Shop Matters - Ep. 4 Automation and Robotics

Wade Anderson


Shop Matters is a podcast designed to talk about the world of machining and manufacturing with your host, Wade Anderson. Sponsored by Okuma America.

In this week's episode, Wade speaks with Greg Feix of Gosiger Automation Solutions about automation, robotics, and their roles in the future of manufacturing.

TRANSCRIPTION

Wade Anderson:

Hello manufacturing world. I'm Wade Anderson with Shop Matters, sponsored by Okuma America. This podcast is created to discuss all things machining and manufacturing. Here today in the studio, we've got Greg Feix, with Gosiger Automation. Hello, Greg.

Greg Feix:

Good morning, everyone.

Wade Anderson:

Glad you're here to join us here today, Greg. So I've known you for about 15 years or so. So my mind, anytime I'm thinking automation, you're the first name that comes up in in my rolodex, but for all the people listening, tell us a little bit about what you do, and a little bit about Gosiger Automation.

Greg Feix:

Sure, Wade. Thanks. Gosiger Automation, really our core business is CNC machine tools and manufacturing, and out of that grew the necessity to support US manufacturing through robotics. So we've grown over the last 30 years to a team of about 60 that support Okuma and US manufacturing through robotics today. Everything, if you think about it, all manufacturing machine tools they have, right? So they have to differentiate themselves some way through a process, becoming more efficient with what they have.

Wade Anderson:

All right. So Greg, I stumbled into this industry almost by accident. I came into this, I was going to be a mechanic. I had my mind set. I was going to be the next hot rod builder, whatever. One thing leads to another, I start programming machine tools. I've been in the CNC machine tool industry ever since. What got you into automation? How did you wind up at Gosiger, and getting into the automation game?

Greg Feix:

Well, a little bit by chance, a mechanical engineering background-

Wade Anderson:

That's a common thread. When I talk to people in the machine tool world, "Hey, how'd you get in this industry?" A lot of it is, "Well, it just kind of happened." So it seems like a little bit of luck is involved, sometimes, in getting into this world.

Greg Feix:

Yeah, it's been an exciting time for automation anyways, and being in the industry, just seeing what we can do to help our customers become more competitive, and do more with less is really satisfying.

Wade Anderson:

Yeah. All right, so you got a mechanical engineering degree, came out of school. Did you go straight into work for Gosiger?

Greg Feix:

No, I started at a power distribution company designing dynos, clutch brakes, those types of machines really to test tractors in the field, and then kind of went into technical sales, and then wanting to go into outside sales. So that's where I originally started at Gosiger, back in 2005.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. So yeah, I was thinking you and I started about the same time. I started with Okuma in 2005, and I think you and I were almost kind of hand-in-hand. You started pretty close in that vicinity. I was October 2005, and I started out at Okuma.

Greg Feix:

Yeah, I think I was May of '05, so.

Wade Anderson:

Okay.

Greg Feix:

Just a little bit longer than you.

Wade Anderson:

Yeah. Excellent. So I get to call on thousands of customers throughout the course of the year, talk to them in different solutions they need, different problems that they're facing, and I see a lot of shops gravitating towards automation. But at the same time, I see a lot of shops that are fearful of automation, or they'll say, "Hey, what I do is unique. You can't really automate my process." What do you see, and what are the key factors that somebody needs to look at when it comes to automation?

Greg Feix:

Sure. So in automation, most people think, or in manufacturing, most people think that you have to have high volume, low mix production for automation to be effective. And really what we've found since the downturn of '08-'09, the volumes have gone down, but the mix of parts has gone up. And customers, we have to educate them on how we look at where automation can be effective. We look at common processes, or a family of parts, or even like a one customer of ours, the only thing common across his parts is they would lay flat on a conveyor, and we would transport them just like a grocery belt.

Greg Feix:

Most people think when they look at it, they're looking at a single part where we're automating. We have one customer, they have over 97 part prints that they gave to us, and they said, "We'll automate two machine tools, but we want any one part on one machine, while any other part runs on the other." So that's the type of challenges we like to get involved with, and in the end we have, I think it's 10 Okumas automated that way for their production.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. I always look at things, to me, the world, you look at things through, through your bias, right? You're kind of used to looking at the world through the glasses that you wear. I wear Okuma glasses, so I walk into a machine shop. I'm working with a customer trying to help whatever process that he's called me in for. I like to go in, and I look at the shop again, I'm kind of looking at things from an Okuma perspective. I walk a shop floor and he may be calling me in because he wants to talk about a new machine tool, and wants to talk about adding a horizontal, or adding a five axis machine. But there's certain things I look for when I walk through a shop, and as I'm walking through I start looking at where are problem areas, where are areas where parts are bottlenecked?

