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Flexible and intuitive: Machine loading with the LBR iisy cobot

Automated machine loading with a cobot provides unique benefits for companies. That's why KUKA partnered with the technology and automation developer MAIROTEC to create a modular automation cell that loads machines – cost effectively and intuitively.

MAIROTEC enables machine feeding with the LBR iisy

Based on the KUKA LBR iisy cobot, MAIROTEC developed a machine that can load machines. The objective of the MAIROFlex iisy: Provide a uniquely cost-effective and simple introduction to automation for companies including small and medium-sized enterprises.

In its first real practical application, the cobot automated lathe loading and unloading with small hex steel blocks to be transformed into cylindrical studs. To relieve a metal company's employees, a collaborating robot now carries out this routine task.

When the lightweight robot is used in stud production, a zero point pallet with 96 inserted hex steel blocks is located on the attachment fork. The robot picks it up with the gripper and inserts it precisely into the spindle, where the turning tool begins to machine the stud body after the door has closed. The cobot then removes the finished stud and places it back on the pallet, precise to the millimeter, before it picks up the next part.
The MAIROFlex iisy in used stud production.

Automation with the MAIROFlex iisy

Machine feeding with the cobot – cost-effectively and intuitively.

Machine loading: manually or with the cobot?

Manual machine feeding is a repetitive, physically stressful and error-prone task. Cobots now frequently tackle machine loading to allow skilled workers to carry out rewarding and complex tasks that match their qualifications.
A zero point pallet with 96 inserted hex steel blocks is placed on the robot's attachment fork.

MAIROTEC uses KUKA for its automation solution

MAIROTEC, a KUKA system partner from Ilmenau in Thuringia, Germany, specializes in product and software development for automation solutions. As a trained master mechanical engineer with production expertise, MAIROTEC's founder and CEO, Andreas Mathes, knows the requirements of production shops. He is enthusiastic about the wide range of options that robotics provide. Because MAIROTEC is based on full-line solutions in the high-end area, “That is why I’m an absolute fan of KUKA,” admitted Mathes.
Andreas Mathes, founder and CEO of MAIROTEC.
Mathes quickly realized that automation and robotics are not just for large-scale industrial production with complex and costly robotic solutions. “Especially in small and medium-sized businesses, the need for automation is increasing because of a large number of recurring work steps,” said Mathes. “To get started, we need our own highly flexible solution that everyone can afford.” This emphasis on automation also responds to the increasing shortage of skilled workers. “Robots do not take jobs away,” Mathes noted. “Instead, they help start or maintain a production process for which increasingly fewer people are available on the job market.”

Benefits of feeding with cobots

Companies that use cobots for machine loading thus achieve increased efficiency, improved product quality and ultimately attain a stronger competitive position.
  • Error-free

    Robot loading and unloading by robots minimizes rejects and errors. Automation ensures a continuous and rapid flow of material to each machine. 
  • Flexible

    Cobots position workpieces consistently and precisely. They also work safely together with humans and can thus  integrate optimally into the production process.
  • Efficient

    Robots do not require breaks or shift changes for machine loading, which reduces long-term labor costs.
  • Scalable

    To meet increasing demand, companies simply add more lightweight robots. No need for comprehensive structural changes.

Flexible and relieving: automated machine feeding as an opportunity for companies

Mathes places loading and unloading of steel studs onto a lathe – even in 24/7 operation – in the “hands” of the MAIROFlex iisy. This automation solution enables a company to make monotonous loading and unloading of the machine fully automated and offer employees more interesting and rewarding tasks. The cobot responds sensitively to its environment and is easy to integrate into the machine-feeding process.
MAIROFlex iisy relieves employees of monotonous tasks.

Fast changes for a wide range of very different tasks

The MAIROFlex iisy itself also is programmed for changes. In contract production, the modular automation cell can take on a wide range of tasks – in application areas such as automated machine loading, pick-and-place tasks and handling. However, it also can be used for packaging and testing.

