Automated chamfering system improves workplace safety for tube and pipe producers


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Jul 17, 2023

Automated chamfering system improves workplace safety for tube and pipe producers

Lacerations are a risk when handling tube and pipe fresh off a mill. Taylor-Winfield used a conventional concept, an automated chamfering system, and upgraded it to use a robot as a foundation and

Lacerations are a risk when handling tube and pipe fresh off a mill. Taylor-Winfield used a conventional concept, an automated chamfering system, and upgraded it to use a robot as a foundation and outfitted it with some of the latest sensor technology. The outcome is a versatile and robust system that serves as a platform for chamfering and other operations.

In the entire manufacturing sector, it would be hard to find a business that has it tougher than a tube or pipe producer. Raw material prices rise and fall almost without warning, domestic competition is challenging and foreign competition is worse, finding new employees is always a struggle, and making products that meet all of the manufacturing requirements while complying with customer requests isn’t easy. Doing it all safely and efficiently is a tall order. It’s no wonder that tube and pipe producers look for opportunities to automate tasks whenever they can.

Take chamfering, for instance. Chamfering the ends of every length of tube or pipe that rolls off a mill sounds like too big a task to take on, but indeed it’s necessary. The ends of tubular products, when cut off properly, present a big risk of laceration in downstream operations; chamfering the ends is a big help to the fabricators that handle tube and pipe straight from the mill.

When this job is carried out manually, everything about it is difficult. Spending an entire day trying to get consistent pipe chamfers with a manually operated tool can be a daunting task. If the worker gets fed up and quits, replacing him isn’t easy either. Manufacturers have hired all of the skilled labor they can find and usually have to settle for unskilled labor. Positions like this are tough to fill and keep filled.

Chamfering is nothing new, but carrying it out with the latest technology can make it seem like a brand-new, modern process. Taylor-Winfield Technologies Inc., Youngstown, Ohio, recently developed a robotic chamfering system that combines some of the latest sensors, hardware, and software to take the difficulty out of the task.

Developing an automated cutting machine isn’t the company’s first rodeo. However, focusing on using the latest technologies combined with robots and safety concerns, led Taylor-Winfield to developing a customizable, flexible system that is being used in pipe processing mills today.

“Today’s robots, combined with modern sensor technology, are extremely flexible in their capabilities,” said Rory McDonnell, vice president of engineering at Taylor-Winfield.

With the new chamfering technology, after the clamping system automatically secures the pipe, the robot uses a vision system to scan the tube or pipe’s diameter and to determine just how round or out-of-round the product is. After gathering this information, the robot’s arm traces the exact contour of the circumference, using the tooling to impart a chamfer that is consistent with the circumference despite any inconsistency in the pipe’s shape. A debris removal system blows the chips out of the tube to be collected in a pan, and a laser displacement sensor does a 360-degree check to verify that the chamfer is complete. This sort of closed-loop concept is critical when a supplier wants or needs to provide 100% verification that a process was carried out.

When the next tube arrives at the station, the process starts over. If the next tube is a different diameter or shape and needs a different chamfering tool, operator intervention is not required. The robot does automatic tooling changeover.

The system gathers quite a few data points that can be fed into the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system if desired. These include:

In addition to providing the endless versatility provided by commercially available chamfering bits, the system is efficient; it relies very little on human intervention, using an automatic changeover system for exchanging bits.

The robotic chamfering system’s capability is broader than it seems after an initial glance. First, the Taylor-Winfield team isn’t really limited in the robot brands it can use to develop a custom system for its customers.

Custom equipment manufacturer Taylor-Winfield has found that robotic technology provides the ideal level of flexibility for a tube and pipe chamfering platform.

“We’re a certified integrator of many of the major robotic systems manufacturers—Fanuc, Kawasaki, and Motoman,” McDonnell said.

Second, the system isn’t intended for chamfering only. A longtime custom equipment developer with substantial expertise in metal removal, the company considers this machine to be a platform more than a machine, one that can accommodate other processes, such as grinding, flash removal, deburring, and buffing.

Third, for scalability the company’s design team is prepared to develop a system that uses two robots rather than just one.

Fourth, on the shop floor, this robot—like most automated systems—isn’t a job killer, but a job creator. Decades ago every step along the road to automation was met by unending skepticism, and usually downright suspicion, from the workforce, and a few workers might still see such technologies as job killers these days. However, that perspective has been fading for some time. It sounds like a cliché, but robotics and automated systems do exactly what they’ve always been expected to do: They improve the workplace by taking over the most dangerous and monotonous jobs, like loading/unloading machines, painting, and basic welding. Metal removal is no exception. And as the shop floor becomes more sophisticated, it creates new opportunities. With more capable machines handling more tasks, workers need to tend those machines by swapping out tooling; setting up, fine-tuning, and tearing down temporary workcells; and, of course, programming robots.

The system’s laser scanner illuminates the tube’s end and the vision system captures its profile. This allows the system to account for any out-of-roundness or other dimensional variations so that the chamfering tool’s path is tailored to every tube’s specific geometry.