Heavy-duty handling

Author William Leventon
March 01, 2021 - 12:15pm

A new automation system has what it takes to handle large pallets but also gives the option of switching to smaller ones.

Available in Europe and soon to be introduced in North America, Hermle AG’s HS flex heavy pallet-handling system works with Hermle’s C 400 and C 650 Performance-Line five-axis machining centers, as well as its C 32 and C 42 High-Performance-Line models. A scaled-up version of Hermle’s HS flex system, which can handle loads up to 450 kg (992 lbs.), the HS flex heavy has a load-carrying capacity of 1,200 kg (2,646 lbs.). The system is aimed mainly at die and mold applications and general machining of larger, heavier components, said Gunther Schnitzer, co-president and chief technology officer of Hermle USA Inc. in Franklin, Wisconsin.

Key components of the HS flex heavy include a setup station, one or two storage modules and a handling unit capable of linear, vertical and rotational motion. The handling unit moves pallets among the setup station, the storage module(s) and the working area of the machining center. Pallets as large as 800 mm (31") by 630 mm (25") can be handled.

The HS flex heavy system can handle pallets as large as 800 mm by 630 mm and pallet loads up to 1,200 kg. Image courtesy of Hermle USA

In addition, however, the same system can handle 500 mm (20") by 500 mm pallets, a feature that Schnitzer said sets the HS flex heavy apart from competitive offerings.

“In a five-axis application,” he said, “you don’t want to run a small part on a large pallet. Therefore, we have a design that lets you mix and match pallets within one automation system. You can start off with a large pallet. And if you find out down the road that you would like to use a 500 mm pallet, you can order additional pallets from us and put a 500 mm pallet in a location that was originally designated for an 800 mm pallet.”

One workpiece storage module comes with the system as standard, and an optional second module can be added either initially or later. The modules, which weigh about 4,536 kg (5 tons), are installed using a forklift and then leveled. Modules feature a rack design that can accommodate three or four shelves, depending on the height of the workpiece/fixture combination, and up to nine pallet storage pockets.

Another important feature of the HS flex heavy is a pair of swinging doors that can control access.

“Some automation systems are really part of the machine,” Schnitzer said, but the doors “can separate the automation system from the machine.”

When the doors are closed, the HS flex heavy is still fully operational.

“So a setup guy can load and unload parts and get the pallets ready while a programmer is using the machine as a stand-alone unit to try out some complicated codes,” Schnitzer said. “But when you get to the night shift, you open the swing doors, and it becomes a fully automated cell. And you are back in business.”

The HS flex heavy is controlled by the Hermle Automation Control System. Operated with a touch panel, HACS software aids operators with order management. He said while some control software on the market can be intimidating, HACS software is intuitive and easy to use.

“You don’t have to put a complex program together in order to get a pallet from point A to point B,” Schnitzer said.

One limitation of the HS flex heavy is that it can feed only one machine. Some people, however, might not consider this a downside.

“A shop that has four machines next to each other may think that a linear shuttle that feeds four machines is a good thing because they would only need one shuttle,” Schnitzer said. “But if that one shuttle is down, all four of their machines are going to be down. So you can look at (the one-machine limitation) as a good thing or a bad thing.”    


Related Glossary Terms

  • centers


    Cone-shaped pins that support a workpiece by one or two ends during machining. The centers fit into holes drilled in the workpiece ends. Centers that turn with the workpiece are called “live” centers; those that do not are called “dead” centers.

  • feed


    Rate of change of position of the tool as a whole, relative to the workpiece while cutting.

  • machining center

    machining center

    CNC machine tool capable of drilling, reaming, tapping, milling and boring. Normally comes with an automatic toolchanger. See automatic toolchanger.