Source: PlaatBewerkingsNieuws / 27-06-2023

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

3D vision crucial in automatic deburring, rounding, and finishing

Behind Q-Fin’s location, the construction of the new Q-Fin Handling Solutions department is in full swing. When this building is completed in September, various operational setups will be presented here, automating the handling of deburring, rounding, and finishing of sheet metal parts. Q-Fin machines are already fully prepared for this. They are software-wise advanced enough that all stations can be controlled remotely; only the wear of the sanding belt cannot yet be measured. Now it’s up to end-users to integrate these solutions into their production processes. Inno Metaal, one of the launching customers, is confident that this will succeed.

Q-Fin Handling Solutions was created with the goal of providing complete solutions for users of Q-Fin machines to handle sheet metal parts, deburr, round, finish them in the machine, and then unload them.

Qonnect+ Platform

Collaboration with various partners is essential to make this happen. Besides the provisions like robots, reversing stations, return belts, and lifting aids, both the deburring process and the handling must be software-integrated into the customer’s production process. A primary requirement for this is that the deburring machines can be fully set up via software. This is the case with Q-Fin machines; they are ‘Industry 4.0 ready,’ as it is known. Together with Motivate from Tilburg, the Qonnect+ platform has been developed.

This platform connects the machines with all common ERP systems, allowing them to be controlled from ERP. Qonnect+ can also integrate with all other software and hardware systems in production. For example, with AGVs that deliver and remove the sheet metal parts. Q-Fin owner Anton Bax: “Our solutions will work. We already know that. Now it’s up to the customers to define the programs in their ERP system that our machines need to execute.”

Crucial Role of 3D Vision

An essential component in the automation of the handling process is the application of 3D vision. 3D vision cameras recognize the products being offered, providing the necessary information to control the entire process. In this field, Q-Fin closely collaborates with Affix Engineering from Best, which supports robot integrators and machine builders with robot programming and machine vision. “We are essentially the specialists who support other specialists,” says Danny de Greef, CEO, and founder of Affix. He gained extensive experience at renowned automotive manufacturers and started Affix a few years ago after researching the state of robotics and machine vision in the Eindhoven region. “It turned out that all robot integrators were struggling with it, and it was a headache for them. We even heard them say, ‘the best vision is no vision.'” However, De Greef’s experience in the automotive industry was completely different. He knows what can be achieved with 3D vision and saw an opportunity to make a difference.

Identifying Thin Sheet Metal Parts

This is what Affix is doing with Q-Fin now. Earlier this year, Affix became a distributor for Mech-Mind’s 3D vision systems in the Benelux, which are ideally suited for use in the automation of deburring machines. First and foremost, Mech-Mind systems work with the latest technologies. The combination of projection and laser with ingenious software results in rapid processing of camera images. This allows an entire pallet to be scanned with the required precision to identify thin sheet metal parts. Moreover, Mech-Mind, according to De Greef, can do much more than other 3D vision systems, which often do not go beyond picking an object. “This system doesn’t stop after picking an object… To achieve this, we had to make several adjustments. We added code and wrote functions, allowing us to create the entire picture from the moment the robot picks up the parts and fills the belt as effectively as possible, all the way to processing after machining.” Danny de Greef is confident that 3D vision is essential for the automation of the deburring process as envisioned by Q-Fin. With 3D vision, sheet metal parts can be quickly and accurately identified and picked up, even when they have complex contours and/or many holes, regardless of their size or thickness. When asked whether a Mech-Mind system can identify all sheet metal parts and, in principle, finish 100% of all parts automatically thanks to 3D vision, De Greef says, “We will see. So far, we haven’t had any parts that we couldn’t handle, with a lower limit of 1 mm sheet thickness. It’s a matter of further development and making the systems increasingly customer-specific.

Making Progress

This initially involves Q-Fin Handling Solutions’ launching customers, one of which is Inno Metaal. Even before this Eindhoven-based company starts working with it, Affix has already achieved its first success: “Inno Metaal wants all products to be oriented lengthwise,” says De Greef. “We have succeeded with some adjustments, which we were able to implement very quickly. These are not long processes; we can really make progress.” Making progress is an aspect that appeals to Gertjan van den Hazelkamp, director and co-owner of Inno Metaal. He is happy to serve as a launching customer with his company and is even one of the drivers of the efforts to automate the deburring process. Inno Metaal specializes in fine sheet and welding work, as well as complete assemblies, including controls, drives, and advanced software. The company operates multiple deburring machines, including two from Q-Fin. The sheet metal parts from the laser cutting machine and punch laser combination are supplied stacked and are then manually processed. The primary reason for automating this handling process is the ongoing labor shortage. Van den Hazelkamp explains, “It’s very difficult to find people for this type of work. It’s boring and monotonous, especially with large series. Often, people say they don’t want to do it after just one or two months.”

Promising Pilot

Inno Metaal is working across the board to do more with fewer people. Therefore, the company is increasing the level of automation and examining every process. A vision expert previously conducted an automation scan of the entire factory, with the central question being: where can we remove labor? All processes were reviewed, and the deburring process emerged as a strong candidate. That prompted Van den Hazelkamp to approach Q-Fin to embark on this adventure together. They conducted a simple pilot with a robot and a 3D vision camera, and the results were so promising that they decided to move forward, especially because Q-Fin was receiving more requests from other customers.

Challenges for Grippers

Inno Metaal has now installed a new F1200 XL machine with four workstations that can all be controlled, including automatic height adjustment on the brush motors and grinding belts. A handling solution will be added to this machine soon. Inno Metaal’s engineering department will work alongside Affix and Q-Fin to develop this solution. Van den Hazelkamp expects to face challenges with the grippers, stating, “We think we need to build a library of around twenty grippers to handle our entire product range. That’s why we have already purchased a quick-change system for those grippers.”

Q-Fin’s goal is to automate at least 80 percent of the deburring work for its customers. Van den Hazelkamp calls this a realistic prospect, at least for his company. He adds, “Whether such a percentage is achievable depends, of course, on the specific company situation. But we have a lot of repetitive work and relatively large series. Furthermore, the parts are already delivered stacked from our laser and punch laser. Therefore, I think that by building a gripper library, we will be able to make rapid progress.”

In addition to Inno Metaal, VDL Technics in Boxtel is also a launching customer for larger sheet metal parts. Anton Bax will closely follow the progress at both companies with more than average interest because he senses a great demand for these solutions in the market. “We have three or four customers who say they want it too if it works. And it works. We are convinced!”