Efficient, Reliable and Flexible: WEFAG AG Automates CNC Machine Tending with OnRobot
Experience, flexibility, precision: The Switzerland-based company WEFAG AG offers high-quality comprehensive services in the field of CNC machining and has been doing so for 35 years. It focuses on the CNC production of components and parts for the fluid technology sector. In order to continuously deliver Swiss-quality results to its clients, the company does not only invest in new CNC machines but also relies on a collaborative application featuring the 3FG15 gripper developed by OnRobot to tend CNC machines. This makes it possible for the company to meet extremely short delivery times and smaller batch sizes confidently. Besides, it also reduces the workload of employees, who can then focus on more demanding tasks. Thanks to its customizable fingertips, the 3FG15 is perfect to precisely grip parts of different shapes and sizes.
The fluid technology sector offers a wide range of application scenarios, both hydraulic and pneumatic, ranging from railway engineering and machine tools to agricultural machinery and other commercial vehicles. The associated parts and components are manufactured using CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines, which can be used to process various materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, brass, copper, non-ferrous metals, or even plastics. CNC machines are machine tools that can automatically manufacture workpieces with high precision, including complex shapes, via control technology. Since its foundation by Herbert Hediger 35 years ago, WEFAG AG has focused on the manufacture of fluid technology workpieces. The strength of this “Swiss SME” specializing in CNC lies in its great flexibility, decades of experience, and adherence to the highest quality standards.
Challenge: Shorter delivery times and smaller batch sizes
For WEFAG AG, the necessary adjustments were mainly sparked by changes in client demands. “We are increasingly dealing with extremely short delivery times and smaller batch sizes,” explains Damian Hediger, Managing Director of WEFAG AG. “Besides, process reliability must be guaranteed – for all components.” When machining workpieces with CNC machines, both absolute positioning accuracy, and repeatability are crucial. This family-owned company focuses on precision and meeting the highest quality standards. WEFAG AG is thus able to offer its clients a wide range of CNC machining services in an almost unlimited variety and combination of materials. The components go through various machining steps within the CNC machines, including turning, milling, drilling, vibratory finishing, assembly, refining, and the final machining of the workpieces.
At WEFAG, an employee would spend the entire day placing workpieces in a machine and removing them. This made the company look for a way to make its production processes more efficient, without hindering employees’ tasks. After much research and consideration, the company finally decided to automate. With modern technologies, many processes are already automated: loading and unloading, for example, which previously needed to be supervised by an employee. Today, WEFAG automates part of its process using a collaborative application consisting of a Doosan robot and an OnRobot gripper.
Flexible gripper needed to load and unload the machine
Due to the limited space between CNC machines at the production facility, WEFAG was faced with another challenge: the process had to be automated in the most space-saving way possible, which meant that robotics was also on the agenda. Furthermore, the solution had to be accurate enough to precisely place a variety of components in the machine and remove them without damaging them. Since the implementation of the automation project was not feasible for WEFAG alone, the company turned to cobot solutions AG, a Swiss company specializing in comprehensive automation solutions using collaborative robotics. Cobot solutions is not only an integrator but also a distributor of products manufactured by Doosan Robotics, OnRobot, and other manufacturers in the field of collaborative robotics.
“WEFAG approached us with a request to develop a solution that would allow them to quickly and easily automate CNC machine tending,” explains Beni Zimmermann, Managing Director of cobot solutions AG. “Based on this request, we researched, tested, and validated various grippers. The main challenge was the variety of workpieces, as it placed enormous requirements on the gripping range and flexibility of the gripper.”
WEFAG and cobot solutions decided on an application in which OnRobot’s 3FG15 gripper is seamlessly mounted on Doosan’s collaborative robot arm. The electric three-finger gripper stands out due to its high accuracy and flexible gripping range. The 3FG15 enables the precise gripping of objects of different shapes and sizes. Its fingers can be mounted in three different positions, enabling different gripping forces and diameters. Thanks to its symmetrical rotational motion, the 3FG15 places objects very precisely. It is also IP67 certified, which ensures that the device is dust-tight and protected against temporary immersion. This makes the 3FG15 the perfect solution for CNC machine operation. “Cobot solutions developed the application for us from scratch. It was important for us for the application to be easy to use and the changeover times to be short,” comments Nathanael Hediger, Managing Director of WEFAG AG. “The component itself is difficult to grip due to its shape, which is why not every gripper was suitable. In the end, only the OnRobot 3FG15 met the requirements,” says Nathanael Hediger.
Intuitive operation: reduces the workload of employees
Before the application was put into operation, WEFAG and cobot solutions carried out various test runs. “OnRobot let us use the gripper for test purposes. This allowed us to test and validate the overall application beforehand,” says Jérôme Perdrizat, Development Engineer at cobot solutions AG, describing the decision-making process. “The gripper’s firmware enables various external interfaces. In this case, we employ a serial communication interface, which allows us to use the gripper in a very flexible manner. Since the gripper no longer needs to be set manually, even employees with no prior knowledge can easily set up and operate the robot cell.” To make the application even more intuitive, cobot solutions also developed software with input screens that can be used to configure and automate a new task in just a few minutes. Thus, the application developed by cobot solutions offers a real added value for the robot cell, including the initially mentioned small batch sizes.
Once the application was up and running, it ran day and night to fully optimize the use of the machines. This resulted in a significant increase in workpieces processed in less time. Employees now only need to load the trays of the Easy Robotics Pro Feeder with the workpiece blanks and enter the necessary parameters in the software input screen. The application then automatically pulls out the trays of the Pro Feeder, takes out the raw material, and accurately places it in the CNC machine. Once the workpiece has been machined, the cobot arm removes the finished component from the machine with the help of the 3FG15 gripper and places it back in a free spot of the tray. “Thanks to automation, our processes are now much more efficient, and we are able to reduce the workload of our employees. We expect the investment to be paid off within a few months,” adds Damian Hediger, Managing Director of WEFAG AG.
By employing the collaborative application consisting of the Doosan robot arm and the OnRobot 3FG15 gripper, WEFAG AG has proved that small and medium-sized family businesses can make their production processes substantially more efficient using automation.
Even though WEFAG AG has only recently started operating its automation solution, the company already has its sights set on the future. The CNC experts are currently considering implementing another OnRobot gripper the 2FG7 and integrating it into their everyday production processes via an application.
WEFAG AG is based in Fällanden, Switzerland, and has focused on the production of fluid technology workpieces. The company specializes in CNC requirements. Its strength lies in its great flexibility, decades of experience, and adherence to the highest quality standards. For further information, please visit their website.
About cobot solutions
Cobot solutions AG is based in the Zürcher Oberland region. The company offers comprehensive solutions for automation with collaborative robots, from simple pick-and-place tasks to complex production lines. Cobot solutions is also a distributor of products developed by Doosan Robotics, OnRobot, and other manufacturers in the field of collaborative robotics in Switzerland. For further information, please visit their website.