Growing Interest In Magnetic Robot Grippers

A few years ago I wondered if there was much more advancement coming with industrial robots. Then two technology trails appeared. One was the development and interest in collaborative robots. The other applied new technologies for improved grippers and end effectors. This piece of news comes from Festo, who reports increased interest in the Electric Series (E-Series) of intelligent magnetic grippers from Magswitch, Lafayette, Colorado. Festo has been a Magswitch distribution partner since 2019.

Magswitch E-Series intelligent magnetic grippers are not electromagnets nor are they EPMs (electropermanent magnets). Magswitch E-Series units contain proprietary switching technology that enables reduced energy consumption, faster actuation, intelligent magnetic gripping, part correct/part incorrect feedback capabilities, and two to three times the holding forces of any similarly sized electromagnet or electropermanent magnet. Pole shoes that shape the magnetic field are offered in standard and custom configurations to ensure the correct grip for the application. 

Magswitch E-Series intelligent grippers are smaller than electromagnets, which reduces the size of end of arm tools. With less weight and size, designers are frequently able to use a smaller robot, thus lowering capital cost as well as reducing footprint.

E-Series magnetic grippers are sought after in stamping applications, including progressive dies. In a stamping operation, intelligent variable field output can separate a single blank from a pile and then identify whether the blank is the correct thickness. These units can identify and grip individual blanks down to .6 mm in thickness.

In resistance spot welding applications, E-Series units provide single-sided gripping technology, eliminating the need for clamps. With clamps removed, the spot weld gun is provided simpler access to the product. With a rapid on/off actuation time of 250 milliseconds, the E-Series lowers cycle time compared to clamps.

E-Series intelligent magnetic grippers can be used in many other applications, including automotive assembly, white goods manufacturing, heavy industrial manufacturing, electronic assembly, bin picking, measuring, checking, ergonomic lift-assist, and collaborative cells.

OnRobot Adds Software Product To Its Cobot Portfolio

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Industrial automation products have blended hardware and software for many years. Companies, likewise, find the need to develop software products augmenting their hardware products. News has reached me from a couple of different segments of the market with similar emphases. This one is from OnRobot, manufacturer of collaborative robots, the so-called “cobots”. This appears to be a valuable adjunct to its main product line.

WebLytics brings remote monitoring, device diagnostics, and data analytics capabilities to OnRobot’s line of collaborative application-focused hardware solutions.

The company describes this as “a unique production monitoring, device diagnostics, and data analytics solution designed to enhance productivity and minimize downtime.”

Capable of monitoring the performance of multiple collaborative applications simultaneously and in real-time, WebLytics gathers equipment data from both robots and tools and transforms it into easy-to-understand, visualized device and application-level intelligence.

“The launch of WebLytics is an important landmark for OnRobot, our customers, and our global integrator network,” said Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of OnRobot. “WebLytics is the first software solution to provide real-time, application-focused data for collaborative applications across major robot brands. As our first software product, WebLytics marks the beginning of OnRobot’s journey into robot software and completes our vision of providing a One Stop Shop for collaborative applications on both the hardware and software side.”

For end users and integrators, WebLytics not only eliminates manual data collection — it provides actionable insights into how well a collaborative application is performing, offering live device diagnostics, alerts and preventive maintenance measures to keep costly robot cell downtime to a minimum. 

This software appears to solve one of the many drawbacks of OEE—consistent and accurate reporting of the actual data from the machine.

Integrating the globally recognized overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) industry standard, WebLytics identifies trends in real-time in the robot cell, including patterns, peaks, and disturbances in application productivity. OEE measures the percentage of manufacturing time that is truly productive – a score of 100% indicates that the collaborative application is producing only good parts, as fast as possible, and with no downtime. Leveraging these OEE measures, WebLytics can determine whether the manufacturing process is running at optimal speed and can monitor and analyze the quality of application cycles –key insights for manufacturers of all sizes.

WebLytics can report on utilization of the robot arm and OnRobot tools such as grippers, vision cameras, and sensors, as well as the number of safety stops initiated, and the number of grip cycles performed while an application is running.

When changes are made to a robot cell, such as adjusting the speed of a robot or the settings on a gripper, WebLytics can also automatically report on the impact of those changes on application performance.

If anomalies occur in the collaborative application after deployment, WebLytics enables users to analyze the data collected directly from the robot(s) and tools and report on its findings using customizable dashboards.

