Looking for a robot to cut openings in thermoformed plastic

  • Hi Folks;

    A customer of mine is asking me to reccomend a robot that will replace a manual cutting operation

    The customer makes thermoformed plastic louvres which fit over the back window of cars. The openings in the louvre are presently hand cut with knives and die grinders and similar tools.

    They would prefer to have a robot do the entire cutting operation so I am assuming the robot would have a custom milling cutter of some sort on the end of its arm.

    Could I have your expert opinion on whether this this is doable ?

    Can you reccomend a robot vendor/contractor in Ontario Canada ?

    Many thanks in advance for any help you can offer

  • trimming, polishing etc. can be automated. the question becomes how many different products need to be handled and is this something that client will need to do deal with (adapt or make new ones). different strategies are possible as tool could be robot guided or stationary. in general robot guided tools are more intuitive to program and this also allows workpiece to be better located / clamped (to eliminate any unwanted movement such as flexing or marking part by robot gripper).

    one option is also to use force feedback to control contact of tooling with workpiece. another it to use CAD to path software tools. so really, you need to come up with a good specification before asking integrators to take on a job like this.

    1) read pinned topic: READ FIRST...

    2) if you have an issue with robot, post question in the correct forum section... do NOT contact me directly

    3) read 1 and 2

  • This is done commonly in industry.

    A few caveats:

    • Robots are not CNC machines. The tolerance of your cut will depend highly on rigidity of your arm, and the position of the cut. Example: it is easier to cut a steak close to you rather then across the table.
    • Bigger arms are more rigid. So if it is in the budget, go for those.
    • Unlike CNC machines, robots require specialized software or modules to existing CAD programs for offline path development.
    • Expect 1mm or more of error when transferring a program developed offline to online. This can be corrected by manual touch up, but plan for that.
      • This can be reduced by calibrating the robot to its work volume using a laser tracker, but there will still be some error.

    After all the integration costs, and the drawbacks of using a robot like a CNC machine, it may be cheaper just to buy a CNC machine.

    With all that said, I've personally implemented a couple of robots in this fashion. One was a mill, milling carbon fiber, and another was a 50kpsi waterjet cutter. I would recommend the water jet cutter. Less mess and kerf.

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