Mobile robot automation

Author Cutting Tool Engineering
April 10, 2023 - 10:00am

By WFL Millturn Technologies GmbH & Co. KG

Automation tasks are becoming ever more challenging. Using intelligent software in combination with the relevant automation solutions not only enables workpieces to be loaded and unloaded but means that machine tools can be set up fully automatically through automatic replacement of tools and clamping devices.

Our subsidiary FRAI Robotic Technologies strives to be an innovative automation partner and therefore is developing highly flexible robotic systems to respond to this trend. Concepts like the mobile­CELL are a first and enable a wide range of expansion stages, making them as future-proof and competitive as possible.

Different industries, series production, small batch sizes, a wide variety of machine tools and the uncertainty of many manufacturers as to whether a current product still will be in vogue next year or will become a slow seller — all this calls for flexibility in production. For automation, this means keeping pace with increasing demands: It must produce autonomously around the clock, be flexible to use and be Industry 4.0-compliant. In addition to the classic changeover of parts, automation takes on other tasks, such as tool changing, part transportation, logistics, host computer functions, part tracking and product history.

 Customers increasingly are looking for holistic solutions, such as the mobileCELL.
Customers increasingly are looking for holistic solutions, such as the mobileCELL. Image courtesy of WFL Millturn Technologies

The more complex the task, the more elements you need from the “know-how kit.” That is what FRAI calls the solutions that already have been implemented successfully in practice and have been proven to work under real production conditions. The company has developed a large number of kit elements: parts and position recognition, bin picking, reading and inscribing a data matrix code, parts contour monitoring, automatic gripper exchange, jaw changes and more. Depending on the task, FRAI also has a network of partner companies that cover other aspects, such as host computer solutions.

Several megatrends and macrotrends will shape not only automation but virtually all industrial sectors in the coming years. First, there is individualization: There will be smaller series and more frequent product changes/innovations. Second, we have connectivity: Everything is networked, and each component has a QR code and can be tracked through to recycling.

If you think about a smartphone, making a phone call is no longer the key function. The same is true of automation in the sense that transporting a workpiece from A to B is not necessarily the main task in every application. Instead, the focus has shifted toward recognition, tracking and multitasking. Camera recognition and gripper exchange systems combined with host computer solutions have become the core components of a flexible solution that is compatible with Industry 4.0. Globally, the trend will move toward a small-cell solution with high intelligence and a high proportion of information technology.

The aforementioned trends and requirements call for overall networking, in particular information data acquisition and evaluation. We need to be able to acquire, process, evaluate and/or pass on data. This allows us to optimize production, the sequence and subsequently the capacity utilization, as well as meet customer requirements, which call for 100% traceability and parts history. Improving the capacity utilization lowers unit costs while higher quality lowers the cost of poor quality. These are well-known requirements. However, they are becoming increasingly important. In the future, automation will be about using corresponding hardware to ensure a flexible material flow, handle components and implement a variety of setup processes.

When it comes to modern automation concepts, holistic customer support starts with the technical sales team. Here, experienced technicians must work hand in hand with visionaries, 3D designers and software specialists to create the most useful overall concept for a customer. These resources must be provided at both the quotation stage and later for order processing.

On one hand, this requires you to train less experienced people. On the other hand, this ensures a good mix in all departments so you are well prepared for new tasks. It’s essential to develop high-tech expertise at your company and continually adapt as development in these areas progresses at an incredible pace. 

about the author

For more information about WFL Millturn Technologies Inc. in Wixom, Michigan, call 248-347-9390 or visit