Customer testimonial. We’ve been writing about automated data collecting for 20 years. Each year the industry moves another step forward.

Laszlo Papp, Product Manager & Sales Engineer at Wamatec Hungary Kft., tested WebLytics on machine tending, pick & place, and palletizing applications: “In this fast-paced world, time is everything. When cycle time is really important, WebLytics helps you identify the small mistakes that cause time wastage,” he said. “WebLytics can also save a lot of time for yourself and for your production line by making it easy to schedule all maintenance and product changes. My favorite function was the dashboard. I really liked how WebLytics allowed me to monitor all my applications, my cobots/robots, and my end-of-arm-tools using one platform that provides real time monitoring, data collection and line charting. WebLytics makes optimizing all applications much easier than before.”  

Access to WebLytics’ is provided through a secure, intuitive browser-based user interface, that displays OEE measures and user-defined KPIs through customizable dashboards that provide an immediate and transparent view into real-time and historical application performance.

The WebLytics server can be deployed on a shop floor’s local network or added to a virtual network that connects to the robot cell. Collected data is stored locally on the WebLytics server. Meanwhile, WebLytics’ built-in web server is always accessible from the shop floor network or from anywhere in the world via secure HTTPS connection.

WebLytics also creates new revenue opportunities for system integrators, by providing the software required to offer their customers data-backed custom service agreements and engineering services for cell optimization.

Software and Robot Applications

A couple of news items came my way yesterday. The first is news from Inductive Automation from its conference last month. I wrote about the applications a variety of customers presented and about the awards the company presented to the ones judged best. This release talks about them. What I miss most about attending some of these conferences in person are the breakfast and lunch impromptu discussions with users about what they really do rather than what marketing people present in a polished form. The second release from Festo discusses initiatives in robot use in healthcare. All this is about advancing ideas. Perhaps you can get an idea from these to advance your own use of technology!

Inductive Automation Announces 2021 Ignition Firebrand Awards

Inductive Automation has selected the recipients of its Ignition Firebrand Awards for 2021. The Ignition Firebrand Awards recognize system integrators and industrial organizations that use the Ignition software platform to create innovative new projects. 

“We had some unique projects that earned Firebrand Awards this year,” said Don Pearson, chief strategy officer for Inductive Automation. “Whether it was for a well-known organization like Smithfield, or an Australian company making high-speed catamarans, or a team building a large COVID-testing lab in record time, the companies that created these Ignition projects achieved outstanding results. It’s really inspiring for us to see all the innovation from people who are part of the Ignition community.”

The 2021 Ignition Firebrand Award winners are:

  • BHP, a global resources leader, created a high-performance HMI to help technicians monitor data at a large operations center in BHP’s minerals division. Data is collected from more than 30 sites across Australia, thousands of devices, and 1.1 million tags.  The single user interface has brought numerous benefits, including having all data displayed in one place, less downtime in operations, and cost savings. See the video.
  • CPM Beta Raven improved feed mill operations for Smithfield Hog Production by deploying a modern SCADA platform at the mill in Milford, Utah. The mill produces 12,000 tons of animal feed per week, which feeds 1.7 million pigs per year. With the new solution, Smithfield has greater access to data, and is more able to produce huge batches with strict tolerances. See the video.
  • Cromarty provided a new Ship Integrated Management System to Incat, a leading maker of high-speed catamarans used for ferrying passengers, vehicles, and more. The new system manages data from various inputs and displays it in a consistent manner on operator workstations throughout a vessel. Incat has made 100 vessels thus far, with the new system being used on several of its most recent ships. See the video.
  • DMC helped Ginkgo Bioworks create a large, high-capacity lab for COVID testing in just nine months. With morethan 40 automated work cells, robots, PLCs, lab equipment, and vision inspection systems, the highly automated lab had the capacity to process 100,000 samples per day. The project was developed amidst constantly changing requirements, yet seamlessly combined both industrial and biological automation. See the video.

Information on all 15 Discover Gallery projects can be seen here.

The ICC 2021 keynote and other conference videos can be seen here.

Festo and MassRobotics Select Companies for the Inaugural Healthcare Robotics Startup Catalyst Program 

The first four companies in the inaugural Healthcare Robotics Startup Catalyst program have been selected by Festo and MassRobotics. The Healthcare Robotics Startup Catalyst is a new program for the global robotics startup community to advance healthcare developments by providing promising companies with investor and customer introductions, access to subject-matter experts, and a range of technical and marketing support resources. 

