Robots advance with connectivity, collaboration, easier programming

Cover Story: Advanced robotic developments include improved designs for safety and specialized environments, collaborative applications, better integration with other systems, and augmented monitoring to reduce risk of downtime and lower maintenance costs. See photo gallery, links to five videos of robots.

12/07/2016


Robotic advances include modifications for safety and specialized environments, collaborative applications, improved integration with other systems, and better monitoring systems to reduce risk of downtime and lower maintenance costs. Information that follows includes announcements from International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) 2016 and Pack Expo International 2016 in Chicago, in September and November, and Automation Fair in November in Atlanta.

Robot integration: Simpler setup of automated machine cells

Robots are becoming easier to connect with machine tools. The Siemens Sinumerik 828 CNC family offers a faster, less complicated means of connecting robots to machine tools, which has become an integral part of automated production cell set-up. (See Figure 1.)

Different types of robots designed by different manufacturers can now be connected to CNC machines equipped with the Sinumerik 828D family using the Sinumerik Integrate Run MyRobot / EasyConnect interface to perform handling tasks. This enables companies of any size to setup automated cells, including serial machines, cost-effectively and without major effort, even with different types of CNCs using the same standard interface. Additional features for automated cell setup are simple optimization of work processes on machine tools, mobile condition monitoring, and remote maintenance. 

Standards-based interface

The interface is based upon a standard defined by the German Machine Tool Builders' Association (VDW is the German acronym) and the German Engineering Association (VDMA) for connecting robots or handling systems to machine tools. To make it as easy as possible to use the interface, the robots are connected through Ethernet (Profinet RT) or using I/O signals. In doing so, operators can easily synchronize processes between the machine tool and robots, thereby positioning efficient processes in the automated production cell.

Figure 1: Siemens enables robots to be easily connected to machine tools for automated production cell setup using Sinumerik 828D and 840D sl CNCs. Different types of robots designed by various manufacturers can be connected to machines for handling tasksAutomated work processes, an important aspect of automated cell setup, covers all aspects of machine tools. These processes begin with preparatory work to accessing all necessary information and data at the machine and efficiently operating the machine, including use of mobile terminal equipment for visualizing machine conditions. Siemens provides smart operation features, where smart touch technologies are being integrated into the production environment. Simultaneously, machine operators can access the factory network and can inspect contract documents at the user interface. The concept also includes an application for prep work on the PC—for example, the creation of part programs. Functions facilitating remote diagnosis of machine tools are another component of the solution for automated cell setup. 

Data exchange

With Sinumerik Integrate Access MyMachine, Siemens provides convenient and reliable functionality for remote diagnostics using a corporate network or Internet access. The basic Access MyMachine / P2P application facilitates the exchange of data with connected machines from a Microsoft Windows PC. An IP address is used for addressing purposes within the plant network. Machine tool operators can access the machine over the Internet or outside the company network if the application is appropriately configured. Sinumerik Integrate Access MyMachine / Ethernet (ASP) provides a quick overview of the machine history in addition to machine access. The Sinumerik CNC permits the uploading and downloading of machine data, files, trip recorders, and configurable PLC traces. Text message (SMS) or e-mail notifications in cases of unusual machine conditions are also possible. ASP allows cost-efficient monitoring of fault states and comprehensive integration of in-house service and maintenance processes.

Robotics for safety applications

Companies look to robots to perform tasks in hazardous environments that could be dangerous, repetitive, or too fast or precise for humans to do. As robots get more sophisticated and can perform more efficiently, the potential number of uses increases.

At Pack Expo, a Yaskawa Motoman robot (Figure 2, part of the cover image) worked in a robotic depalletizing cell in front of an updated Alvey 891i palletizer from Intelligrated with an integrated with vertical reciprocating conveyor and motor driven roller (MDR) conveyor. See more about related IntelliGen palletizing software for robotic operations below.

Denso Robotics www.densorobotics.com demonstrated a robot at Pack Expo that is designed for aseptic pharmaceutical settings where hydrogen peroxide is present. It is designed to provide automation in clean environments and prevent foreign matter from manual tasks and human error. "It is set up to live in a sterilized environment for processing small assembly products," said Peter Cavallo, robotic sales manager, Denso.

Cavallo added there has been increased demand for a robot that could work in such an environment since they started work on the project 2 years ago. "We got the request from customers who were looking for a robot that could handle this kind of work," said Cavallo.

Other applications the robot can be used for include regenerative medicine and cell culture. These are very delicate, precise applications that might not have been conceivable a few years ago. Technology advances continue to break down potential barriers, and now they're going into arenas where they could have a major impact on worker safety. This is especially true if they're designed to work collaboratively with humans.

