This entire area of collaborative robots (cobots) just keeps getting more interesting. The idea of humans and robots working collaboratively is intuitive but has been difficult to achieve. Cobots have ramifications far beyond industrial applications. But even here, they can lead the way to better productivity and effectiveness.
In this latest piece of news, Universal Robots (UR) announced the immediate availability of the UR16e which boasts an impressive 16 kg (35 lbs) payload capability.
This cobot combines the high payload with a reach of 900 mm and pose repeatability of +/- 0.05 mm making it ideal for automating tasks such as heavy-duty material handling, heavy-part handling, palletizing, and machine tending.
“In today’s uncertain economic climate manufacturers need to look at flexible solutions to stay competitive,” said Jürgen von Hollen, President of Universal Robots. “With UR16e, we meet the need for a collaborative robot that can tackle heavy-duty tasks reliably and efficiently. This launch significantly expands the versatility of our product portfolio and gives manufacturers even more ways to improve performance, overcome labor challenges, and grow their business.”
Developed on UR’s e-Series platform, the UR16e offers these benefits:
· Fast and frictionless deployment with easy programming and a small footprint
UR16e makes accelerating automation easy and fast. Programming and integration is simple – regardless of the user’s experience or knowledge base. Like all UR’s cobots, UR16e can be unpacked, mounted and programmed to perform a task within less than an hour. With a small footprint and 900 mm reach, UR16e easily integrates into any production environment without disruption.
· Addresses ergonomic challenges while lowering cost
With its 16 kg payload, UR16e eliminates the ergonomic and productivity challenges associated with lifting and moving heavy parts and products, lowering costs, and reducing downtime.
· Ideal for heavy-duty material handling and machine tending
Rugged and reliable, UR16e is ideal for automating high-payload and CNC machine tending applications, including multi-part handling, without compromising on precision.
“At Universal Robots we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with collaborative automation,” continued von Hollen. “Today, we’re making it easier than ever for every manufacturer to capitalize on the power of automation by bringing a cobot to market that is built to do more, as it delivers more payload than our other cobots.”
Like with UR’s other e-Series cobots; UR3e, UR5e and UR10e, the UR16e includes built-in force sensing, 17 configurable safety functions, including customizable stopping time and stopping distance, and an intuitive programming flow. UR16e meets the most demanding compliance regulations and safety standards for unobstructed human-robot collaboration, including EN ISO 13849-1, PLd, Category 3, and full EN ISO 10218-1.
Few conversations or panels at the recently completed ARC Industry Forum touched directly on discrete automation. That is, with one notable exception. Robotics. Several people brought up a surge in orders for industrial robotics.
Aside from human-robot collaboration, not much has been exciting in the industrial space. I keep hoping for some advances using some of the innovation being explored in the consumer space.
But I looked up the latest from the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) and learned that robot orders and shipments in North America set new records in 2015. A study of the numbers, though, reveals that the drivers were the same old drivers–automotive industry with coating/dispensing, material handling, and spot welding leading the charge.
Industrial Robotic Sales
A total of 31,464 robots valued at $1.8 billion were ordered from North American companies during 2015, an increase of 14% in units and 11% in dollars over 2014. Robot shipments also set new records, with 28,049 robots valued at $1.6 billion shipped to North American customers in 2015. Shipments grew 10% in units and nine percent in dollars over the previous records set in 2014.
The automotive industry was the primary driver of growth in 2015, with robot orders increasing 19% year over year. Non-automotive robot orders grew five percent over 2014. The leading non-automotive industry in 2015 in terms of order growth was Semiconductors and Electronics at 35%.
According to Alex Shikany, Director of Market Analysis for RIA, the fastest growing applications for robot orders in North America in 2015 were Coating and Dispensing (+49%), Material Handling (+24%), and Spot Welding (+22%). RIA estimates that some 260,000 robots are now at use in North American factories, which is third to Japan and China in robot use.
The recent record performance by the robotics market in North America is concurrent with falling unemployment. Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the unemployment rate in the United States reached 4.9%, its lowest level since February of 2008.
