The FlexTender is a prototype CNC Machine Tending solution we have been building and using for production work in our in-house machine shop.
The system is composed of the following components:
- Haas TM1-P CNC Machine (with Haas Next Generation Control) – The specific machine actually doesn’t matter too much, as long as it has a Haas NGC (Next Generation Control) as our custom PLC integrates with the NGC board using the Haas M-FIN interface. We’ve followed the Haas Robot Integration Guide for the most part to get things working.
- Universal Robots UR3 Cobot – Again, the specific model of robot doesn’t matter so much. In fact, you could even make the general strategy work with other brands of robot arms as well.
- ROBOTIQ 2F-85 Gripper – Other grippers would be fine, but for the size of parts we work with the 2F-85 is great.
- Versabuilt MultiGrip Vise – We’re not using the fancy features of the VersaBuilt MultiGrip system here, but the VersaBuilt Vise is perfectly well suited for part loading.
- Controllino MINI PLC – Controllino has a super cool line-up of PLC’s that are programmed using the Arduino Open Source project. We use the Controllino to provide conversion and isolation between the Universal Robots I/O, Haas NGC Board, Solenoid Control for the VersaBuilt Vise, and with a few external switches and buttons to control the system. Being able to customize the logic using Arduino programming is quick and easy to understand.
- Custom 7th Axis Extender – This is the key ingredient to be able to get the short reach of the UR3 to work in a machine tending application. The 3kg payload of the UR3 was not a problem for the size of the parts we work with, but the short reach was an obstacle. The 7th axis allows us to reach right into the machine to pick and place the parts from the vise. This allows us to use the lowest cost UR arm to do the job saving tens of thousands of dollars.
How it Works
We have found the system to be quite reliable at loading parts while we do other things in the shop. Obviously, this is a simple system and not intended for full lights-out operation, but it’s a fantastic extra set of hands to keep a machine running while doing other tasks around the shop.
You can watch a more detailed video of the different steps in the tending process below.