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Automated assembly of machines: How robots support the manufacture of precision tools

Paul Horn GmbH is a manufacturer of precision tools of excellent quality. With around 950 employees in Tübingen (the Horn Group has 1,500 employees worldwide), the company produces 25,000 standard tools and over 150,000 special solutions. In flexible systems, robots assist in the loading of CNC grinding machines. Matthias Rommel, Managing Director of Horn, and Application Engineer Sven Göckes from KUKA provide insights into the development of the innovative systems.

Jonas Micheler
13 September 2023
Reading Time: 4 min.

You use placement robots on your machines. How did you decide on an automation solution?

Matthias Rommel: The variety of our precision tools is enormous. We can deliver special customer-specific tools in five days, other companies need several weeks for this. In order to continue to deliver quickly and to be able to produce our products economically even with small batch sizes, we need very flexible automation solutions in combination with our own CNC grinding machines. In 2018, we decided to build and program systems for automatic CNC machine loading ourselves, with KUKA robots for machine loading in mind right from the start.

Why did you also bring KUKA on board as a programming partner?

Rommel: In 2020, we realized that there were limits to the programming of the robots and the PLC internally. After all, high precision was required for the pick and place of the placement robots.

For accuracy in gripping, Paul Horn GmbH brought the experts from KUKA on board.

Mr. Göckes, KUKA worked with Paul Horn on automated machine placement. What was your first impression?

Sven Göckes: This automation solution involved tiny parts that had to be placed on small pins in the assembly of the CNC machines. This required high accuracy of the robot gripping technology in the automation. And it had to cope with the wide variety of products offered by Horn. Programming the automatic systems accordingly without knowing all the products exactly – that was definitely a challenge for us, too.

How did you approach this challenge together?

Sven Göckes: The big advantage was that we didn't have to build on existing systems, but could plan the programming right from the start. However, we drew on our know-how and included the KUKA.AppTech programming concept, for example, which was ideally suited to this job thanks to its modular structure. The individual modules of KUKA.AppTech can be flexibly adapted to the various product groups.

Employee Luisa Bauer feeds the indexable insert to the system. There the KR AGILUS and the CNC machine take over machining until the finished parts can be removed again.

Matthias Rommel: During the project, the KUKA Customer Service team was not only working in our company, but we were feeling as one. The colleagues were able to move freely at Horn, suffered together with us and celebrated successes together. The fact that there have been no changes in contact persons since the beginning of the planning meant that the collaboration with the Customer Service team was very productive and ultimately successful.

Sven Göckes: From the beginning, we tried to program the automatic CNC machining centers as generically as possible. The project has also grown, with more and more features being added. Fortunately, we and the Horn team had a direct and good connection to each other, always looking for automation solutions together and finding them.

KUKA's software works extremely well, and we worked together intensively for two years. This has enabled us to design the various systems very freely.

Matthias Rommel, Managing Director of Paul Horn GmbH
The robotic gripping technique for placing the tiny parts requires a high degree of accuracy, which was mastered in the programming.

What is your conclusion? Was it worth the two-year commitment?

Sven Göckes: Yes. From the start, the project has been a source of ambition for me, and we succeeded in developing four different types of plant for Paul Horn's various product families using our robot system. If required, further optimization in automation is also possible.

Matthias Rommel: Of our total of around 300 CNC machines, 55 are now running with the system, including in the USA and the Czech Republic. 27 more robots have been ordered. Our employees enjoy working with the KR AGILUS placement robot; it marks a leap in the category of user-friendliness. Thanks to successfully automated placement, we expect to be more flexible in the future and to be able to implement new product families ourselves.

Machine placement with exact precision of the gripping technology

Read the full success story and watch the video

About the author
Jonas Micheler

Global Content Marketing Manager

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