I told him that there would always be problems to solve, that’s why we would need engineers and scientists. He asked, what kind of questions. I told him about the need to develop robots that could work with people. This technology will become increasingly useful to help an aging population cope with physical limitations. It will also help production when we (shortly) face a declining workforce.
I like to point to the work of Rethink Robotics. It recently announced that its Sawyer robot, the company’s second smart, collaborative robot designed for a wide range of factory environments, is available for purchase and is being deployed by manufacturers across the globe. Announced in March, Sawyer is a single-arm, high-performance robot created to handle machine tending, circuit board testing and other precise tasks that have been difficult to automate with existing robots.
Weighing only 19 kilograms (42 pounds), Sawyer features a 4kg (8.8 lbs.) payload, with seven degrees of freedom and a 1260mm reach that can maneuver into the tight spaces and varied alignments of work cells designed for humans. Its high resolution force sensing, embedded at each joint, enables Rethink Robotics’ compliant motion control, which allows the robot to “feel” its way into fixtures or machines, even when parts or positions vary. This characteristic enables a repeatability that is unique to the robotics industry, and allows Sawyer to work effectively in semi-structured environments on tasks requiring 0.1mm of tolerance.
Sawyer offers a unique combination of features that distinguish it from other conventional and collaborative robots, including compliant motion control, embedded vision with a built-in Cognex camera and Rethink’s Robot Positioning System, a component of the proprietary and industry-leading Intera software platform. Powering both Sawyer and Rethink’s first collaborative robot, Baxter, the Intera system makes deploying the robots far easier than typical industrial robots. While traditional robots typically take an average of 200 hours to program and deploy, Sawyer can be deployed in under two hours and can easily be trained by typical factory technicians – not roboticists.
Sawyer is purpose-designed for enterprise-level deployments, with a useful life of 35,000 hours of operation. The robot is IP54-rated, making it ideal for harsh factory environments. Since its introduction, Sawyer has been field tested extensively at leading manufacturers’ sites around the world, and is currently being deployed on production lines in many of those facilities.
The process improves the efficiency of the product line while allowing GE’s employees to handle the more dexterous and cognitive work needed to complete the task.
General Electric has been testing Sawyer over the past month and will deploy their first robot in a GE Lighting plant in Hendersonville, North Carolina. A prime example of true human-robot collaboration, Sawyer will be on a production line positioning parts into a light fixture as a GE employee completes the assembly. The process improves the efficiency of the product line while allowing GE’s employees to handle the more dexterous and cognitive work needed to complete the task.
“The ability to deploy a smart, collaborative robot like Sawyer provides a significant flexibility advantage to our production team, while still meeting our world class quality, precision and speed standards,” said Kelley Brooks, global advanced manufacturing & engineering leader at GE Lighting. “Utilizing this technology is an integral part of our Brilliant Factory initiative to connect all parts of the supply chain from product design, to engineering, to the factory floor and beyond in order to deliver customized LED solutions for our customers.”
Sawyer is also set to be deployed in Steelcase Inc.’s (NYSE: SCS) Grand Rapids factory, where it will work in tandem with the company’s welding machine. Sawyer will work to pick and place parts in pairs of two, enabling a completely autonomous welding process. The robot’s small footprint, long reach and higher payload capacity make it ideal for the Steelcase team. In addition to handling changes in parts and lines seamlessly, Sawyer’s IP54 rating allows the robot to work in manufacturing environments with liquids and particle hazards present.
“Having already deployed several Baxter robots successfully, we’ve seen the value that collaborative robots bring to the factory floor,” said Edward Vander Bilt, leader of innovation at Steelcase. “These robots are the game-changers of modern manufacturing, and Rethink Robotics is leading the evolving relationship between humans and machines that allow each to do what they do best.”
Sawyer is a significant addition to the company’s smart, collaborative robot family, which also includes the groundbreaking Baxter robot that defined the category of safe, interactive, affordable automation. Sawyer is available for purchase in manufacturing environments throughout North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.
“After announcing Sawyer in March, the worldwide demand we have seen for the robot has been overwhelming,” said Rethink Robotics President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Eckert. “Manufacturers around the globe understand that Sawyer opens the door for a wealth of new applications and opportunities to improve their business, and they are eager to get it onto their production floors.”