WALTER TOOL MANUFACTURING AUTOMATION ENABLES UK COMPANIES TO GET AHEAD OF THE GAME
The argument for the adoption of automation is unquestionable: automation not only fills any gaps in (and not necessarily always replaces) appropriately skilled human resources, but it also enables repetitive jobs to be consistently performed to the same high level, minute by minute, day by day. Nor does automation need to sleep and it doesn’t have refreshment breaks or holidays.
Perhaps this explains why users of Walter tool grinding and erosion machines, as well as its tool measurement machines, are keen adopters of automation, applying various aspects of pallet systems, auto loading/unloading by robotics and automatic wheel changers ‘within’ their machines and, as result, increase output without additional human intervention.
The use of such automation has effectively created stand-alone ‘cells’ of sophisticated tool manufacturing and regrinding units where output is limited only by the tool storage capacity of the machines’ integral pallet systems.
An analysis of recent years’ sales by Walter Ewag UK, a member of the United Grinding Group, has revealed that from 2015 to 2019, inclusive:
 Over 90 per cent of its Walter Helitronic grinding machines were supplied with automatic loading systems and around a third had automatic wheel changers;
 All of its ‘two-in-one’ Helitronic Diamond grinding and erosion machines were supplied with automatic loading systems and two-thirds were equipped with automatic wheel changers; and
 20% of the company’s Helicheck tool measurement machines incorporated robot loading.
Says Neil Whittingham, Walter Ewag UK’s Sales Director: “Such figures illustrate how Walter users have embraced technology for the past 15 years or so, not only to obtain increased output with fewer machine operators tending multiple machines, but also to use these automation aids to run the machines unmanned and often in a ‘lights-out’ mode at night.
“Additionally, they are finding that the increased production rewards far outweigh the added cost of investing in automation, in many cases achieving payback on the cost of the robots, loaders and wheel changers within months.”
A variety of loaders can be supplied as options with Walter tool grinders/erosion machines, to meet varying demands:
 The Fanuc LR Mate Robot Loader can accommodate up to 7,500 tools (cylindrical) depending on diameter/type and up to seven pallets enable the ‘chaotic’ loading of a variety of tools when the optional automatic diameter detection functionality is employed. Latest developments include a Robot Loader 25 model, capable of loading tools of up to 315 mm diameter and weighing a total of up to 20 kg into an HSK holder. An optional five- pallet system accommodates up to 70 tools.
 The Top Loader has a pneumatic swivel arm with gripper (that integrates with Walter’s standard robot pallet system for tools up to 32 mm diameter and up to 250 mm long) and the two-pallet system, one each for blanks and finished tools, can each accommodate up to 500 tools (depending on size).
Based on HSK 50 interface, the automatic wheel changer can store four or eight wheels, as standard (depending on machine type), and up to 12 and 24 optional.
When used on the Walter Helicheck tool measurement machines, the Robot Loader will accommodate up to 7,500 tools and each tool is measured, recorded and separated on pallets (four as standard, optionally up to 16). Also for use on the Helicheck PRO and PLUS machines, integrated laser marking on tool shank and end positions – coupled with cleaning via integrated air jets – also adds to the rewards and eliminates the need for a separate marking machine/handling process.
Pointing out that Walter robot technology can be integrated into manufacturing cells incorporating say, finishing stations, Mr Whittingham also highlights a plethora of Walter ‘add-on’ technology that can further improve the benefits of automation – including automatic collet changing and tool cleaning, as well as a camera vision system that automatically finds ‘veins’ and/or coolant holes on tool blanks, for highly-accurate tool positioning.
Concluding, Mr Whittingham quotes the results of research in North America in 2018 by Deloitte, in conjunction with the Manufacturing Institute. “The report stated that in 2015, few users (of grinding machines) had adopted automation and that, by 2028, a potential skills gap in US manufacturing could include 2.4 million unfilled jobs – a void that employers would be increasingly seeking ways (automation) to fill.
“It’s often quoted that the UK follows US trends. But that is certainly not the case in terms of Walter’s UK tool manufacturers and regrinding customers who, for the past 15 years at least, have been harnessing the power of automation to consistently increase outputs to levels that are disproportionate to their number of employees.”