System expertise or – why make things complicated if there's an easy way?

Automation aims to improve efficiency and to achieve a higher output with lower costs. However, companies often pay less attention to a second factor – simplification. And this is where the CHIRON Group's system expertise comes into play. This knowledge turns a machining center and automation solution into a highly productive complete system. If the entire process is simplified, this also incorporates the production technology, reduces staff workload, decreases working time and enables largely autonomous manufacturing – which is unmanned and can continue into a third shift and at weekends.

LEAN is slimmed down management and more efficient production – and first came to the attention of the industry at the turn of the millennium. CHIRON is also a pioneer in this field and presented a suitable response from as early as 1996 in the form of the Flexline, the first linked cell with multiple CHIRON machining centers »in line«. This was innovative because the machines were fitted with the components in an automated line by a linear robot.

Over the years, topics like autonomous manufacturing, increased machine availability and process reliability have become increasingly important. Customers expect a solution that perfectly matches their machines and their production technology. And this requires one quality above all – flexibility.

Even just the name »Flexline« indicates how automation in the CHIRON Group stands out today – it offers flexibility, and does so many ways. Firstly, there is flexibility to choose the right solution that optimally covers criteria such as workpieces, machining times, quantities and the variety of parts.

The various automation solutions for the CHIRON 16 Series illustrate what this might look like. For example, with the combination of the FZ 16 S five axis and the VariocellPallet, small batch sizes and complex workpieces can be machined autonomously and with a high degree of flexibility. However, if a large number of workpieces need to be manufactured in a highly productive manner with very short cycle times, the DZ 16 W with a compact VariocellUno is the go-to choice. The autonomous unit, already widely used with the CHIRON 08, 12 and 15 Series machining centers, now brings clear productivity gains when used in combination with the DZ 16 W. For example, this is the case in the production of gravity feed spray guns in the United Kingdom and clamping mechanisms in the south-western German state of Baden-Württemberg. The first two cells can manufacture with an autonomy of around ten hours.

The huge benefit of having a customized automation solution can be demonstrated using the example of SW-MOTECH. Since 2020, the internationally renowned manufacturer of premium motorcycle accessories has been autonomously manufacturing around 400 different parts in quantities of between 30 and 200 for up to eight hours on a FZ 15 S five axis with a robot and clamping concept that is carefully designed for the wide variety of parts.

Custom configuration according to a modular concept
In addition to the handling robot and workpiece store, each VariocellUno automation unit can have additional components added to it based on the application. For example, the modular system may include multiple grippers, a station for turning, stations for brushing and deburring, blow off stations, press-fitting, measuring, cleaning, labeling, vision systems (»bin picking«) and many other components besides. Moreover, the asymmetrical design enables additional processes to be integrated into optional spaces in three sizes, from 150 x 150 x 150 mm to 300 x 300 x 300 mm and 500 x 500 x 500 mm.

VariocellUno options and variants

There are also different variants with an integrated operating unit available for the workpiece store. All of these variants enable automated workpiece changes during machine operation and reduce the workload placed on the operator by time-consuming and arduous secondary activities. For example, these variants include drawer storage, a conveyor belt or box and pallet storage. This storage can be designed for standardized and customized transport and container systems, such as trays, SLCs (small load carriers) and pallet trucks. The containers reach the unit on the truck and are then progressively supplied to the manufacturing process via the lift system and the traversing unit. After successful machining, the robot gripper will place the parts in the containers, the traversing unit will transport them to the outside and set them down on the floor roller. If the stack has been processed, the operator can move the truck away and bring in the next one. Note that it is optional for the operator to do this because this simple activity can also be performed using a driverless transport system (DTS), which further increases the autonomy of production. Thomas Marquardt, Head of Automation at the CHIRON Group, believes that driverless transport systems are »the logical next step – the further we extend the scope of automation in a manufacturing solution, the more autonomy there will be«.

The experts of the CHIRON Group are currently working intensively on a DTS which brings, for example, blanks and finished parts to the cell and picks them up again. What else can the system do? It will be exciting to see what further progress is made...