Automated Knurling Machine

Project summary:

A metal fine blanking company sought out Midwest Engineered Systems to robotically automate a valve plate knurling process.  The robotic integration is used to fully automate the knurling process for a high-volume automotive industry application.

The Challenge

The firm brought forth a long list of challenges that MWES had to achieve:

  • Machine automation system must be capable of being programmed for four different part numbers
  • Must achieve an automated process speed of one part every 2 seconds
  • The automated work cell must have a compact design to optimize floor space
  • The automated production system must be capable of flipping parts that are loaded up-side-down
  • It must have sensors to detect the radial orientation of a part on the in-feed conveyor to insure correct orientation in the dial table nest
  • The system must be able to operate within the high pressure and high forces exerted by the knurling process


Built-in quality assurance throughout the knurling and handling process. The automation system must also detect defects on the top and bottom surfaces of the part, such as:

  • Missing features
  • Slug marks
  • Missing holes
  • Missing or additional material


The automated production system must have the ability to log part failure information to an operator interface including:

  • Part number
  • Defect type
  • Quantity of each type of defect
  • Time and date stamps


After a full evaluation of the project’s challenges and goals, Midwest Engineered Systems designed and built the customer a complete automated solution, which included:

  • Heavy-duty common base for simple install and portability
  • Fanuc LR Mate 200iD industrial robot and R-30iB robot controller with Fanuc 2D robotic vision camera for part orientation identification on in-feed pick-up locations and placement on dial process system
  • Robotic End of Arm Tool with a magnetic gripper and sensors
  • In-feed Flip Station with two-position shuttle escapement
  • Two TOX 30-ton, air over oil, presses
  • Twelve positions, servo-driven, dial table
  • Three-position, servo-driven, out-feed flip station
  • Out-feed conveyor
  • Four camera PPT vision system
  • Control System
    • Electrical enclosure
    • Servo motor control system
    • PLC with Ethernet IP communication
    • Robot to PLC interface
    • Operator HMI display
    • Arc flash compliance
  • Safety system and enclosure with components, programming, and layout per ISO 13849-1:2006 Category 3 safety guidelines and ANSI/RIA R15.06-1999 specifications
  • Complete electrical and mechanical engineering design
  • Midwest engineered systems provided complete robot, vision, PLC, and HMI programming
  • Complete electrical and mechanical fabrication, assembly, and system test
  • On-site installation, start-up, and acceptance testing
  • Technical training be MWES for operators, engineering, and maintenance

The Solution

To meet the requirements of the process, as described by the customer, Midwest Engineered Systems developed a unique automation cell that integrates several processes required to prepare these cartridges and vials for use in lab environments. More specifically, the cell works through five distinct and important processes.

The first step in the washing and the pre-treating process is cleaning the vials and tubes. This is done with a number of pressurized water jets designed to wash the entire surface of the item. The cleaning is broken into an exterior and interior step. After the heated water washes the surfaces, the parts are sent through a drying process of pressurized air to dry the part’s exteriors. A third process takes care of drying the interior of the parts with moveable air jets.

The parts are then moved to the pre-treatment process that sprays a proprietary solution to completely coat their surfaces. After the coating process, the parts are subjected to curing. The outer surfaces and the interior are cured at the same time. Both of these operations are controlled through a closed-loop system that precisely manages the process.

All of these stages happen inside a clean-room grade enclosure featuring positive pressurization to keep every step as safe as possible and free of contamination. The enclosure is built into the rugged automation cell frame that also encompasses all of the systems the automation cell needs to operate. This makes for a compact footprint that’s easier to install in an already crowded facility.

Impact to the Customer

With the successful integration of MWES’s automated knurling machine, this firm achieved the following improvements:

  • Increased productivity – the machine can run 1800 parts/hour
  • Less tooling than the previous machine for faster changeover between parts
  • Decreased maintenance – fewer moving parts to wear than previous machine and less tooling to maintain
  • Increased reliability and up-time – Mechanically driven, hand-tooled, walking beam replaced with programmable 6-axis servo robot and two programmable servo-driven dial tables
  • Increased floor space – MWES Robotic solution requires 20% less floor space
  • Improved quality – Multiple sensors are able to detect failures and immediately notify the operator
  • Failure reporting – Automatic data logging and tracking of failures

Midwest Engineered Systems has a wide range of experience in building robotically automated knurling machines. If you’re looking to improve your knurling throughput, we have the knowledge and experience to make the project a success.

Contact us to learn about how Midwest Engineered Systems can automate even your most complex and challenging operations today!

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