Tracks Help Robots Reach Their Full Potential

There’s no way around it. Sometimes, bigger is better.

Photo of the automated wheel-boring machine cells (above) provided courtesy of Simmons Machine Tool Corp. (
Photo of the automated wheel-boring machine cells (above) provided courtesy of Simmons Machine Tool Corp. (


Aerospace, Automotive, Industrial Equipment


Choosing between multirobot, robot + track and gantry robot solutions

Key Data

  • Extend the reach and ROI of robotic workcells
  • Enable new large-area applications
  • Answer these questions before building big

There’s no way around it. Sometimes, bigger is better.
While many companies are paying a lot of attention to new collaborative robots for low-force/small-area applications, at the other end of the spectrum are “really big” applications in aerospace, agricultural equipment, process industries and many other areas. From automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRSs) to large-area dispensing, welding and assembly applications, mounted robots and gantry systems are helping industries to automate bigger applications more cost-effectively than ever before.

Utilization and ROI
Traditionally, robots promise greater productivity for less overhead and appreciable safety. That’s why robots are taking over repetitive operations. They work faster, more accurately, more repeatably and more safely than do their human counterparts. But what if the application requirements exceed what any one robot can do? Or what if the need is for nontraditional robotic applications such as large-part shuttles or ASRS inventory management systems? Is there a way to provide the functionality, flexibility and productivity of today’s robotic applications to these industrial applications that are ripe for automation?

It’s unlikely that any company would choose to install 20 robots every 10 feet to cover a warehouse. Cost, maintenance, overhead and throughput considerations make that solution impractical; robots are amazing tools, but they are not silver bullets. What if, however, engineers paired the robot with the judicious application of motion control and tracks? What if we empowered the robot? In those cases, many robot applications that are too big or complex to tackle suddenly become cost-effective candidates for automation.

With an average cost of $300,000 – including safety systems, programmable logic controllers, power, programming and mechanical fixtures – to install an average industrial robot workcell, it’s easy to understand why companies want to wring every dollar out of their investment, especially for workcells requiring multiple robots.

“While there are many considerations and calculations and much engineering that needs to happen before a workcell designer can know for certain that a single robot plus track is a better solution than multiple robots, our experience is that when a job requires three or more robots in close proximity – throughput, cycle times and so on being equal – a track-plus-robot solution is a better economic decision, and not just from the point of acquisition,” explains Joe Campbell, vice president of Sales & Marketing North America for Güdel Inc.

Fässler HMX-400 Gear Honing Machine with Gantry

Güdel Technology

  • TMF-1 with FANUC ARC Mate 120 resolving a tool-space issue with dual tooling sets

By the Numbers: Makino’s Guide to Robots Versus Robots + Track Calculations
By Chris Hauck, Sr. Proposal Engineer-Integration for Makino

Global machine manufacturer Makino with integration services starts the robot count decision based on machine pallet cycle times, taking into consideration total machine counts and robot unload/load times for machines equipped with a pallet changer.

For example, if it takes 10 machines to meet annual production volumes, the first question is: How many robots are required to service 10 machines if per-machine cycle times are 600 seconds (600s)? If the available time for a robot to unload/load a machine is 600s/10 machines = 60s per machine, and it takes a robot 100 seconds to unload/load a single machine, then the total number of robots required to tend the machines is:

100s (required robot time)/60s (available time per machine) = 1.67 robots (which is rounded up to 2 for this process).

However, due to space and robot reach constraints, it is most likely not practical for each pedestal robot to service five machines plus material input and output. An alternative is to use one robot to service one or two machines, but that could require a minimum of 5–10 sets of robots, grippers and programming with multiple inputs and outputs. A potentially better solution is to mount two pedestal robots, each equipped with a seventh axis, to a Güdel dual-carriage floor track with the required operating stroke to service all 10 machines while using a common material input and output, thus significantly reducing auto- mation costs.

Another benefit of a robot-mounted Güdel floor track is the ease of expansion for future volume. If production volumes go up and additional machines are required, the Güdel floor track can be expanded.

Robot tending for a progression series of machine tools, for example, usually tasks one robot per machine tool and adds a transfer fixture between robots to facilitate the handoff from one robot/machine tool to the next. A robot on a track eliminates the need for additional robots and the transfer fixtures, since it carries the part from tool to tool.

In the past, human operators fed machine tools, presses and similar equipment. The repetitive nature of the job made boredom a problem, leading to injuries and lower production quality. By automating these machine-tool lines, customers realize several benefits, including reduced cost per part through increased up-time and reliability, increased throughput from higher reliability and consistent cycle-time performance as well as enhanced safety by eliminating repetitive and potentially dangerous manual activities.

The same logic applies to large-arc weldments and low-volume/high-mix palletizing applications, airplane riveting, welding and painting and similar large area applications. When placed on horizontal and vertical tracks, small robots such as the FANUC M-710 and P-250 with 5-meter strokes can rivet, weld and paint large, heavy objects such as airplanes and fracking pumps for considerably less money than solutions that use multiple robots to accomplish the same task.

Güdel Technology

  • Güdel TrackMotion Floor
  • Güdel TrackMotion Overhead
  • ZP 2-axis gantry robot

Go Further, Do More

For many of the largest industrial applications, only gantry or robot + track solutions offer a large enough work envelope with enough power at a price point that automatically makes these applications practical. For example, gantry robots such as Güdel’s FP-6 shuttle large railcar wheels between machine tools and welding stations. Weighing up to 1800 pounds for a single wheel, a three-axis wrist on a gantry is the best solution for the application because of lift capacity, work envelope and feeding geometries, eliminating the need for the complex programming required for the application’s six-axis solutions.

“When it comes to industrial applications, if a commercial robot can do the job, then it should do it!” explains Güdel’s Campbell. “But when it comes to really big or big-and-heavy applications, tracks and gantries can be the best solution. We help guide customers through their situation by asking assorted questions: How big and heavy is the part? How fast does it need to move and what are your settling time requirements? What are the compromises you need to make between velocity versus acceleration and how do they relate to cost? And what is the dynamic loading from the end-of-arm tool to the floor? All these questions need to be solved before you can choose the most productive solution.”

If you have an application for multiple robots with reasonable throughput, heavy lifts or large work envelopes, contact or call Güdel Inc. at 734-214-0000 for immediate service.

Güdel Technology

  • TMF-2
  • TMV with counterbalance
  • Motoman MH180 Robot
  • Static shelf to carry full layers
  • FP 3-axis to 6-axis gantry robot

About Güdel Inc.
Güdel Inc. is the US subsidiary of Güdel Group, a global manufacturer of robotic automation products, systems and services. Güdel supplies linear-motion modules, robot track motion units, gantry robots and components to OEMs, systems integrators and machine builders serving the automotive, aerospace, logistics, heavy industrial and power-generation industries. Güdel Inc. is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in a dedicated 45,000-square-foot facility, providing North American customers with engineering, design, production and customer service support.

Güdel Group was founded in 1954. Headquartered in Langenthal, Switzerland, today Güdel operates in more than 30 locations worldwide.

Güdel Inc.
4881 Runway Blvd.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
48108 USA
Phone: +1 734 214 0000
Fax: +1 734 214 9000
info@us.gü | gü