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MH HEIDI® and the sharp S

Automation solution with innovative energy chain arrangement for unmanned shifts in machining centres

To utilise machining centres optimally, it is of great advantage to be able to run the so-called "unmanned shifts" without operators using an automatic loading system. The Austrian SEMA Maschinenbau GmbH implemented the automation solution "MH HEIDI®" with a relatively simple, but very efficient solution. In the process, a key role is played by an energy chain solution from igus®.


An MH HEIDI® at the final tests in production at SEMA.


SEMA constructs machine tools in a place where others go on holiday. In a rural setting at the idyllic Traunsee lake near Salzburg, in a factory area of roughly 12,000 square metres, the company mainly produces rotary indexing machines. It also produces machining centres, components and automation solutions, especially for customers in the automotive supply sector. For example, the battery cases for the BMW i3 electric cars are manufactured with the SEMA machines. In just three decades, the company (SEMA stands for Schacherleitner Elektronik Maschinenbau) founded by Adolf Schacherleitner in 1988 has evolved from a one-man design office to a globally active company with around 250 employees in Upper Austria and Vienna.
One reason for the success was the willingness of SEMA to think pragmatically, but at the same time to take on new challenges time and again. The youngest scion of this philosophy bears the name MH HEIDI®. The acronym 'HEIDI' stands for 'Highest Efficiency + Intelligent Disposal' and belongs to the Multi Handling (MH) family.
Storage systems with articulated arm robots and a need for a lot of space are often used for the automated loading of machining centres and rotary indexing machines – a very powerful, but also complex solution. Based on customer feedback, SEMA had something else in mind for the new development: MH HEIDI® uses a very sophisticated and efficient telescopic arm solution to feed standard machines from different manufacturers with pallets, clamping devices and individual workpieces. The special feature is the telescopic arm which can protrude from two sides, thus enabling the system to supply two machine tools at the same time.

Space-saving solution loads two machines at the same time

The system constitutes a very space-saving solution. MH HEIDI® only needs six square metres of installation space and is therefore well suited for various hall layouts and machine tool concepts. The system can be modularly expanded in height from 3 to 6 metres and, thanks to the customisable interior, different pallet sizes can be accommodated at the same time. The pallet dimensions range from 200 x 400mm to 630 x 500mm. For a pallet of 400 x 400mm , for example, there are 56 storing positions available in the maximum extension level.
MH HEIDI® can flex its muscles: "The load capacity of the telescopic arm of 400kg with a projection of up to 1,700 millimetres from both sides is a feature that cannot be imitated easily," says Dipl. Ing. Johannes Weiermair, Technical Head and Vice President at SEMA Maschinenbau GmbH, with conviction.
In order to implement the two-sided extension of the telescopic arm, however, some constructive gimmicks were necessary. A key role is played by the used energy chain. After positive experiences with igus® components in the production of machining centres and rotary indexing machines from SEMA, the decision was quickly made to purchase the energy chains for MH HEIDI® from the motion plastics® specialist from Cologne. Johannes Weiermair: "The company igus® has long been an important partner of SEMA. We were aware that there were some challenges in terms of compactness and service life in this new development and we wanted to work with a well-known and reliable partner." “
Due to the requirements in terms of weight, travel speed and compactness, the choice quickly fell on an energy chain of the E4.38L series. Their low weight makes the required high dynamics possible. The interior of the chain is quickly and easily accessible for easy filling, since the crossbars can be opened from both sides. Depending on customer requirements, they can be opened along the inner or outer radius.

igus® energy chains in automation solution

The sharp S with the centrally arranged guided link system: In order to be able to implement the telescoping arm projecting from both sides, two igus® 4.38L energy chains were combined together offset by 180 degrees.


