Robotic milling is a type of material removal application in which an industrial robot is integrated with a rotary cutter to shape a workpiece by removing chips of material. The milling cutter used during this process contains multiple cutting points that create small, separate cuts into the work piece. These small cuts result in chips being shaved off of the workpiece in order to be shaped.
For several decades CNC machines were the traditional choice of manufacturers when it came to their milling needs. However, due to advancements in robotic technology over the past decade CNC machines are starting to become obsolete as manufacturers are turning to robots like the Yaskawa Motoman HP50 with Motoman NX100 controller to automate their milling processes. Milling robots are ideal for working with rapid prototypes, large workpieces, and complex materials. These are all areas where human workers and other milling machines fall short.
Milling robots take minimal setup and are easily programmed to automatically adjust for the cutter shape, diameter of the cutter, depth of cuts made, and the number of cuts. They can control the tool orientation and automatically adjust their wrist rotation to allow for greater reach, so no part is too big or too small to mill. The programmability of these robots allows them to work autonomously while producing greater precision and quality.
Milling robots such as the FANUC M-710ib/45 are capable of following complex work paths without deviation or errors, unlike with manual or CNC milling. CNC machines only have three to four degrees of freedom while robots have six. While milling machines have limited path capabilities, manual milling can have even more. It is not feasible for a human worker to be able follow long complex paths with manual milling with the same amount of precision and speed as six-axis robots. Workers may become tired from holding the cutter which could lead to mistakes and they often need to take breaks. Robots do not need any downtime while being able to maintain their speed and accuracy. Manufacturers can have the freedom to design any shape part they need with these robots while also maintaining a high level of product quality.
Not only do milling robots allow manufacturers more design freedom with their productions, but they also offer greater versatility. An ABB IRB 4600-45/2.05 milling robot can be setup to complete additional applications within a manufacturing process such as drilling and deburring. It would take multiple workers to complete these tasks, whereas one robot can complete several material removal processes seamlessly. Productivity is increased as a robot can quickly move from one task to the next with no stopping while costs are decreased with the elimination of multiple workers. CNC machines also fall short when it comes to versatility as they are only designed to be programmed for one specific application.
Manufacturers are realizing the benefits of automating their milling applications with robotics as opposed to CNC machines or using manual labor. The capability of articulated robots to shape complex parts at incredible speeds while also having the flexibility to complete additional processes on the production line allows manufacturers to see their ROI faster than with traditional milling equipment.