The robotics companies selected include Assistive Technology, an American startup dedicated to at-home physical therapy solutions that are operable at a low cost and always accessible to rural patients and those who need closer monitoring for recovery. Swiss firm Bionomous provides laboratory equipment to automate the screening, sorting, and pipetting of miniature biological entities for more ethical and faster research in life science. Eureka Robotics, Singapore-based, develops and commercializes cutting-edge robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to automate high-accuracy, high-agility tasks. Finally, Canada’s Kinarm uses robotic arms to provide an objective assessment method to identify, measure, and track cognitive, motor, or sensory impairments resulting from injury or disease. 

These four startups will have access to the innovation centers and engineering teams of Festo, one of the world’s leading automation companies, and collaborating corporate partners. 

With the onset of the pandemic, the lack of awareness between the healthcare and technology communities was evident in terms of how robotics could be applied to ease staffing concerns and reduce the potential spread of the virus. Many unmet and untapped white spaces were identified, which initiated the development of a MassRobotics Healthcare Robotics Working Group and the Catalyst Program.  

The inaugural catalyst program runs from now through March 2022. For additional information visit the Healthcare Robotics Startup Catalyst program webpage.

Robot Orders Increase 67% in Q2 2021 Over Same Period in 2020

I get a little out of sorts when I see people equating automation and robots. There is so much more to automation than just six-axis robots. However, this is very interesting news. Someone just sent a press release showing doom and gloom in global trade statistics. Check this one.

Robot orders in the second quarter of 2021 were up 67% over the same period in 2020, showing a return to pre-COVID 19 pandemic demand for automation as manufacturers and other North American companies return to business. According to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), North American companies ordered 9,853 robots valued at $501 million in Q2 2021, up from 5,196 sold in Q2 2020, the peak of the pandemic. 

The Q2 2021 increase, which marks the third-highest quarter on record for robot units sold overall, also showed more than half (5,530) came from non-automotive customers as industries such metals, semiconductor & electronics, plastics and rubber, food and consumer goods, and life sciences recognize the benefits of automation.  

“With the big increases in automation sales, and favorable economic conditions in U.S. manufacturing sector throughout much of 2021, it’s clear users have accelerated their orders for robotics and other forms of advanced technologies,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “While companies have long realized that automation increases efficiencies, expands production and empowers human employees to do more valuable tasks, the pandemic helped even more industries realize those benefits. By automating—either for the first time or expanding on how they use automation—companies will be better prepared to handle any upcoming issues that impact their business.” 

According to A3, the substantial increases in robot orders in Q2 came from companies in:

  • metals (up 99% over Q2 2020)
  • automotive components (up 85%)
  • semiconductor & electronics/photonics (up 62%)
  • plastics & rubber (up 51%)
  • food & consumer goods (up 51%)
  • automotive OEM (up 49%)
  • life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomed (up 21%) 

Machine Vision, Motion Control and Motor Markets See Record Growth

In addition to the large increase in robotic orders, machine vision, motion control and motor markets saw record increases over Q2 2020, A3’s report shows. North American machine vision statistics reveal that the market expanded 26% to $764 million, a new record. For January through June of 2021, the North American machine vision market grew 18% to $1.5 billion, which is the best start to a year on record.  

The motion control and motors sector recorded $1.065 billion in shipments, 13% greater than Q2 2020 sales and setting a new record. Motors, actuators and mechanical systems and electronic drives saw the largest increases. 

“The revitalization of automation we’re seeing across myriad industries is extremely encouraging,” Burnstein added. “Not only will the increase in automation use be a win for our member companies, but it will also help the U.S. economy grow even more as customers increase productivity and fill the millions of manufacturing jobs that remain unfulfilled.” 

Automation Makes Today’s News

Today, I have two product releases in the automation space. Collaborative robots (cobots) were the hit of Fabtech a couple of weeks ago. I was wondering about SCARA robots—those that I first learned to program and use back in the 80s. ABB came through with some SCARA robot news. Then comes news from a new Danish company that is applying automation to CNC machine loading problems.

Made4CNC Launches World’s First Completely Automatic CNC Door Opening Solution for Robots

A new Danish company has solved a well-known and previously unsolvable challenge in the metal industry; Made4CNC has developed the world’s first completely automatic door opening solution for robotic machine tending, fitted to any robot and CNC machine in under an hour.