“The machine is transportable. It and the pallet truck can move quickly to a different work area that's already ‘taught,’” says Mathes. The integrated zero point clamping system on the floor enables the cell to assume precisely the position to which the new workflow was programmed beforehand. “For example, we can transfer it from the lathe to the packaging area of the finished studs in a flash,” explained Mathes.
New tasks can be programmed intuitively using the cobot.

Feeding and more: Integration into all conceivable environments

For the MAIROFlex iisy, the industrially capable drive section of the LBR iisy is an important precondition. “It complies with all essential industry standard functions, such as field bus protocols, digital I/Os, safety and more. This allows us to integrate the automation cell seamlessly into every existing system of our customers,” said Mathes.

“The LBR iisy has an extremely high joint speed, which makes it almost as fast as a conventional industrial robot,” emphasized Johannes Landherr, Product Architect at KUKA. The height-adjustable attachment fork is designed to create a wide variety of different working environments, and a wide range of tools is available to equip the automation cell. “The modular automation cell adapts to the user’s requirements, not the other way round,” emphasized Andreas Mathes.

The LBR iisy stands out clearly from conventional cobots and can be operated at both higher torques and also higher speeds.

Johannes Landherr, Product Architect at KUKA
High torques and speeds make the LBR iisy the ideal machine feeding solution.

Machine feeding with lightweight robots in all payloads, reaches and process forces

New models further increase the range of application of the cobot. Cobots with six and eight kg payloads have been added to the LBR iisy family recently, which already included three, 11 and 15 kg models. This not only expands cobot payload capacity and reach, but also makes it possible to apply higher process forces – for example, in assembly applications – and achieve a better IP protection class. “With this wide variance, the LBR iisy fits easily into fast-changing production environments to create individualized products, even with a batch size of one. The introduction to automation never has been easier and more straightforward,” asserted Johannes Landherr.

With sensitive joint torque sensors on all six axes and a reach of 1,300 mm, we cover the vast majority of applications. We can install any payload of the KUKA cobot from 3 to 15 kilograms on the MAIROFlex iisy. It adapts fully to the customer’s needs.

Andreas Mathes, CEO of MAIROTEC

“Really ‘easy’ to handle”: Flexible machine loading and unloading

The automation cell owes its exceptional flexibility to the technological concept of the KUKA LBR iisy. “The cobot lives up to its name – it really is ‘easy’ to handle,” said Johannes Landherr. “Intuitive operability enables fast, productive operation without prior knowledge.” With the iiQKA.OS operating system, tasks can be “taught” through simple manual guidance, and the smartPAD pro teach pendant makes further programming as easy as using a smartphone. In addition, the integrated cable guide and energy supply system of the LBR iisy enable quick and easy tool changes.

Automation with safety: Machine feeding by cobots in the protective field

“Instead of a protective enclosure, we use a 360-degree radar field from inxpect in our automation cell, which encloses the MAIROFlex iisy like an invisible safety sphere,” explained Andreas Mathes as he pointed to the flashing blue status lights of the sensors installed in the housing. “The system is so sensitive that it even responds to a wink or to breathing.”
A protective field enables skilled employees to work safely next to the cobot system.
“In the event of physical motion in the safety zone, the automation cell immediately reduces its speed or stops completely, and does not restart until the path is clear.” At the same time, the smart radar system recognizes the robot arm's motions within the protected area as safe.

With cobots to the next automation expansion level

The entire machine loading process can also be carried out completely autonomously. To supply materials, the KMP 600-S diffDrive autonomous, mobile platform moves almost silently back and forth among the setup station, the automation cell and the next processing station. “That already is a next step in automation,” Andreas Mathes said, beaming as he shared his enthusiasm. “Handicraft businesses and assembly companies, packaging companies, technical service providers, laboratories and hospitals, large-scale catering – the MAIROFlex iisy automation cell can do almost anything, even operate a coffee machine. This makes automation really fun.”

Further information on the KUKA cobots

The LBR iisy cobot: Find out more now and order the right robot.

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