From greater precision and consistency to increased efficiency and quality, robots provide considerable benefits to the labor-intensive woodworking industry, helping to improve fit and finish of goods while optimizing production operations. Moreover, robust yet easy-to-program robots with multi-function end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) are readily deployed and redeployed on demand, adding greater flexibility on the shop floor to meet increased customer demands for various shapes and sizes. Popular uses for robotic automation in the woodworking industry continue to be:
Machine Tending and Material Handling – popular for optimizing safety and improving cycle time, extremely fast, flexible use robots, ranging from 7 kg to 300 kg payload, are well-suited for loading and unloading wood to CNC machines and other equipment for processing. Examples include loading of band saws, dowel insertion machines, drilling machines, edge banders, milling machines, panel saws, T-nut insertion machines and more are all compatible with robotic automation.
Widely used for these applications, machine vision can expertly locates parts so that the robot can pick them up precisely and consistently. Prime examples of this include finding a board on a stack or locating a specific board on a conveyor prior to loading it into a machine.
Sanding – when preparing a surface for a specific finish, the use of application-specific robots for these dull and dirty tasks seamlessly and efficiently guide material removal media over a surface, creating consistently smooth edges and surfaces. Depending on the product, robots can be programmed to sand with different contact pressures or removal rates with the help of intelligent sensors and intuitive software programs.
Painting and Gluing – popular for spraying glue to adhere layers of laminates together, high-performance dispensing robots can increase consistency and throughput, while dramatically decreasing wasted material and lowering operating costs. The same goes for painting robots, which also enhance finish quality. The use of robotic vision is also very helpful with these applications.
Material Transfer and Palletizing – four- five- and six-axis robots designed for picking, packing and palletizing are ideal for the handling and transfer of small to large workpieces in a reliable way. Robots are well-suited for packaging operations, especially for ready-to-assemble furniture and case-packing of products, as seen in this IKEA example where book cases are being packaged. Robots are often used in palletizing operations of heavy payload cabinets or furniture. These robots are perfect for completing the repetitive task of stacking product onto wooden (or plastic) pallets for transport.
The highly flexible PalletSolver® software package enables offline pallet pattern generation for virtually any mix of SKUs and can optimize the execution of pattern files and robot operation for fast deployment of even the most complex palletizing workcells.
Options Best Suited for Your Operations
No matter the situation, there is a robot that can help optimize your production operations. In spaces where robots need to work with or in close proximity to humans, collaborative robots, like the HC10, are being deployed in unique ways (based on a thorough risk assessment). Moreover, the new HC20 collaborative robot with an easy-to-clean surface and hand-guided teaching is fulfilling a wide range of tasks, including the reach of full, 80-inch tall pallets without an elevator.
Overall, the use of robotic automation in the woodworking industry increases product quality and throughput, while saving time and money. It also lightens the physical burden for manual workers, freeing them to be redeployed to other value-added tasks within the company, mitigating risks while building valuable competitive edge.
Dean Elkins is a Segment Leader - Handling