Currently only a small percentage of the industry’s CNC machines are automatically fed components. Most of the world’s CNC machines rely on either the operator or the robotic arm having to physically open and close the machines’ heavy doors every few minutes. Investing in a new fully automatic CNC machine or upgrading an older model can be a tall order, both in practical and financial terms.

Made4CNC’s first official product, the new Safedoor SD100 removes the barriers to the automation of component feeding at machine shops. Safedoor SD100 opens CNC doors that are up to 1 meter wide and weigh 400 kg, at a speed of 500 mm/s. The door opener can connect to any robot and CNC machine make via galvanic insulated digital inputs and outputs.

Several end users and distributors have already caught the scent of a killer app and have started deploying the solution. The team behind Made4CNC, Thomas Visti, Lasse Kieffer and Peter Nadolny are three professionals well-known for disrupting the robot industry, having played integral roles in the success of Danish robot companies Universal Robots, OnRobot, Purple Robotics and Mobile Industrial Robots.

When automating CNC machines today, integrators often build “homemade” door opening solutions. But that risks errors, stoppages, and hazardous situations because the solutions typically require compressed air and are neither standardized nor tested. These challenges are overcome with Made4CNC’s fully electric Safedoor SD100 with built-in safety functions that enable the integrator to adjust the speed of the CNC door, making risk assessments easier to conduct.

“Around the world the need for faster and greater automation is a major trend, and for it to succeed, less time must be spent on each installation,” said Peter Nadolny Madsen, CEO at Made4CNC. “With the SD100, we have integrated safety and robustness in a user-friendly solution, which we believe is the key to optimal productivity,” he said, adding that integration of collaborative robots or light industrial robots together with existing CNC machines makes a lot of sense, since the automation of existing machines generate low risk and a short payback period for the customer. 

Together with investors Thomas Visti and Lasse Kieffer, Peter Nadolny Madsen established Made4CNC in January 2021. Investor Lasse Kieffer has contributed with his deep technological expertise, while investor Thomas Visti has provided market insight: “Made4CNC has understood what is required to make the process easier,” said Thomas Visti “It’s win-win-win for the end customer, employees, distributors and the manufacturer. I therefore expect that Made4CNC will have established itself via robot distributors and integrators around most of the world in the next 12 months.”

Integrator Nordelektro has installed two Made4CNC Safedoor SD100 door opening solutions at Randers Tandhjulsfabrik. “It took less than an hour for each CNC machine and they are good and stable door openers,” reported Lars Bo Nielsen, factory manager at Randers Tandhjulsfabrik. For Nordelektro, it makes a huge difference that they can provide customers with a standardized solution designed as a solution-in-a-box:

“Safedoor SD100 is a complete solution, which makes it simpler to work with automation,” said Jesper Storm Simonsen, sales manager at Nordelektro.  “It is a huge advantage for us as an integrator. We don’t need to invent something complicated and expensive. We have minimum project risk.” 

Made4CNC has just entered into agreement with their first American distributor, Thinkbot Solutions: “Safedoor SD100 makes having a job as a machine feeder much more pleasant and easy-going, while the employer will be able to optimize and get a better work flow,” said President of Thinkbot Solutions, Philip Courtois. “Others have tried unsuccessfully to develop a user-friendly door opener. Made4CNC has completely succeeded. I have chosen to distribute SD100 because attention is given to all of the details in terms of the mechanics, software and safety,” he stated, adding that SD100 is certified by the world’s most popular collaborative robot company Universal Robots (UR). “The UR+ certification ensures completely seamless integration with robots from Universal Robots. All operation can be done through the robot’s teach pendant.”

ABB expands SCARA robot range for faster, high precision assembly

ABB expanded its range of SCARA robots with the launch of the IRB 920T. Designed to meet the requirements of the electronics industry for high-speed production in increasingly complex manufacturing processes, the IRB 920T provides the highest levels of speed, accuracy and repeatability for assembly, picking and handling tasks.

“The need for companies to respond quickly to changing consumer demands is making SCARA robots a popular choice for production lines where fast and accurate performance is key to ensuring maximum product quality,” said Antti Matinlauri, Head of Product Management for ABB Robotics. “Together with ABB’s OmniCore controller, the IRB 920T is part of a new generation of robotic solutions from ABB that help manufacturers stay one step ahead of changing market demands.”

