For many years I taught an engineering technology course on robotics and flexible automation. I found that books that covered the fairly familiar concept of robotics were available, as were books that did an excellent job with computer numerical control (CNC) and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). However, books that truly addressed flexible
automation were not so easy to find. In fact, it was very difficult to find a single text that incisively and usefully addressed all these engineering technology topics. So, throughout the years I collected and organized necessary and important information concerning flexible automation, from various sources, and disseminated it to my students. Armed with these notes, students would not need to purchase several books that would cover the course topics. Eventually, I decided to write the present book; with it I hope to fill a significant void in the literature.
Flexible automation is the use of a conglomeration of manufacturing equipment organized or connected into a single entity called a manufacturing cell. Manufacturing cells contain an assortment of material handling equipment, including robots and CNC processing equipment. Most often the cell’s activities are orchestrated and directed by a PLC. The robot, CNC equipment, and PLC make the cell “flexible,” as they can be
programmed and reprogrammed to perform a wide variety of tasks and produce different products. This single text addresses all three technologies of robotics, CNC, and PLCs.
Yet, “flexible automation” is, in fact, a misnomer. While it is true that the term is appropriate for a specific manufacturing cell in which the technologies are employed, when grouping robotics, CNC, and PLCs under a collective banner, one should highlight what these technologies have in common—namely, “programmability.” Therefore, these technologies are collectively named “programmable automation technologies,” and this
book is so titled: Programmable Automation Technologies: An Introduction to CNC, Robotics and PLCs.
While I was writing this text, the nation’s—indeed the world’s—economy plunged into a severe recession. To rise from the current economic turmoil the manufacturing industry must become more productive, a goal that is readily achievable through automation. Programmable automation technologies are the building blocks from which all automation is developed. Hence, the urgent need to improve productivity and become
more competitive in the global economy should motivate a significantly greater interest in programmable automation.
The present text is organized into a four sections, which follow a logical sequence of inquiry. The first section is introductory: Chapter 1 provides some background on manufacturing and defines programmable automation. Chapter 2 explains calculation methods used to justify automation expenditures, as motivated by productivity concepts. The second section treats computer numerical control: Chapter 3 introduces CNC technology, Chapter 4 discusses CNC programming, and Chapter 5 addresses CNC simulation. Robotics is covered in the third section in much the same way that CNC was covered in the second section: Chapter 6 introduces robotics technology and Chapter 7 goes over both robotic programming and simulation. (Note that robotic simulation does not have a dedicated chapter.) The last section of the text addresses PLCs: Chapter 8
introduces PLCs and Chapter 9 covers programming and simulation of PLCs. Finally, Chapter 10 concludes the text with a discussion of how all three technologies are brought together to create a programmable automation cell.
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