Wade Anderson:

And sometimes, the reason that he brought me in isn't really what his problem is. I may be walking the floor and realize all of the spindles are turning, there's a couple of machines that aren't, but there's a big bottleneck of parts in the QC lab waiting to get through inspection before they can make it out the door. So then, okay, if we start focusing on that, and solving that problem, we can add inspection devices to the machine tool process, different things like that, and we're trying to move where that bottleneck is. That's how I look at it from a chip cutting standpoint is I'm walking through a floor.

Wade Anderson:

What do you look for from an automation perspective? As you're walking into a customer's shop and he's wanting to talk automation, what are the key triggers as you're walking through a floor, what are things that is throwing red flags in your mind? This is an area we need to be looking.

Greg Feix:

Yeah. I mean, first thing I always suggest is automation is only as good as a process. So I start looking at issues they may be having with chips, or any of that nature first, but then looking at where are all the red lights, because quite often we have customers that suggest we need more capacity, we need more capacity to get parts out the door. But then you walk in the shop and there's quite a few red lights. We suggest why don't you automate some of the existing equipment to become more competitive, and utilize the equipment.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. You brought up something that kind of triggered my mind. You talked about chips. Chips, being able to control variables, right? So when I'm looking at a manufacturing process, if we're talking automation, a key focus of mine is can we control all the different variables that we're going to encounter? If we can't control the variables, we really can't automate. What are things like that, that you look for? What are, what are some of the variables that a customer needs to get his arms around to make sure, before you try to integrate robotics or some kind of automation, here are some common variables that we need to be cognizant of.

Greg Feix:

Sure. Tool life being a key to that is important. Automation is not going to be effective if you're always in the cell changing inserts. So we'll often talk about redundant tooling. What type of inspection do we need to be doing? That way we can control the process, because within automation, if you don't have any type of quality, quite often you're going to make a lot of good parts or bad parts, one of the two. So we're utilizing-

Wade Anderson:

I like that. You make a lot of parts. It's up to you whether it's good parts, or whether it's bad parts, right?

Greg Feix:

That's right. That's right. So quite often we're using some type of gauging with feedback to the machines to comp the tool wear offsets. That way we can maintain a process and continue in an automatic mode.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. Do you get involved much with doing inspection outside of the machine tool? So when you're unloading a part, sending it off to some type of measuring device, and then, but it's still within that automated cell?

Greg Feix:

Quite often. I mean, we can do simple audit where we can, at some given interval, we can drop a part and provide that to an operator do some manual inspection, or we'll do automatic post-process gauging, whether it's a dedicated gauge, a CMM, even like an Equator, or something of that nature, then using some products by Caron Engineering to analyze the data from the inspection, then comp the machine.

Wade Anderson:

All right. So tell me more on that. Let's take a part example. If I'm doing a shaft for example. We're automating that process, you would take that shaft off. So there's a couple of different scenarios: you could do inspection inside the machine using auto gauging, part probing, or you can take that part off and you're saying you would flag a command, basically, in your program for the robot to drop it off into an outbound station. That would then go to a shop floor CMM, Renishaw Equator, or some kind of a shop floor device that's inspecting it. Then based on that measurements, Caron Engineering would send that to the control?

Greg Feix:

Actually what the gauge sends a file to the control where Caron Engineering is looking at the file location. Then it analyzes the measurements that it's received, and then if required, it's the brains to offset the toolware.

Wade Anderson:

Okay, is there a way that we look at if things are trending too far out, we stop and flag an operator to say, wait a minute, something's not quite right. The normal tool wear comp's getting too large, or the offsets too big, something's not right, an insert's broke, or something? Is there something that allows... That you would do to flag it so it could stop the operation, and then flag the operator to come and take a look at it?