With a cycle time of 0.29 seconds, the IRB 920T is faster than other SCARA robots in its class and up to 14 percent faster than ABB’s current IRB 910SC SCARA robot, enabling more products to be produced per hour. With a maximum payload of 6kg and available in a choice of variants offering reaches of 450, 550 and 650mm, it can be installed throughout production lines to handle a variety of items, from single components through to assembled products.

Key to the performance of the IRB 920T is its excellent repeatability. Offering class-leading consistency, the IRB 920T can work quickly without the risk of errors, making it possible to achieve the highest levels of manufacturing quality with minimal or zero wastage. This flexibility is further supported by its lightweight and space-saving design. Weighing just 24kg, the IRB 920T is 10 percent lighter than other SCARA robots in its class, reducing cell design costs by eliminating the need for extra materials to support the robot. With all cables routed internally to remove cable interference, it also offers a compact footprint, enabling optimization of available production space.


Universal Robots Showcases Innovative Applications at Fabtech 2021

My last post before absconding for vacation included an overview of Fabtech 2021—the first trade show I’ve visited in two years. Aside from the additive manufacturing area, the next most active area for me was collaborative robots. Much of the activity concerned welding. People at the Universal Robot booth told me that smaller companies have trouble hiring welders. The smaller cost of these robots plus speed from delivery to production make them an attractive alternative.

Universal Robots used FABTECH 2021 as the launchpad for new cobot applications including heavy-duty water-cooled welding, hardfacing, plasma cutting, and flexible machine loading. 

UR cobot-powered systems were mainstream at FABTECH with numerous OEMs and UR+ partners actively selling MIG, TIG and plasma welding and cutting solutions, making it one of the fastest growing market for UR cobots.

“For 40 years, robotic arc welding evolved incrementally”, says Joe Campbell, Senior Manager of Applications Development and Strategic Marketing at Universal Robots. “Collaborative arc welding is the first disruptive technology to hit the robotic arc welding market since the introduction of DC servo powered robots,” he adds, attributing the rapid market traction to several key drivers including significant shortage of welders, increase in high mix/low volume production, and the fact that cobot welders are easy to deploy, quickly producing parts with improved quality and consistency.

Heavy-duty welds are now possible to perform with cobots as Vectis Automation becomes the first UR partner in North America to develop a water-cooled cobot-based welding system in a new version of its Cobot Welding Tool. The solution is now not only compatible with Miller welding equipment but can be integrated with Lincoln and Fronius welding equipment too. 

Vectis Automation also pioneers the use of a UR cobot for hardfacing, the metalworking process where harder or tougher material is applied to a base metal. The company debuted new UR cobot powered plasma cutting as well, featuring Vectis’ Cobot Cutting Tool with Hypertherm PowerMax able to perform complex cuts on 3D shapes and large structures for a fraction of the cost of a tube laser. 

The UR booth also hosts new solutions for automated machine tending, featuring the new VersaBuilt CNC Mill Application Kit for manufacturers seeking a plug-and-play approach to CNC milling automation. Versabuilt’s UR+ Application Kit comes with all components pre-assembled and designed to successfully get the CNC mill and the UR10e cobot working together, automating the loading and unloading of parts into the mill. The VersaBuilt Kit requires no programming experience with easy-to-use automation software that allows the machinist to simply enter part dimensions and CNC milling program numbers to get the application up and running. 

Universal Robots’ ActiNav combines intelligent vision and real-time autonomous motion control with Universal Robots’ e-Series cobots. ActiNav combines real-time autonomous motion control, UR cobots, vision and sensor systems in one seamless Application Kit that solves the bin picking challenge in machine tending applications. At FABTECH, ActiNav picked metal parts randomly jumbled in bins and correctly insert them into a machine. Powering ActiNav is the new enhanced version of UR’s best-selling UR10e cobot now featuring 25% more payload capacity with the ability to lift 12.5kg (27.55lbs).

When it comes to the grippers picking up parts in automated loading and unloading of machine tools, as well as handling of ferromagnetic raw materials, gripping with magnetic grippers has proven to reduce cycle time and increase production. SCHUNK has addressed this industry need with the new EMH gripper, the world’s first electrically activated, 24 V permanent magnetic gripper with integrated electronics. The new EMH gripper will be showcased in seamless integration with a UR cobot at UR’s FABTECH booth alongside the new UR+ product, the AOV-10 Axially-Compliant Orbital Sander, from ATI Industrial Automation that is the ideal robotic solution for surface preparation and finishing. With built-in compliance, the AOV-10 is well-suited for many different robotic application types—even those that require a light touch.