be more than adequate for components that might be several metres in length, as is often the case for composite tooling and parts for marine, aerospace, autosport and rail applications.
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