Robots Rock at Automate

Automate is the biennial trade show featuring robots, vision, and motion control technology and products. It is sponsored by the Association for Advancing Automation. I wrote about it Wednesday discussing statistics about robots and jobs.

Even though I was deeply involved in robotic technology and did some vision implementations in past lives, this all became sort of boring to me for quite a few years. Probably ever since the delta robot. Recent developments have made robots much more interesting.

Several companies were exhibiting some innovations at this year’s event. Here are a few I saw.

Autonomous Mobile Robots

One area that holds much promise is autonomous mobile robots (AMR). I walked a booth with several little “pets” wandering around freely going from station to station.

This was in the booth of the Danish company, Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR). It launched its newest robot, the MiR200. It is an upgrade to the company’s flagship MiR100, which has already been installed in more than 30 countries by companies such as Airbus, Boeing, Flex, Honeywell, Michelin, Procter & Gamble, Toyota and Walmart.

AMRs are a dramatic improvement over legacy automated guided vehicles (AGVs), which require the expensive and inflexible installation of sensors or magnets into factory floors for guidance. MiR products are designed to give owners the flexibility to easily redeploy the robots to different processes or facility layouts to support changing business needs and agile manufacturing processes.

“Our robots are changing the game for any size business, from small, regional companies to large multinationals,” said MiR CEO Thomas Visti. “With the new interface of the MiR200, it’s even easier for companies to program the robot themselves and adapt its deployment as their business evolves. That’s critical for their competitiveness, and supports extremely fast ROI. The robot typically pays for itself in less than a year, even in very dynamic environments.” 

Gripper Technology

Another recent development that shows great promise is robots working nicely with people. This technology is known as collaborative robots (cobots). I ran into a new company from Denmark (a hotbed of robotic development—I wrote about Universal Robots last September) called On Robot. Its two-finger RG2 grippers—available in both single and dual versions— mount easily on the arms of cobots without any external wires; for robots that have infinite rotation of the last joint, this enables unprecedented flexibility and productivity.

The RG2 grippers can be easily programmed directly from the same interface as the robot, and the gripper can be modified without previous programming experience, making them ideal for collaborative robot users.

“User-friendly robot arms need user-friendly grippers, and until RG2, the ease-of-use and flexibility required just wasn’t available,” said Torben Ekvall, On Robot CEO. “Most traditional grippers work by using compressed air, which takes up a lot of space, is energy-intensive and is far too complicated for many users. On Robot’s RG2 is an electronic solution that is easy to mount, is very flexible and can be modified by an operator on the factory floor without the assistance of an engineer. This ease-of-use will help speed development for an increasing number of manufacturers’ applications.”

Unique features of the RG2 gripper include:

  • Simple and intuitive programming: RG2 lets operators easily choose what they need the gripper to do and the gripper responds with motion as flexible as the cobot itself.
  • Angle mounting: From 0° to 180° in 30° steps, in both the single- and dual-gripper setup, the gripper ensures great flexibility and adaptability for comprehensive tasks.
  • Customizable fingertips: The gripper fingers support the use of customized fingertips, which can be designed by end users to fit production requirements.
  • Assisted center-of-gravity calculation: Users enter the value of the payload and the robot calculates the rest, making programming easier, enhancing overall productivity and improving safety by enabling more accurate robot arm movements.
  • Continuous grip indication: The gripper can discern any lost or deliberately removed object.
  • Automatic Tool Center Point (TCP) calculation: Automatic calculation of how the robot arm moves around the calculated TCP of an object, depending on the position in which the gripper is mounted, for easier programming and use.

Exhibiting along with On Robot was OptoForce. This is a Hungarian company with an ingenious force sensor that can assemble on the robot end of arm with the On Robot grippers. The combination enables many really cool applications.

Dual Arm Cobot

DEONET factory, the Netherlands

Speaking of collaborative robots or cobots, ABB introduced YuMi. “The new era of robotic coworkers is here and an integral part of our Next Level strategy,” said ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer. “YuMi makes collaboration between humans and robots a reality. It is the result of years of research and development, and will change the way humans and robots interact. YuMi is an element of our Internet of Things, Services and People strategy creating an automated future together.”

While YuMi was specifically designed to meet the flexible and agile production needs of the consumer electronics industry, it has equal application in any small parts assembly environment thanks to its dual arms, flexible hands, universal parts feeding system, camera-based part location, lead-through programming, and state-of-the-art precise motion control.

YuMi can operate in very close collaboration with humans thanks to its inherently safe design. It has a lightweight yet rigid magnesium skeleton covered with a floating plastic casing wrapped in soft padding to absorb impacts. YuMi is also compact, with human dimensions and human movements, which makes humans coworkers feel safe and comfortable—a feature that garnered YuMi the prestigious “Red Dot ‘best of the best’ design award.” Check out the YuMi Information Portal for more information.

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