Greg Feix:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean within the gauge, if we get a bad part, we can stop immediately, and then call an operator to come over and evaluate the situation. Sometimes we'll have customers that request if they see two bad parts in a row, just in case if there was a chip on the first part, they can continue to run an automatic mode, or we can set an alarm that would stop the machine from cutting additional parts.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. All right. Very good. Many years ago, I used to program robots, FANUC robots, and Motoman robots primarily were the ones I went to a school for. Back then, we would wire them up with discrete I/Os and spend a week or two teaching points to the robot. How much has that changed over the years?

Greg Feix:

The interfacing, obviously with Okuma, we believe it's the most seamless because of the nature of the machine, Okuma making the entire... The machine controls the motors. The interface to that is Anybus EtherNet. So we're wiring an ethernet cable, mapping the IO, and away we go. So it's very seamless on that side. And then touching up the points for the pick, the load, the unload, and then the drop positions.

Wade Anderson:

Okay.

Greg Feix:

A lot of times we're using vision nowadays, which you probably didn't have that technology back then.

Wade Anderson:

I didn't do anything with vision back then. My time on the teach pendants were '93-'94 timeframe, so I'm pretty dated in this environment, Greg.

Greg Feix:

Yeah, vision's a big part of our life. It really simplifies the methods that you queue parts, you don't have to have them in some fixtured location anymore. You just have vision on the robot, it'll go find the parts and pick them up, so you can reduce further direct labor just by using that, and the changeover aspect goes away as well.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. So the vision is that something... Can it pick out different geometries?

Greg Feix:

Within reason. I'm talking about the FANUC IR vision itself. It's artifact based, so you program it based on an actual part.

Wade Anderson:

Okay.

Greg Feix:

So if you have, say, a conveyor and an operator throws it another part on it just to check it. It would notice that if it's grossly out, when I say that, if it's an eighth inch or more, likely, it's going to kick it out.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. So all right. So if I had five different parts, if I've programmed it, and I've got part programs in the control and I've defined what the geometry of these parts look like. If my cell attendant operator is loading a conveyor belt, and maybe I've got mixes, I do three of one part, five of another, ten of another, that robot, the vision system, could pick out that geometry and then call up that part program for that part.

Greg Feix:

Correct.

Wade Anderson:

So it could go from one part to another without operator intervention?

Greg Feix:

Yeah. So we could use, it'd be five vision processes. So we could take a photo of one, find that part, and then through external program, select on the Okuma, we can call up the cutting program, and then load it for the machining.

Wade Anderson:

Okay.

Greg Feix:

So the only limitation is A, your end of arm tooling has to handle those, and your chuck in the machine or fixture would have to handle those parts as well.

Wade Anderson:

Okay, so what about miss-loading? When you're doing automation and especially for an example like that, if I've got a mix of parts getting thrown at the cell, how am I confirming and making sure that that part's getting loaded correctly, and we don't have a situation where we're miss-loading parts? That's something tied through the workholding?

Greg Feix:

It's two things on the end of arm tooling generally we're going to have some type of a compliant unit to ensure that it's loaded to the hard-stop in a chuck, but then quite often we're using air seating in the chuck to make sure that it's seated, and we get feedback from the machine before the process starts that it is indeed loaded correctly.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. Back in my younger days, we used to use torque skip on the Okuma control. So if we put a part in just to make sure that we were loading part A, and to make sure we didn't accidentally put part B in, we could drive a blank tool basically in, and use torque skip, and if we're expecting the part to be, I'm just going to use round numbers, three inches out away from the Chuck, I would start sending this tool in at three and a half inches or so using torque skips. So if all of a sudden the motor realizes, wait a minute, I'm sensing torque outside of this band I've programmed it would flag it, and then we could have an operator come in and double check, make sure it's got the right part at the right time. Do you see people still doing scenarios like that in the field?

Greg Feix:

Well, it's funny you say that, we just had a conversation yesterday about it, and it was a specific part in the way that the measurement had to be on the part from the ID. They were planning on using torque skip just to utilize it on the tailstock side of it. So we do see it from time to time.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. That's good, because those are standard features in the control, and a lot of times, you know us from the Okuma side of things, we're so used to it, we almost forget to talk about it at times. So it's good to see that you guys are still utilizing some of that, and incorporating that. So I guess what are the newest trends? Where do you see automation going? What do you foresee your role at Gosiger Automation three, five years down the road? How do you see this growing and expanding?

