Machining Fighting bots: How Robo Challenge realises even whacky projects

Editor: Alexander Stark

Birmingham-based company Robo Challenge bring robots such as fighting bots to live in popular TV shows. In the entertainment industry, it's not only important to impress the audience but also to meet strict deadlines. To be able to come up with even more impressive innovations, and meet these demands, the company recently invested in a Quasar Machining centre.

The Robo Challenge team.
The Robo Challenge team.
(Source: ETG)

When it comes to creating a wow factor in the manufacturing sector and engaging the masses; few names stand out like Robo Challenge. As a creative company that brings ideas to life, Birmingham based Robo Challenge are the innovators and manufacturers behind TV shows like Robot Wars and are famed for their work on prestigious TV shows like Blue Peter, Guy Martin’s shows, The Gadget Show and much more. Bringing engineering creativity to the world of TV, new media, the gaming and entertainment sectors requires equally innovative technology — that is why the company has recently installed a Quaser MV184EH machining centre from the Engineering Technology Group (ETG).

Delivered just after Easter, the new high performance 3-axis vertical machining centre with a Lehman 4th axis unit was specified to enhance the capabilities of the company as it takes on increasingly challenging projects. For Robo Challenge, meeting deadlines is critical. If a new jet-powered vehicle, robot or kinetic sculpture is not “on-set” and fully functional on deadline day, the filming crew, set, cast and support staff are all delayed. Operating within this framework, the regular day-to-day for Robo Challenge is to design a concept based upon a brief and take it through full production, assembly and testing to ensure that the final project, however whacky it may be, meets not only the aesthetic requirements but also the functional demands too. This mass undertaking is usually turned around in just a couple of weeks. The Aston based company invested in the Quaser MV184EH machining centre to compress lead times and alleviate pressure on the team.

Robochallenge Robot
Robochallenge Robot
(Source: ETG)

Prior to the arrival of the Quaser MV184EH, Robo Challenge had a small 3-axis VMC. However, the size and capabilities of the machine were limited, and this added pressure to a team working to tight deadlines, especially when some parts had to be outsourced. Commenting upon why the company invested in the Quaser MV184EH from ETG, Co-Owner and Creative Engineer, Grant Cooper says: “Despite having a much larger work envelope, the Quaser has a very similar footprint to the existing machine we have, and this was important to us as space is at a premium in our facility.”

Compared to the previous machine, the Quaser MV184EH has a larger work area, it's more powerful and it takes away many of the design restrictions we found with the previous machine..

Grant Cooper

“Meeting deadlines is critical to our business, so having a reliable, dependable and robust machine instils confidence. The Quaser has a 1 m bed that can accommodate all of our parts and the 12,000 rpm spindle enables us to produce our parts 50 percent faster than on the previous 8000 rpm machine. This makes a huge difference to our lead times, especially when producing jobs that require a lot of 3D contouring.”

The ETG Quaser MV184 machining centre at Robo Challenge.
The ETG Quaser MV184 machining centre at Robo Challenge.
(Source: ETG)

Unmanned machining over night

An example of this productivity enhancement was recently noted on a solid tungsten 2-piece necklace. The decorative jewellery project would have required 18 hours of machining on each side; by moving the job to the new Quaser, the cycle time was reduced to twelve hours on each side — a total reduction of twelve hours on a single job.

The new addition at Robo Challenge is packed with features such as the Lehman 4th axis unit with a Hyfore trunnion assembly, Blum part and tool probing, through spindle high-pressure coolant, spindle chiller, swarf conveyor and the latest generation Heidenhain CNC control unit. Alluding to the through coolant facility, Grant continues: “With 20 bar high-pressure coolant in conjunction with Guhring through coolant tools, we can allow large parts to run unmanned overnight without having concerns over swarf clearance and tool breakages. Without the through coolant, we would need someone on standby at all times to ensure the machine will not stop due to chip build-up or tool damage. One example is a crushing jaw we make for one of our award-winning fighting robots, it requires a 50 mm diameter hole up to 150 mm deep and without the through coolant to break and evacuate the swarf, we could not undertake this task unmanned. Having the confidence to set up long-running jobs at the end of the day and allow them to run unmanned is something that is saving us a lot of time and taking the pressure off when it comes to hitting tight deadlines.”

The Quaser MV184 from ETG at Robo Challenge.
The Quaser MV184 from ETG at Robo Challenge.
(Source: ETG)

Improved surface finish and performance

As a company that uses Autodesk’s Fusion 360, Robo Challenge is using generative design functions to re-design all its 2D and 3D parts. This currently includes the production of more than ten robot components that range from drives, gears and weapons through to armour for its “fighting bots” that will appear in a televised event in Las Vegas. Utilising the Quaser and its 4th-axis unit and powerful Heidenhain CNC system, this new method of design to manufacture can now not only be produced much faster but also with improved surface finish and tolerances.

The nature of the projects undertaken by Robo Challenge means that every machined component is either a one or 2-off with batch production never consisting of more than a handful of parts. Typical robot components have a cycle time from 4 to 8 hours and often consist of difficult geometries. It is here that the versatility and efficiency of the Quaser machine has reaped rewards for Robo Challenge. With a high-torque 12,000 rpm spindle and a BBT40 face and taper interface, the machine can optimise tool paths and material removal rates whilst demonstrating stability and rigidity to provide confidence that cutting tools will run the course of an evening shift.

Furthermore, the machine was specified with the Blum TC50 probing system for on-machine part measurement and also the Blum ZX Speed IR tool probing product. “The on-machine measuring and tool probing really does reduce set-up times and part positioning and this increases our efficiency even further. In essence, the Quaser machine has drastically reduced our manual input concerning set-ups and also having to be on-site when the machine is running. As a small team that follows each step of some fascinating projects from concept to completion, we cannot afford to be watching over a machine constantly. The new Quaser gives us the confidence to set up the machine and leave it to run unmanned, knowing that every part will come off the machine right-first-time with minimal operator intervention,” concludes Grant.

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