Figure 2: A Yaskawa Motoman robot reaches for a box to place on an integrated motor driven roller (MDR) conveyor, part of an updated Alvey 891i palletizer with an integrated vertical reciprocating conveyor, at 2016 Pack Expo International in Chicago. InteMore benefits and opportunities for collaborative robotics

Collaborative robots provide benefits and open opportunities in various industrial applications.

At Pack Expo, one of the main concepts was the presence of collaborative robots and the bright future they have in optimizing and creating opportunities for various industrial applications. While automating processes isn't new, implementing and realizing the return on investment (ROI) behind them are highlighted among many manufacturers. The primary philosophy with collaborative robots is that they will work alongside human workers, not replace them, helping to optimize operations. Collaborative robotics can:

  • Reduce risk. With collaborative robotics, the risk significantly goes down on a plant floor. Instead of having personnel work in a high-risk environment, a robot can work in those areas. Robots also can be added to areas that would be too hazardous for a human to work in.
  • Improve quality and quantity control. Humans err, and robots can be programmed to do the same job without error to speed up processes without risk to quality. While a robot's health status is important and needs to be maintained to ensure optimal performance, performance is more predictable than a human's.
  • Create growth opportunities for workers. Humans may express concern about robots displacing workers. A keyword in collaborative robotics is "collaborative." "Robotics aren't replacing human workers per say, but giving them the opportunity to expand a worker's skill set by learning how to program robots, become robot technicians, and robot maintenance," said John Weber, senior project manager at Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc
  • Add flexibility. A growing application for collaborative robotics is in short-line processes because of greater flexibility compared to traditional robotics. Kawasaki demonstrated a dual-armed, collaborative robot that can be wheeled where needed (see Figure 3); Kawasaki duAro robots operated on a simulated line and another served ice cream (see video linked below).
  • Increase economy. In recent years, manufacturing robots have become more cost-effective to integrate into a facility's operations. Smaller robots can easily be maintained and controlled with just a mobile app.

Figure 3: Kawasaki’s dual-armed duAro robot that works alongside humans for material handling assembly, machine trending, and dispensing applications. The dual-arm has the flexibility to be applied to production lines with a short production cycle with frAllied Technology, a Universal Robots system integrator, showcased a vision-guided packaging and palletizing application featuring the UR5 robot arm picking chocolates out of an intelligent part feeder, arranging them by color, kitting them in a box, and palletizing the completed assemblies. The flexibility of a robot arm allows it to be integrated into many processes on a plant floor.

In another Universal Robots application, with the Automated Cosmetic Inspection system from HNJ Solutions, "customers can add new products to the system as needed, and the arm can articulate through just about any product orientation requirement," said Greg McEntyre, CEO of HNJ Solutions. "The collaborative nature of the arm allows us to reach outside the machine environment and automatically handle components that are located near production line personnel." (See the UR image on the cover, at top of this page, two other UR-related images on the last page of this post and another in the following December article: "Easier, safer robotic programming is among results from an expanding open-source robotics software group.")

Collaborative robots are dependable, integrate easily with existing operations, and address a growing shortage of industrial workers. Collaborative robotics is a pill that is easier to swallow while many plant facilities are adjusting to the movement toward automation and related operational benefits.

At IMTS, Universal Robots launched Universal Robots+ in North America; it's an app store for Universal Robots end-effectors, grippers, software, vision cameras, and other accessories, designed, tested, and certified to work with UR robot arms. Booth demonstrations included some offered in UR+ from Robotiq, Sick, OnRobot, and Airgate. 

Figure 4: Baxter, left, fills a box from Sawyer, right, that used a guide to form the box. The two models of collaborative robots from Rethink Robotics, demonstrated ability to work with each other without direct communication, and with humans (not shown)Collaborative robots assemble, fill boxes

Collaborative robots are able to work with humans in some applications without traditional safety cages, also can work with each other, as shown in a Pack Expo demonstration (Figure 4) from Rethink Robotics

Photos and online video show Sawyer from Rethink Robotics using a pneumatic actuator to lift a box, position it over a guide to open the box, and position for flaps for taping the bottom of the box. (No taper is shown, but it could be positioned under the square frame between the robots.) Baxter from Rethink Robotics then fills the formed box with plastic bottles, explained Thomas Miller, sales application specialist, Rethink Robotics.

The robots shown do not communicate with each other directly; embedded vision and visual positioning indicators are used. Software upgrades from Rethink Robotics are available free for the robots and automatically can add functionality and speed to robot hardware performance without changes to the hardware, Miller noted.

Applications vary widely for collaborative robots, including machine tending, kitting, and light assembly. In a recent statement, Rethink Robotics noted that Sawyer improved Deco Lighting's assembly time by 1,200%. By deploying Sawyer on each assembly line, Deco Lighting can explore using Sawyer robots to keep production running during off hours, further shortening lead time for customers.


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