A New Approach to Automation Beginning With Robots

Despite the bad press that robots receive these days, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the technology. I first learned to program one in 1985. I’ve seen how robots remove humans from unsafe working conditions and improve product quality.

I have also liked what I’ve seen from Rethink Robotics. However, the press release I recently received was so filled with superlatives, that I was beginning to wonder if there was substance behind the hype. I’m betting there is. (And I removed most of the superlatives so that it reads better. Maybe I’ll see them at Automate and get a deeper dive.)

Rethink Robotics has announced Intera 5, a first-of-its-kind software platform that connects everything from a single robot controller, extending the smart, flexible power of Rethink Robotics’ Sawyer to the entire work cell and simplifying automation with ease of deployment.

Intera 5 fundamentally changes the need for integration, making it substantially easier and more affordable, allowing manufacturers to deploy full work cell automation in a matter of hours, not weeks, according to the press release.

Intera 5 is much more than the latest version of Rethink Robotics’ software; it’s a new way to approach automation that allows manufacturers to control the robots, orchestrate the work cell and collect data.

“With the introduction of Intera 5, we’ve created the world’s first smart robot that can orchestrate the entire work cell, removing areas of friction and opening up new and affordable automation possibilities for manufacturers around the world,” said Scott Eckert, president and CEO, Rethink Robotics. “Intera 5 is driving immediate value while helping customers work toward a smart factory, and providing a gateway to successful Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for the first time.”

Rethink Robotics’ Intera 5 modernizes the traditional work cell by improving coordination, increasing flexibility and drastically reducing deployment times. Run through the robot’s controller, manufacturers can orchestrate conveyors, equipment and other machines from a central Intera 5-powered robot.

Tuthill Plastics Group, a full-service custom injection molding company, is using a Sawyer robot with Intera 5 to power improved product quality and more efficient production. Operating 24 hours a day, five days a week, Sawyer with Intera 5 is picking parts from a conveyor belt and communicating with a computer numeric control (CNC) machine to precisely place the part into the machine by using Intera 5’s unique force-sensing capabilities. By applying a precise level of force while placing the part, the Tuthill team has been able to improve part quality and consistency, reducing a length defect on the part by 98 percent since implementing Sawyer.

“Sawyer with Intera 5 is a major step forward in manufacturing automation,” said Richard Curtain, president, Tuthill Plastics Group. “Part placement is extremely critical to our machining process. Sawyer is able to effectively ensure product quality and consistency, handle the variability of the production line, and automatically re-register to the environment in the event that any parts move.”

German magnet manufacturer, MS Schramberg, is also leveraging Sawyer with Intera 5 and has substantially improved deployment time. With six robots operating on three machines, MS Schramberg has one robot selecting parts from a series of patterns and loading the part into the machine, while a second robot removes the part from the machine and loads the part into a tray.

With less than a day of training, an MS Schramberg engineer is able to deploy and train the robots in just more than an hour. The robots now run 24 hours per day, six days per week, and can easily configure complex logic tasks, minimizing the need for human interaction and freeing up employees for more complex tasks.

“We’ve cut our deployment times by hundreds of hours with Intera 5, and are able to easily deploy our Sawyer robots on an extremely complex task in just over an hour,” said Norman Wittke, general manager, MS Schramberg. “The ease and speed of deployment is extremely valuable for our company, and is helping make our manufacturing processes more efficient, while improving our ROI.”

With Intera 5, manufacturers will reap the benefits of:

  • Industry-leading embedded vision, which will allow the robot to perform tasks just as humans do, reducing the need for expensive part presentation fixturing and additional integration costs.
  • Adaptive force-sensing, allowing users to precisely set the amount of force required, or enable the robot to feel and respond to a specific force, so the robot can make adaptive decisions while performing a task.
  • Intera Studio, an intuitive and powerful new tool to simply and effectively deploy automation like never before, providing a gateway to the factory of the future.

“Intera 5 is equipping industry leaders like Tuthill Plastics and MS Schramberg to achieve immediate bottom-line improvements in productivity, quality and efficiency on the factory floor,” said Eckert. “By implementing our robots equipped with Intera 5, manufacturers will have unprecedented work cell coordination, greatly reducing the need for complex, time-consuming and outdated automation options.”

Beginning in March, Intera 5 will be available for download on all existing Sawyer robots, and will come standard on all new robots.

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