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Welding Solutions Win Out Over Ice-Cream Serving Robots At AUTOMATICA
Electromobility drives the solutions of today, with service robots the focus of tomorrow
By Casey Nobile


As AUTOMATICA comes to a close, organizers and participants agree that this year’s fair continued to build on the last event’s success. AUTOMATICA 2012 boasted over 31,000 visitors and more than 720 exhibitors from 40 countries. Norbert Bargmann, Deputy Chairman and CEO of Messe Munchen International, was delighted with the way AUTOMATICA turned out: “AUTOMATICA is the pacesetter for the industry and a platform for product launches. After five events, she is now at the head of the European market.”

This year’s solutions-based theme bodes well for big industry contracts. According to Gerald Mies, Director of Fanuc Robotics Germany, end users such as system houses spent time discussing concrete projects, budgets, and start dates. “There are no castles in the air,” he added. “AUTOMATICA is our marketplace for robots; here we have the experts.”

Visitor and manufacturing decision-maker Dr. Michael Zurn, Senior Manager of Process Engineering for Daimler AG, emphasized the event’s importance for his industry: “AUTOMATICA is ‘the’ trade fair for me. An enormously wide range of products is shown there, and a few real top-rate, innovative assembly technologies stand out.”

“There are no castles in the air…AUTOMATICA is our marketplace for robots; here we have the experts”Gerald Mies, Director of Fanuc Robotics Germany

Industry Solutions

As anticipated, a majority of AUTOMATICA’s industry solutions were focused on automotive production and its satellite industries. In the production of electric vehicles, manufacturers of both automobiles and electric batteries saw development in three problem areas: Light-weight material bonding methods, 3-D laser imaging technology for measuring and inspecting, and the connection of robots and machine tools functions under a single controller and interface system.

Bonding

Until the demands of electro-mobility, lithium ion cells had never been combined into such large units as for electric drives. Cells must be bonded to one another and to large housing units, but traditional welding and soldering applied to today’s battery cells represents considerable potential for damage to the module. Also, new light-weight materials such as plastics, aluminum and copper are being used in automobile and solar panel manufacturing, but cannot be welded using “conventional” practices. 

Reis Robotics demonstrated its fully automated EMPT welding procedure at AUTOMATICA for application in battery, solar panel and vehicle production. The system utilizes electro-magnetic pulse forming technology (EMPT) to bond joints between materials. The components being joined are accelerated by a pulsed, high-energy magnetic field resulting in joining on an atomic level, without creating destructive heat.

To ensure that batteries will last as long as possible, the mechanical connection of the cells to one block is important. The stronger the connection, the less affected the battery is by exterior influence and vibrations. Reis offers automated conventional gluing methods as well as newer taping solutions to address that portion of the manufacturing process.

3-D imaging

Accurate measurements and product inspections are indispensable for sensitive products like lithium-ion batteries. Highly precise 3D in-line measurement engineering enables precise completion of measurement tasks with automatic documentation of data as well as seam inspections. New systems can differentiate defects clearly via lasers and high-resolution cameras as well as transmit the exact defect position to prevent future breakdowns. 

Those processes require state-of-the-art sensors as well as digital image processing. Companies like VITRONIC demonstrated their position at the forefront of these evolving technologies.

Controller programming

Easy software integration, programming and connection between automated elements are the keys to new robot controller technology. Automobile manufacturers, for example, need to be capable of re-programming controllers easily to accommodate the multiple variations of basic models offered to consumers.  Besides quick re-programming, manufacturers want controllers with simple, intuitive designs. One controller unit must control multiple robotic functions as a single performance group.

Aedpt Technology showcased its Adept ePLC Connect solutions, compatible with Siemen’s SIMATIC S7-300 controllers at AUTOMATICA 2012. The Adept software allows users to program a robot completely from a SIMATIC controller through Ethernet IP, realizing the possibility of programming robots directly from a familiar programming environment.

Fronius is another leader in this area, with their Xplorer system which allows users to manage all their networked welding systems from their PCs or laptops.

Research

In a total of 15 exhibits, the Robotics and Mechatronics Center (RMC) at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) demonstrated research in cross-disciplinary areas such as spaceflight robotics, medical robotics and industrial robotic assistance. Humanoid robot assistance at its best was on display via daily demonstrations of robot intelligence and flexibility.

DLR’s exhibit featured a two-armed robotic assistant which automatically adjusts to the positioning of human colleagues. At AUTOMATICA the robot assembled a model railway and drove a train along it under the control of trade show visitors.

On display were also demonstrations in the utilization of measuring neural activity to control robot limbs. The technology, in collaboration with Brown University’s BrainGate device, which is implanted into the motor cortex, allowed a stroke victim to serve herself coffee for the first time in 15 years in April 2011.

Humanoid robot,“Space Justin,” demonstrated how a human can control a distant robot to carry out tasks in hostile environments. Previously developed for use in space, Justin’s earthly applications include the repair of oil platforms and wind turbines. “Agile Justin” was presented this year as his wheeled, lightweight counterpart with more complex movement processes conducive to throwing and catching balls.

AUTOMATICA 2012 also saw the return of DLR’s humanoid walking machine. This year the flexible walking legs carried an upper body and arms for dynamic stabilization.

The future for AUTOMATICA

At a press conference this year AUTOMATICA organizers announced a similar event will run in Bombay from February 1-3, 2013, but under the name India Automation Technology Fair (IATF). The trade show is already almost fully booked. “Our goal is to make the leading trade fair for the IATF in the automation industry in India,” said Bargmann. In the future, the board is considering China as a trade fair venue.

AUTOMATICA 2014 is projected to focus on service robots with applications especially in the consumer and medical industries. 

 


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About the author

Casey Nobile is the lead editor for Robotics Business Review’s RBR50 news, editorial and business segment. She is also contributing writer and editor for the publication’s News & Technology columns with special emphasis on breaking news coverage for science, technology and financial transactions. Casey is also editor and contributor for other in-house publications: Robotics Trends; RoboBusiness and RoboBusiness exhibit services.

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