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Siemens and Kuka join forces on machine tool robotics

27 September, 2013

Siemens Drive Technologies and Kuka Robots have announced a cooperation agreement centred on the integration of Kuka robots with Siemens CNC systems for machine tool applications.

The cooperation – announced at the EMO machine tool exhibition in Germany – is targeting automated loading and machining applications.

There are three areas, in particular, where Siemens and Kuka believe that robots could help to boost the intelligence and performance of machine tools:

•  they estimate that about a fifth of the 660,000 loading and unloading machines installed every year could be automated economically using robots;

•  for lightweight construction, involving materials such as plastics and aluminium alloys, robots could help to machine large parts that involve many synchronised axes; and

•  by using robots to take on “simple” tasks such as deburring, brushing, roughing or finishing, spindle runtimes could be reduced during machining, and productivity increased. Integrating robots in this way can raise quality, and exploit idle times, they say.

At the centre of the joint development is the operator-friendly use of robots to load machine tools. As part of their cooperation, Siemens and Kuka also intend to work on innovative techniques for machining new materials such as composites.

They point out that robots offer extended working zones that can improve the machining of large items such as aircraft wing parts or car bodies. In such applications, the components are often too big and complex to move them or to machine them using conventional Cartesian techniques. In such cases, robots can often replace expensive specialised systems.

Dr Robert Neuhauser, CEO of Siemens Motion Control Systems (left) and Kuka Robots CEO, Manfred Gundel, at the cooperation announcement

Robotic machining can also be used in a similar way to CNC machines for multiple machining of parts, handling tasks such as drilling, riveting, trimming, deburring and simple milling, as well as performing auxiliary roles such as measuring, marking and testing. Robots often cost less than machine tools, if precision is not critical. Programming and operation can be performed in a Siemens Sinumerik CNC environment, and robots can be integrated into the CAD/CAM/CNC design chain.

Users who already use engineering tools such as NX CAM can continue to design and simulate parts in a familiar environment and can implement parts directly from engineering in production.

“With this joint approach, the two companies are strengthening the fundamental idea of integrated production and can, for example, develop new markets by close intermeshing of machine tool tasks and loading tasks,” says Kuka CEO, Manfred Gundel.

“The CNC control from Siemens and the robot controls from Kuka are ideal for integrating robot and CNC technology,” adds Dr Robert Neuhauser, CEO of Siemens’ Motion Control Systems business. “With this cooperation, we are deepening our many years of cooperation and together advancing intelligent automation solutions as outlined by the Industry 4.0 project for the benefit of both partners and to expand business.”

The companies plan to develop scalable, integrated systems for machining workpieces with robots. These will range from robots with added CNC machining functions, to pure CNC machining systems. They aim to integrate the robots into PLM processes.

At the EMO show, Siemens and Kuka demonstrated the integration of a robot with the Sinumerik user interface for programming, teach-in, and diagnostics. The next step will be to extend the connection to CNC tasks.

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