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Powered Workholding in Manufacturing Automation

Overcoming Challenges in Manufacturing Automation.

In this article we will take a closer look at:

1. Introduction
    > Powered Workholding
    > Hydraulic and Pnemuatic Clamping
    > Power Workholding Solutions
    > Air Operated Pneumatic Clamps

2. Advantages of Powered Workholding Devices
    > Consistnet & Repeatable Operation
    > Controlled Clamping Force
    > Automatically Adjusting Work Supports

3. Conclusion


Powered workholding is the use of heavy-duty, pneumatic or hydraulic, locking clamps. It was originally designed for the automotive industry when they moved from manual clamping to powered clamping to increase production output by employing automation. Power clamps have since evolved into robust, heavy-duty, and reliable workholding devices. Most power clamping technology development occurred to meet the requirements of the automotive industry but, today power clamping is used in many industries.

Hydraulic and pneumatic clamping has long been a part of manufacturing. The recent introduction of hydraulic systems specifically designed for workholding applications has caused power clamping to emerge as an everyday workholding alternative due to increased demand for faster production and more automation on newer machine tools. But faster production is only one reason for the appeal of power workholding. Today’s powered workholding systems offer a wide range of options and capabilities. To make full use of these systems, the basic principles of power workholding, as well as the range of available components, must be understood.


Power workholding solutions offer many advantages over manual workholding. Powered devices generally provide manufacturers more control over clamping forces, because jigs and fixtures can use work supports that automatically adjust to workpiece irregularities. Powered workholding also simplifies the manufacturing process by improving uniformity and efficiency of operations while reducing production time and operator fatigue.


Manufacturers today understand good workholding devices and fixturing are the most fundamental physical devices that facilitate manufacturing automation and workholding is the key to manufacturing automation. Workholding devices often reduce process set-up time by as much as 50% while increasing quality and decreasing re-work.

Heavy Duty Pneumatic Clamps

Heavy Duty Pneumatic Clamps

Hydraulic Clamps

Hydraulic Clamps

Light Duty Pneumatic Clamp

Light Duty Pneumatic Clamp

Advantages of Powered Workholding Devices

When finding solutions to workholding challenges in manufacturing automation, manufacturers should be aware of the advantages of powered workholding devices.

One of the more obvious advantages is increased clamping speed. Rather than taking several minutes to manually tighten and loosen the clamps on a workholding device, a machine operator can activate the complete clamping system from a single point in a matter of seconds. Increased clamping speed reduces the non-productive time during loading and unloading cycles and allows much faster machining cycles.

Other less-obvious reasons are even more important. Powered workholding systems allow much-faster machining cycles and offer added security. Instead of relying on an operator to properly tighten the clamps, power-operated clamping systems provide consistent clamping forces. Holding forces can be adjusted to suit the specific requirements of the workpiece. This permits clamping forces to be increased, holding workpieces more rigidly, preventing workpiece movement and allowing higher cutting speeds and faster feeds.

Improved part quality is perhaps the greatest benefit of powered workholding systems. These systems improve the overall quality and reduce rejected or scrapped parts by providing consistent, controllable clamping forces and self-adjusting work supports.

Less obvious, but equally important advantages of powered workholding are:


Consistent and Repeatable Operation

A major feature of power workholding systems is consistent and repeatable clamping forces. Manually operated clamps rely solely on the strength and diligence of the operator. Power clamps, however, are controlled by a power source, so the strength and fatigue level of the operator does not affect the clamping force.


Controlled Clamping Force

Power workholding systems are adjustable to provide exactly the right amount of clamping force. When either light or heavy clamping forces are required for a workpiece, the clamping force can be adjusted for those specific conditions. A controlled clamping force is important for parts with varying thicknesses, brittle materials, odd shapes, or similar characteristics. Reduced clamping forces can be applied if the workpiece is delicate or has thin cross-sections, as with some cast parts. Conversely, if the workpiece requires greater holding forces, power clamps can also be adjusted for additional pressure.


Automatically Adjusting Work Supports

Many workpieces require additional support to prevent deflection or vibration during the machining cycle. In these cases, self-adjusting work supports are useful. Supports are placed under the workpiece and either advance to meet the workpiece or are depressed by loading the part in the fixture. Once the required height is achieved, work supports are locked in position by hydraulic pressure and act as additional fixed locators throughout the machining cycle. When unloading, the work supports return to the free position and are repositioned with the loading and clamping of a new part. So, any differences in the supported surface, such as steps or irregular features, are easily accommodated.

Power workholding systems offer several other advantages over manual clamping and typically include:

  • Remote clamp operation
  • Reduced operator fatigue
  • Automatic sequencing
  • Fixture compactness
  • Higher machining rates
  • Increased machine-tool capacity


Manufacturers today understand good workholding devices and fixturing are the most fundamental physical devices that facilitate manufacturing automation and workholding is the key to manufacturing automation.

Powered workholding is the most common solution employed when designing workholding systems and fixtures to overcome challenges in manufacturing automation.

Powered workholding solutions offer significant advantages over manual workholding. In practice the advantages of power workholding are interdependent. Each benefit typically leads to several other production advantages.