CNC robot driven by ALPHACAM cuts high temperature furnace insulation boards

Improvements to cutting speeds, and health and safety issues

CNC robot driven by ALPHACAM

A company manufacturing industrial furnaces and ovens has switched from a flatbed router to a robotic cell designed and developed by CNC Robotics Ltd which uses a KUKA robot arm programmed with ALPHACAM and RoboDK, to cut its vital insulation material. Cutting speeds are now up to eight times faster.

Carbolite Gero uses a variety of insulation materials such as Kerform Insulation Board, refractory brick and ceramic materials to keep the temperature of its Steel outer cases down to around 60 degrees, while the internal temperature peaks at 1,200 degrees. The ovens and furnaces are used in a wide range of testing and heat treating processing facilities across industrial sectors such as aerospace, engineering, materials science, heat treatment, medical, bioscience, contract testing laboratories and universities, to see how products and liquids react in a heated environment.

Thanks to a special rotating table, we’ve now got four positions on both sides of the bed, which means we can cut several different types of board needed to produce a full unit, at the same time”
Nigel Holmes-Taylor, Plant Manager
Medtronic PB 980 ventilator.

The company were already using ALPHACAM to drive their 3-axis Biesse router, but Plant Manager Nigel Holmes-Taylor says the Kerform board, along with other insulation materials, produces a highly abrasive dust when cut, which caused considerable wear on exposed parts of the CNC machine. “We came across robotic arms with a routing attachment, and decided that was the route to take.” They approached CNC Robotics, the UK’s leading robotics integration company, who specialise in machining with robots, for their help.

RADAN nest.

An important issue for Carbolite, though, was that they wanted to keep their ALPHACAM programs and integrate this into the robotic cell. No problem, says Nick Parry, Systems Engineer and Technical Lead, with CNC Robotics, who led the development of the single enclosed robotic cell.

When machining with robots, as CNC Robotics founder and owner Jason Barker explains: “We need to simulate the robot correctly, which gives raw data of where the robot goes, does it crash, and is the toolpath correct?

“Simulation is vital for checking correct posture, singularity, wrist and elbow, and axis limits. The importance of ‘what you see is what you get’ is critical. If it crashes on screen it’ll crash in the real world. Using software such as ALPHACAM and RoboDK means you can correct all that before we go anywhere near the robot itself.

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“And being able to convert the existing ALPHACAM programs that powered the router meant there was no downtime learning a new software. Carbolite were able to take their existing programs and redevelop them into the robotics world.”

Martin Measures, ALPHACAM Area Sales Manager, explains how they overcame the simulation issue. “Toolpaths created in ALPHACAM are passed directly to a RoboDK interface within the software, which simulates the robot kinematics. RoboDK is a specially configured Software Development Kit (SDK) which outputs the co-ordinate cutting data to drive the robot. It means we can see exactly what the robot’s going to do before it processes the parts.”

CNC robot driven by ALPHACAM

And Nigel Holmes-Taylor says because Carbolite’s new robotic cell can move at up to two metres a second, it provides a significant improvement over their previous manufacturing process. “Cutting speeds are far quicker on the robot than on the flatbed router. While the router was restricted to working in 3-axis, the robot arm effectively has 6-axis, but can actually be infinite in the way it operates.” His team takes the part files from drawings produced by the engineering facility, and imports them into ALPHACAM. “This brings all the cutting paths together, and sends the program to the post processor, which is then fed into the RoboDK module for simulating the movement of the robotic arm.”

As the Kerform board comes in a variety of thicknesses and temperature grades, the robotic cell designed by CNC Robotics provides an additional benefit versus a flatbed machine. “Thanks to a special rotating table, we’ve now got four positions on both sides of the bed, which means we can cut several different types of board needed to produce a full unit, at the same time,” he says. "With the flat bed we could only deal with one type of board at a time, so this gives us a four-to-one ratio of cutting it quicker. In some circumstances it’s up to eight times faster.

“The rotating table that works this has a set angle at which the cutter hits the board, and ALPHACAM in conjunction with RoboDK ensures the robot keeps to that exact angle at all times, cutting in a straight line and at the correct depth.”

And as the board has a high aluminium content, another improvement is that all the abrasive dust created during the cutting process is contained within the cell and drawn out through Carbolite’s extraction system, meaning the overall environment is much cleaner.

Finally, an added bonus – as ALPHACAM can produce a full description of what needs to be loaded on to each specific site on the loading bay, this allowed CNC Robotics to develop a piece of software to display the PDF generated by ALPHACAM. “This means the operative loading the machine knows the next material to load, and where it has to go, again, saving even more time.”

The partnership between CNC Robotics, ALPHACAM, RoboDK and Kuka is a perfect solution for Carbolite, according to Kuka’s UK Sales Channel Manager Tara Baker. “KUKA works with a system partner network. System partners like CNC Robotics provide even more industry-specific know-how. CNC Robotics designed and fully integrated everything into the enclosed cell, turning the robot into a highly effective CNC machine and ALPHACAM/RoboDK provides a back-up service for the software. It’s a one-stop solution for Carbolite, helping them to future-proof their business.”  

About the Company

Name: Carbolite Gero Ltd
Business: Industrial furnace and oven manufacturer

Key benefits achieved

  • The ALPHACAM/robot combination can cut up to eight times faster
  • Cleaner working environment
  • A PDF generated by ALPHACAM shows the operator what material is needed next
  • Accurate simulation of robotic arm movement