Vertical glass processing and robot automation from a single source

The necessary reduction in cycle times, minimization of handling and the clearly noticeable shortage of skilled workers are increasingly moving the focus of the glass processing industry to automation. Systron, known for vertical high-level glass processing machines, leads these trends offering automated, versatile solutions.

One of the most popular automation option is the robot. It does not require a lot of space, increases quality thanks to the minimization of handling, reduces rejects and optimizes planning. Robot cells specially tailored to the requirements of the flat glass industry were developed for the automatic loading of systron processing machines.

There are three types to choose from:

Use of KUKA robots

Due to the fact that KUKA robots can be integrated into the systron control unit without an extra interface, we decided to work exclusively with these products. Reinhard Gruber, responsible for software development at systron, explains:

“Thanks to the KUKA.PLC mxAutomation 3.3 option, we can control the KUKA robot just like any of our conventional axes. This way, we achieve maximum flexibility and performance.”

Due to the mass movements with inertia, the size of the robot used strongly depends on the size of the panes to be manipulated. “We mainly use robot sizes between the KUKA KR60 and KR500. Accordingly, the manipulation of 3.5 x 2.5m glass panes up to 12mm and 3 x 2m panes up to 19mm glass thickness is possible. Moving larger glass is feasible, but disproportionate, since the robot would need to be enormous,” says the expert.

When is a robot economical

Thomas Haan, Head of Sales at systron, is in close contact with many customers who are already using robotic solutions. Experience shows, “Even with a 1-shift operation, a robot can bring a significant increase in efficiency. In conjunction with a completely automated solution with storage or harp racks, the degree of automation is noticeably increased.

Moreover it enables, among other things, a completely autonomous production. The system can be run from a few hours up to an entire 8-hour shift without an operator.

This solution brings a positive return on investment within a very short period of time.”

Robots for waterjet cut-outs in use at Glasprofi since 2018

Glashandelsgesellschaft Profi mbH (Glasprofi) in Luhe-Wildenau, Bavaria, began using robots for glass handling in their production as early as 2001. In 2018, systron installed a proHD glass processing centre with waterjet in line with in- and outlet glass storage conveyors with 20 glass slots, washing machine and a robot to remove the waterjet cut-outs. Martin Klier, site manager at Glasprofi said about the experience with this systron solution, “We already had confidence in robot technology, with the proHD the 5th robot was already being used in our factory. Our target was to make the work process even smoother, the glass processing centre should be able to work completely independently of a machine operator.”

Glasprofi only processes complex glass with openings or cut-outs on the proHD glass machine, mostly with a glass thickness of 6-12 mm. “We mainly supply our customers with interior glass, such as kitchen splashbacks, kitchen worktops or shower doors. Everything needs to be fitted exactly, our tolerances are in the five hundredths of millimetre range,” explains Klier and adds, “The machine is running 24 hours a day, between 1:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. and between 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. even completely independently.

Thanks to the buffer for 20 glasses in combination with the robot that removes any cut-outs and places them in the container, we can produce highly complex panes without the presence of an employee.

Another important aspect is the increased occupational safety. Some of the water jet cut-outs are located high up or are very heavy, the robot facilitates our daily work tremendously.”

Loading with and without a robot – the Glaseksperts have a direct comparison

The company Glaseksperten AS from Hjørring in Denmark invested in a systron es1 seaming and grinding machine at the beginning of this year and had the machine upgraded with a robot in the middle of the year. Production manager Jacob Østergaard explains: “The monotonous and heavy loading work is stressful for the operator and with the high quantities of up to 10,000 pieces of seamed glasses per week e.g. for Velux, a robotic solution was indispensable. Operator safety is also increased by light curtains and laser scanners.” Thanks to robot loading, the Danish specialists can process an average of 180 pieces of 1x1m in 4mm thickness in one hour, which is 1 seamed glass every 20 seconds.“

Compared to loading without a robot, we were able to increase our output by 40% thanks to automation. We will achieve our return on investment within a year,” is Østergaard satisfied with the results.

Are there also robot unloading solutions?

Compared to loading, robot unloading is subject to even higher requirements due to spacers typically required for stacking. These spacers are mainly cork, paper, cardboard, powder or rope. systron Managing Director Franz Schachner explains the challenges: “There are certainly solutions that can be developed for all these spacers, but you also have to consider the cycle time of the machine. With the proHD and a typical shower door production, the spacer is not a big issue as the cycle time is usually between 5min and 7min.

With the es1 and a cycle time of less than 17 seconds, it is not easy to place a spacer with the same robot. A separate unit would be necessary for this.”

In addition, there are quality controls during glass unloading, which are still usually carried out by the machine operator. However, there are potential solutions with automated scanners checking the final quality.

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