Advancements in Robotic Cutting

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Cutting processes in manufacturing were traditionally executed with CNC machines, manual labor, or a combination of both. However, once robotic cutting became a reality many manufacturers began to automate cutting applications with industrial robots. Cutting robots ensure accurate and consistent material removal, which was the biggest challenge of manual cutting processes. Over the past decade, there has been major advancements in robotic cutting for both the techniques and technology involved. These advancements are allowing for the automation of more cutting applications as cutting robots can handle more complex processes and a greater variety of materials.

Techniques

The ability to automate more types of cutting techniques has expanded robotic cutting automation. Different cutting methods are each suited for certain kinds of materials. The more cutting methods that can be automated by robots the greater the variety in materials they can handle. From textiles to stone, thin to thick, there are very few materials that cannot be cut with robots.

Waterjet is one of the newer cutting techniques to robotic automation. Robotic waterjet cutting involves using an industrial robot to apply a ultra-high pressure jet of water to a workpiece. The water jet wears away material, creating a smooth and even cut. Plastics, textiles, and composites can be cut with just plain water. Hard materials like metal and stone can also be cut with water mixed with an abrasive. The ABB IRB 2600-20/1.65 is ideal for waterjet cutting automation.

Ultrasonic cutting is the latest cutting technique to be automated by articulated robots. This method allows for clean cuts with very little pressure applied by the robot. Ultrasonic cutting tools emit microscopic vibrations in the blade, creating a powerful force of energy for effortless cutting. Automating ultrasonic cutting with the FANUC M-20ia is useful for cutting through soft materials such as fabric, rubber, foam, and food items.

Technology

In addition to newer robotic cutting methods, there have also been several advancements in the technology used for robotic cutting. Robotic laser cutting has been around for decades, but recent advancements in the laser cutting tooling is allowing robots to match the precision of CNC machines. Fiber lasers are more affordable and compact. They have also improved beam quality and reliability. The Yaskawa Motoman MH24 can cut through metals and other hard materials when integrated with laser tooling.

The addition of force sensors to industrial robots has provided them with the ability to sense touch. This has been a huge advancement for many robotic applications as tactile feedback has greatly improved accuracy especially for automated material removal applications. Six axis robots are able to apply the correct amount of pressure to workpieces for more precise cuts.

Vision systems have also helped advance robotic cutting. Integrating robots with vision allows them to cut parts with variability and to accurately follow cut paths through visual feedback. The result is better quality cuts along with the ability to automate the cutting of complex workpieces.

Lastly, tool holder technology has greatly improved. They now provide the robot with greater control for cutting loads as well as the cut direction. This allows for higher quality and smoother cuts.

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