Greg Feix:

Well, just to give you an idea what we've done in the last three years, automation, Gosiger Automation originally was about 20 when I started, excuse me, and now we're at 60. So in a number of three years, we've tripled the size of the group, and we're still growing at this point, and what we're seeing worldwide, the shipment of robots is only growing. So I think it was between 2013 in 2018 there was a 200,000 unit growth of robot shipments worldwide, and the trend continues in that direction.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. I know for Okuma, one of the biggest market segments that we play in the 40x20 vertical machining center, that's a large volume market space for machine tools in general, the 40x20 mill is one of the biggest market segments. For us, that's kind of a commodity market. What do you see, or what are you guys doing to kind of help, say, machine shops that are just getting into automation for the first time who're trying to automate a small eight inch lathe, a 40x20 mill. Do you guys have products that kind of speaks to that commodity market?

Greg Feix:

We do. As far as a 40x20, or vertical side, what we've seen over the last two years is a tremendous growth in automation in that style machine. Customers generally, were thinking, either a high volume machine, or a horizontal manually loaded. However, what we're seeing is let's take the investment in the horizontal and the fixtures, put it into the automation, automate a vertical machining center. So I would say over the last two years, we've seen about a 30 to 40% increase in the number of vertical machining centers that we're automating.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. Interesting. So you guys have recently partnered with Automation Within Reach.

Greg Feix:

Correct.

Wade Anderson:

Tell me a little bit about that relationship. What do they do? What's their strong suit?

Greg Feix:

Sure. So Automation Within Reach, the whole focus there is a commodity standard automation for high flexible systems. So out of the box, their system handles from a half to five inches in diameter and then from one to seven inches high. So highly flexible, low cost to enter into the market of automation, and we've seen that really take off since we released it, or showed it at IMTS in 2018. That unit really designed with the ability to move it from one machine to another, as long as you have the options on the machine. But what we're finding is once a customer gets one and they see the value in it, they're turning around and buying another one for a different machine.

Wade Anderson:

Okay. So how long would it take to incorporate that? I just put a lathe on the floor. I've got it installed, now I want to look at automating it. If I'm bringing this unit in, how long does it take me to get it up and running?

Greg Feix:

So I'll give you an example of a system that we did recently on actually a MULTUS B250. We shipped it on a Monday morning, Monday mid-afternoon it was installed, and we loaded parts up on it, and it ran for the next 159 hours straight. So within six hours of it hitting their floor, they automated a machine 159 hours.

Wade Anderson:

That's awesome. That's great. I got to play around with the control a little bit. I've had them on our tech center floors, we've had them at some of the shows, and the thing that really amazes me about it is the ease of programming. Again, going from the days where I was driving robots with teach pendants, and now utilizing a conversational type program that's really simplified the skill level that's needed to be able to program that robot.

Greg Feix:

Yeah. What our goal is, and I believe we've achieved it with that product, is keeping the teach pendant out of the customer's hands. So on the HMI, they're answering some very simple questions as far as how the part's being gripped on the load, where's it loading? Where's it unloading, where's it loading into the drawers? The system actually takes care of defining the overall height. So you don't even have to input that side. You don't have to provide any type of depth to load it into the chuck.

Greg Feix:

And we're using standard options on the robot to do that. And then another thing that's interesting, most customers today think, with automation you have to have some type of PLC, some highly complex interface to it. But in that system there's no PLC. So the robot's communicating directly to the, basically, industrial PC. So there's really no requirement to be able to support that side of it.

Wade Anderson:

All right. So I think that's about all the time we've got for today. Greg, I appreciate your time. What's the next thing on your plate? What's the next big project you're working on?

Greg Feix:

Well, there's a few, but the biggest one that I would say is a 1,250 kilogram robot that we'll be working on for loading to a VTM 100. So very large systems that will be hitting our floor towards the end of the year.

Wade Anderson:

1200 kilograms. That's about what I curl on a good day. All right, well I appreciate everybody joining us for today. Again, this is Greg Feix with Gosiger Automation. I'm Wade Anderson with Okuma America Corporation, and if you have any questions or any ideas that you want us to discuss on these podcasts, please reach out to us. See you soon.

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