“Today there are more opportunities than ever before in the robotics industry,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of RIA. “The continuing growth in robotics is opening many new job opportunities for people who can program, install, run, and maintain robots. In fact, if you look closer at the jobs discussion, automation is helping to save and create jobs. A lot of companies tell us they wouldn’t be in business without robotics and related automation.”
Burnstein noted that the RIA and its sister group AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, are seeing the impacts of the growth in demand for automation in upcoming events like the International Collaborative Robots Workshop and The Vision Show, slated for May 3-5, 2016 in Boston.
“Collaborative robots are the hottest topic in robotics today, and we are expecting a strong turnout in Boston for the workshop,” he said. “With interest in vision and imaging at an all-time high, AIA expects its flagship trade show, The Vision Show, to draw record attendance this year,” Burnstein added. Visit Robotics Online and Vision Online respectively for more information on these two collocated events.
My grandson was asking about why can’t we build a better light bulb and design better batteries. He’s eight. If he keeps asking the big questions, he’ll have a good future.
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.”
I interrupt this blog to say good-bye and best wishes to industrial control systems security pioneers Eric and Joann Byres. They have been through a couple of iterations of entrepreneurship and had recently sold Tofino to Belden. They are leaving that company, taking some time off, and then looking for their next adventure. I appreciate the intense security conversations over the past 10-12 years. Check out the final blog post.
And, now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Industrial Robotics Once Again a Place for Innovation
Some industrial robots are hulking, highly specialized pieces of machinery that are cordoned off by cages from human factory workers.
But manufacturers have also begun experimenting with a new generation of “cobots” designed to work side-by-side with humans, and University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers are playing an important role in making these human-robot collaborations more natural and efficient.
Bilge Mutlu, an assistant professor of computer sciences, is working with counterparts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to determine best practices for effectively integrating human-robot teams within manufacturing environments. Their research is funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of its National Robotics Initiative program.
Furniture maker Steelcase, a global company headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is also a partner. “Working with world-class research universities like UW is critical to our strategy to evolve our industrial systems and develop industry-leading capabilities,” says Steelcase’s Edward Vander Bilt. “Our hope with this research is that we will learn how to extend human-robot collaboration more broadly across our operations.”
In recent years, the robotics industry has introduced new platforms that are less expensive and intended to be easier to reprogram and integrate into manufacturing. Steelcase owns four next-generation robots based on a platform called Baxter, made by Rethink Robotics. Each Baxter robot has two arms and a tablet-like panel for “eyes” that provide cues to help human workers anticipate what the robot will do next.
“This new family of robotic technology will change how manufacturing is done,” says Mutlu. “New research can ease the transition of these robots into manufacturing by making human-robot collaboration better and more natural as they work together.”
Mutlu directs UW-Madison’s Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory and serves as the principal investigator on the UW side of the collaboration. He works closely with Julie A. Shah, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.
Mutlu’s team is building on previous work related to topics such as gaze aversion in humanoid robots, robot gestures and the issue of “speech and repair.” For example, if a human misunderstands a robot’s instructions or carries them out incorrectly, how should the robot correct the human?
At MIT, Shah breaks down the components of human-robot teamwork and tries to determine who should perform various tasks. Mutlu’s work complements Shah’s by focusing on how humans and robots actually interact.
“People can sometimes have difficulty figuring out how best to work with or use a robot, especially if its capabilities are very different from people’s,” says Shah. “Automated planning techniques can help bridge the gap in our capabilities and allow us to work more effectively as a team.”
Over the summer, UW-Madison computer sciences graduate student Allison Sauppé traveled to Steelcase headquarters to learn more about its efforts to incorporate Baxter into the production line. She found that perceptions of Baxter varied according to employees’ roles.
While managers tended to see Baxter as part of the overall system of automation, front-line workers had more complex feelings. “Some workers saw Baxter as a social being or almost a co-worker, and they talked about Baxter as if it were another person,” she says. “They unconsciously attributed human-like characteristics.”