Why do you actually need a camera system for a flexible feeding solution? Why can't you use any system?
In a flexible feeding solution, the camera system is of absolutely central importance: The camera continuously analyzes the current situation on the feeder. It then decides which one of the many possible different movements of the feeder will lead to bringing the parts into the desired position. As many parts as possible and as quickly as possible. The feeder itself knows many different possible movements, and the camera decides in each case which of the possible movements is goal-directed. If the camera is then satisfied with the situation, it transfers the current coordinates of the identified parts to the connected robot. Several years of development have gone into the software on which our system is based. Compared to a car, you could say that the feeder’s camera-software-combination has the same role as the car’s engine – essential for operation and hard to replace. By the way, it’s important to know that even an absolute newcomer to flexible feeding technology can be trained on our system in only 1.5 days, and drivers for almost every industrial robot are now integrated in the system. There really is no easier and safer way to achieve success.
How can I find out whether and how well the parts I want to feed run on the flexfeeder?
This is actually the central question in every project. Therefore, we have set up a test center in our company, where three employees are exclusively engaged in operating tests for our customers. We usually carry out these tests with a robot and thus create absolutely realistic conditions. After the test, each customer receives a detailed report of the test results, a video showing the feeding of the parts from different perspectives, and also a binding offer for the components we recommend for this project and that were used in the test. In addition, we save the complete software used in the test, which the customer then receives free of charge when purchasing a system. And if a product should not run smoothly – we say it, we show it and we look for solutions together with the customer. We only really like to sell a system when we are convinced that the solution works as desired. This creates security on all sides!
Is there a basic rule as to what the minimum size of the flexfeeder should be in relation to the part size to be fed? How do I find the optimal flexfeeder for the application?
When selecting the appropriate flexfeeder, we use this rule of thumb:
Feeder width = max. part length x 5
If parts of approx. 45mm length should be fed, this leads to 5 x 45 mm = 225 mm flexfeeder X250. The number in the name of the feeder indicates the width of the feeder.
If you follow this rule of thumb, about 20 to 25 parts fit into the image area of the camera, and this leads to a good probability to always find some parts in the desired position. Of course, there are always exceptions, but as a rule, the throughput of the application increases with the size of the feeder. However, in order to get exact certainty, we are happy to perform tests with real parts on our feeders on request and thus determine the ideal configuration of each application.
At what distance and how do you install the camera with the flexfeeder?
In each application, there is a predefined distance between the camera and the feeder’s surface which must be strictly followed. This distance is defined by the resolution of the camera, the size of the image field, and the selected lens. A camera too close to the surface of the flexfeeder leads to distortions. Therefore, we deliver the flexfeeder with a completely preconfigured camera tower, which offers not only the camera, but also a way to mount the optional toplight. Everything is fully wired, which simplifies integration enormously and eliminates error sources. This type of camera installation is particularly convenient when operating with collaborative robots without a protective enclosure, since there is no cell structure for mounting the camera and the toplight. The full integration of camera and toplight is a unique selling point of the flexfeeder series.
What happens to defective parts or accidentally wrong parts that are in the system?
In flexible feeding, "quality control" is quasi a free add-on. In contrast to a classic vibratory feeder, each individual part is measured via camera and compared with the stored reference model of the part. In case of deviations from this model, feedware X marks these parts as faulty and prevents them from being processed by the robot. The specially integrated gate allows for such parts, especially if several of them have accumulated in the image area, to be disposed of in a seperate box.
The flexfeeder system is thus self-suppressing. Machine downtime due to a faulty part as with traditional vibratory feeders does not occur, and faulty parts will not be installed. This creates real process reliability through extremely high availability of the automation solution.
Is such a flexfeeder system reusable or is it always tailored to the specific application?
Just like an industrial robot, the flexfeeder is a reusable piece of equipment. With e.g. a flexfeeder X250, parts can be fed in a range of 10 mm – 60 mm in length. The system is therefore ideal for changing requirements and changing products. Many of the systems supplied by flexfactory have been in operation for over 10 years – with constantly changing components. "Solving tomorrow's problems today" – by using the flexible feeding systems of the flexfeeder and anyfeed series, this maxim is consistently implemented.
Is a feasibility study necessary in every case to determine whether and with which flexfeeder system an application is feasible?
Quite clearly: No! Usually a photo or a drawing of the parts to be fed with the indication of the desired position and the required throughput is sufficient for us. Based on this, our specialists can usually identify the suitable system within minutes and the customer usually receives a budget offer for exactly this system within a few hours. However, the selected configuration should be verified by a test with real components, especially for critical parts and high throughput. This creates reliability and also often helps our customers to achieve acceptance for the solution.
What is the solution for rolling parts? Don't they move on the surface of the flexfeeder for a very long time?
The flexfeeder’s surface (a plate made of POM) is constructed in a way that makes it exchangeable within a few seconds and completely without tools. For parts that tend to roll, you just pick a textured plate out of the wide range of different plates which we provide for each flexfeeder. If necessary, we can also design and manufacture customized plates. In our tests, we determine the optimal plate for the part and document the behavior of the parts in a video. This way, we ensure that the requirements for the solution are met or exceeded.
How can I find out whether and to what extent there is potential for the use of flexible feeding technology in my company?
We will gladly come by for a visit. Together, we analyze the potential for this kind of application. We will show you both the possibilities and the limits, and will look jointly for possible partners for the implementation of the task. In doing so, you will benefit from our large network in the world of automation technology. Whether you have questions concerning the picker or you need support in programming the application – we will either help you directly or make contact with the right partners. Our goal is a long-term cooperation with our customers, and we can only achieve this if you are satisfied with us and our solution.
Are there possibilities for remote maintenance of a flexfeeder application?
We are in close contact with many of our customers and, if required, we also have the means to access the solution online and make adjustments. Our system is prepared for remote maintenance, and if problems occur, quick help is understood. This also includes a free hotline and a two-year warranty on all our systems. In many cases we also have customer’s parts in stock, so we can carry out optimizations and import the changed parameters directly into the customer's system. This way, we create safe production conditions and help to maintain them, also after delivery.
How time-consuming is the training for such a system? Isn't it an application that is very complicated to realize?
Our goal is that our customers are able to master the system from A-Z, start it up independently and also maintain it. The ideal candidate for setting up a camera-guided flexfeeder system is also the person who programs the robot. After only a few hours of training, which we can also provide on site if desired, every robot programmer is able to calibrate flexfeeder, camera and robot to each other, teach new parts, adjust the appropriate parameters for the flexfeeder's movements and establish communication with the robot. Due to the growing number of robot drivers, especially the last point is easy to implement, regardless of which manufacturer the robot comes from. Know-How on-site creates independence, reliability and satisfaction with the implemented solution. This is exactly the target we try to hit.