Assembly in Action: Cooling Manufacturer Automates Fin Loading
January 31, 2007
Applied Cooling Technology Ltd. (Birmingham, England) manufactures cooling systems for the marine, automotive, power generation and petrochemical industries. Recently the company implemented a preconfigured Cartesian Motion System (CMS) from Bosch Rexroth Corp. (Hoffman Estates, IL) to help its proprietary finning machines install fins on heat exchangers.
Previously loaded by hand, the machines use forces of up to half a ton to swage cooling fins onto the tubes that make up a heat exchanger element. This process eliminates the need for brazing or additional bonding between the tubes and the fins. The result is a heat exchanger that offers both excellent performance and reliability.
Because of the high forces used in the swaging process, providing adequate operator protection in the manually loaded machines without impairing productivity had always been difficult. This led the company to seek an automatic loading solution, which would allow additional guards to be fitted, as well as remove the need for an operator to work in close proximity to the machine’s moving parts. Among other requirements, the automated loading system had to be able to remove the fins, one at a time, from a bulk stack, orient them and feed them into the machine.
“We looked at a number of possible approaches, many of them based on robots,” says Applied Cooling Technology Engineering Manager, Andy Price. “We found that these gave us a choice between very expensive, but no doubt capable robots, or cheap, but unproven robots, which would be very difficult to interface with our existing automation system. Bosch Rexroth’s CMS, however, gave us the functionality we wanted at an affordable price.”
The CMS arrangement that Applied Cooling Technology chose for its finning machines has two axes, with a 1,000-millimeter range of motion on the X-axis and range of 500 millimeters on the Z-axis. Bosch Rexroth delivers the systems complete with servomotors, ready for immediate installation.
“Interfacing the CMS with our existing control system, which uses a SERCOS bus and a Bosch Rexroth controller, truly couldn’t have been easier,” Price says. “We simply connected the CMS to the bus, and the controller instantly recognized the two new axes. We didn’t have to do anything at all.... After that, we needed to configure the control of the CMS to match our application, but the hard part was essentially done for us.”
With the safety improvements made possible by the new automatic feed system, Applied Cooling Technology believes its finning machines now meet all the European safety requirements for CE marking certification. This, in turn, will allow the company to manufacture machines for lease to other organizations also involved in producing high-performance, high-reliability heat exchangers.
In addition, having an automated feed system substantially reduces the amount of labor involved in running the machines. Specifically, whereas each manually fed machine needed its own full-time operator, a single operator can now easily manage three or even four of the automated machines, providing substantial cost savings.
“We’ve used Bosch Rexroth products for many years in our machines, and we’ve always found them to be reliable, easy-to-use and economical,” Price says. “The automatic in-feed for our finning machines is just the latest in a long line of challenges [that] Bosch Rexroth has helped us to address successfully.”
For additional information on automated manufacturing, call 800-739-7684 or visit www.boschrexroth-us.com.