Metalcasting facilities can improve productivity and solve issues labor shortages by automating.
Metalcasting facilities hold several opportunities to improve production efficiency, casting quality, and worker safety with automation.
Automating the Grinding Room
The grinding area of a foundry is notoriously one of the most labor-intensive departments on the production floor. Foundry managers are keen to automate grinding—for the right price and setup.
In some foundries, around 60% of the workforce is in the grinding room. Entry level foundry jobs have the biggest turnover. said Don Laundre, Regional Sales Manager for AFS Corporate Member Sinto America, Inc. (Grand Ledge, Michigan).
Manual grinding is not just a hard job, it can be the source of inconsistent quality and production due to human error.
The options to automate grinding include what Laundre calls “grinders in a box.” These are self-contained machines in which a part is set into a fixture and then the grinding is automatically performed in a set of steps as programmed. Another option is to set up a robotic cell where a robot takes a part to different grinding stations, or the robot can take the tool to the casting.
Self-contained automated grinding machines normally have faster cycle times with more accurate results. The casting is in contact with the tool the majority of the cycle and is in position and supported during the full grinding cycle. Self-contained automated grinding machines also save space but the casting sizes are limited (usually to 36 in. in diameter and up to 350 lbs.). Tool variety can be limited to two or three configurations as well, unless a quick-change tool is used.
Modular cells can work with small or large casting sizes and different tool configurations such as finishing belts, grinding wheels, drilling and gaging; however, tooling will be dictated for that casting per that casting family and increases the total cell cost. Plus, when castings are gripped internally or externally, there is the possibility of slipping during grinding. With both self-contained and modular cells, the workers environment is safer and productivity increases.
“The benefit of adding automation in your cleaning room is the increased throughput. You have production control,” Laundre said. “You know the machine is always going to grind. It shows up every day and there is no fatigue factor.
Laundre suggests when entering the automated grinding arena, a foundry should start small and then invest in additional grinding processes.
“The price tag for a complete cell is pretty high,” he said. “Get the first machine in there, get it debugged and running, and then move on to phase two or three or four. Walk before you run.”
Once the first machine or phase is running smoothly and efficiently, foundries can move on to the next phase. Sometimes the second phase gets moved up in the timeline after the success of the first phase becomes apparent.
“These grinding cells can carry price tags of $300,000 to $500,000, and customers don’t always see where the initial payback is.” Laundre said. “It’s not just cost that gets saved. It is more accurate grinding, safer working conditions, and better productivity.”