I spent years learning to program and apply robotics in manufacturing. Then they became less interesting to me as most innovation focused on bigger and faster. Enter the collaborative robot (Cobot) and autonomous robot product lines. Things are becoming interesting again, even though for the most part they are doing the same basic tasks—mostly pick-and-place.

Emails between the Universal Robots PR person and me have been similar to a hot line as one after another innovation is announced. I have two here that sort of go together. First, Universal Robots announce the development of application kits. Then we had a big virtual press conference for the announcement of one of these, the ActivNav Autonomous Bin Picking system.

Application Kits

These are popular in MES software, but they are also useful for the cobot market. Twenty proven software and hardware kits for the most popular cobot applications are now available on the UR+ platform, the industry’s largest and most comprehensive ecosystem of products certified to integrate seamlessly with cobots from Universal Robots (UR). By reducing recurring engineering decisions for common applications, the ’Plug and Produce’ kits decrease project risk and complexity and are ready for fast implementation for tasks such as finishing, inspection, assembly, machine tending, material removal, dispensing, and material handling.

“As the world’s leader in collaborative robots, Universal Robots is pleased to extend our award-winning UR+ ecosystem to include certified cobot applications,” says Jim Lawton, VP of Product and Applications Management at Universal Robots. “It’s a new arena where customers no longer have to select and specify cobot peripherals piecemeal, but instead get a kit with most of the needed components for their desired application. The results are faster deployment and faster payback.”

The expanded UR+ ecosystem now features two different categories: components and application kits. The new application kit category features a total of 20 kits with more to come. The kits all come with “URCap” software that enables users to control all peripherals directly from the UR cobot’s own teach pendant in a rich 3D user interface.

ActiNav UR+ application kit

The complexity of automated bin picking is well-known throughout the industry, requiring efforts in both integration and programming. Today, most bin picking products focus on vision and often require hundreds of lines of additional programming to bridge the gap from “pick” to “place” – especially if the “place” is not just dropping into a box or tote but accurately inserting the part into a fixture for further processing. ActiNav Autonomous Bin Picking allows manufacturers with limited or no bin picking deployment expertise to achieve high machine uptime and accurate part placement with few operator interventions.

ActiNav combines real-time autonomous motion control, collaborative robotics, vision, and sensor systems in one easy to use, fast to deploy, and cost-effective kit. The system requires no vision or robotic programming expertise, but is instead based on a “teach-by-demonstration” principle using a six-step, wizard-guided setup process integrated into the UR cobot teach pendant. ActiNav can be deployed by manufacturers’ in-house automation teams or through assistance from a UR distributor or integrator.

“Machine tending has always been one of the mainstay applications for our collaborative robot arms,” says VP of Product and Applications Management at Universal Robots, Jim Lawton. “We discovered a significant market need for a simple solution that enables UR cobots to autonomously locate and pick parts out of deep bins and place them precisely into a machine. This is not pick and drop; this is accurate pick and part-oriented placement.”

ActiNav is available through UR’s distribution channel and via the new UR+ Application Kits platform. ActiNav works with UR’s UR5e and UR10e e-Series cobots, a UR+ component or user-defined end effector, and application-specific frame or fixture as needed. The kit includes the Autonomous Motion Module (AMM) and ActiNav URCap user interface software, along with a choice of 3D sensors.

“Parts are often already in bins, so the most flexible and scalable option is to deliver that bin of parts to the machine and then pick them directly from the bin and place them into the machine,” Lawton adds. “This minimizes floor space and reduces the need for part-specific tooling.”

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