Challenges posed by the installation situation

Despite the compact chain, the installation situation posed some challenges to SEMA's designers as well as the igus® experts. "It was important for us to have as many storage spaces as possible in the system, which is why we needed to build the handling system as compactly as possible," recalls Weiermair the situation at the beginning of the development in October/November 2017. Siegfried Pötzelsberger, Technical Sales Manager e-chain systems at igus® adds: "I got some basic technical data from SEMA, which had to be fulfilled by the chain. We then tried out various options. Initially, there were solutions with individual chains for each telescopic axis. But that was not feasible due to the structural restrictions. This is how we gradually approached the current solution." Ultimately, two igus® E4.38L chains were combined with each other and used in an S shape without bottom guide and with very tight bend radii – a kind of very sharp S curve.
The telescopic axis movable from both sides caused an additional challenge for the sharp S curve. The energy chain guide must automatically return to the basic position after every loading cycle in order to avoid collision during the subsequent movements. For this purpose, the link system of the sharp S curve is guided via its own precision guide with a pre-loaded rope system. It sounded simple, but had some pitfalls. Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Markus Kogelmann, Industry Manager for machine tool construction at igus, explains the problem: "A chain has freedom of movement in only one direction, it has a stop-dog in the other direction. This can be changed indeed by a mechanical processing of the chain, but thereby it loses its inherent stability." The solution: the two standard chains were installed turned 180 degrees. This allows for mobility in both directions while maintaining stability at the same time.

readychain® saves valuable time

However, the tight installation situation gave rise to a further problem: "For the chain itself, the small bend radius was not a problem," says Industry Manager Markus Kogelmann. But it didn't bode well for the cables of the drive technology manufacturer, which were previously used by SEMA. Siegfried Pötzelsberger explains: "It quickly became clear from the data sheet of the cables of the motor manufacturer that the desired service life could not be achieved with its cables."
SEMA therefore decided to purchase the igus® cables for the first time for MH HEIDI® and to use the chain and cables as a ready-harnessed igus® readychain® product. This results in several advantages for the user: On the one hand, he receives a system guarantee for the product from igus®. On the other hand, valuable time could be saved in the development of MH HEIDI®. Johannes Weiermair: "The big advantage for us was, when the igus® readychain® was brought and installed, the issue was over for us. Otherwise, we would certainly have had another day or two of cabling work." Consequently, igus also supplied a non-moving cable package for MH HEIDI®, which connects the two chains combined with each other.

Successful cooperation

Satisfied about the successfully completed project (from left to right): Dipl.-Ing. Johannes Weiermair (Technical Director, SEMA Maschinenbau GmbH), Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Markus Kogelmann (Industry Manager Machine Tools Germany & Austria, igus® GmbH) and Siegfried Pötzelsberger (Technical Sales Consultant e-chain systems, igus® GmbH). (Photo: igus® GmbH)


Automation solution with special features

Thus, an automation solution with special specifications was virtually created in record time. Thanks to the combination of a small erection base and long protrusion, MH-HEIDI® can be positioned up to one metre away from the two machines to be loaded. Johannes Weiermair explains the advantage of this arrangement: "Now you can operate the machine manually due to the free space in the day shift, for instance when complicated items are produced. At night, the doors are closed and the machine operates in automatic mode and produces simpler parts. And whereas it only works in one direction for many competitors, MH HEIDI® can do it in both directions."
The first MH HEIDI® was delivered after just nine months of development in the summer and is currently undergoing extensive testing by the customer.

The crux of the matter:

The telescopic arm system projecting from both sides could only be implemented by an inventive arrangement of the two igus® energy chains. (Photo: SEMA Maschinenbau GmbH)

Core of the automation solution

Variable and spacious:

The picture of an MH HEIDI® without the outer cladding shows the multitude of possible pallet positions. (Photo: SEMA Maschinenbau GmbH)

MH HEIDI® without external cladding

Compact and powerful:

With an erection base of only six square metres, MH HEIDI® can supply two machine tools at the same time. (Photo: SEMA Maschinenbau GmbH)

Here, you can find the products used
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