CHICAGO — The collocated Automate and ProMat trade shows last week provided manufacturers, software companies, and other robotic suppliers the chance to demonstrate some of their latest developments to aid customers with their business needs. One of the major themes of many of the displays and demonstrations was facilitating operations by making systems easier to use and simpler to deploy.
Among those were:
Energid demonstrated enhancements to its Actin 5 software development kit, which helps developers design, model, and control robotic systems. Among the enhancements:
- Expanded support for Universal Robots’ e-Series and CB3 robots;
- A Group Motion Manager that enables developers to queue up a group of motions and control the execution of those motions using a pre-defined state machine.
“The new features we have added make it even easier for robotic system developers to build advanced robotic applications,” said Neil Tardella, Energid CEO. “We’re making it so that anyone can use it without needing to know advanced programming.”
As companies seek to use robots for more complex tasks, with even command protocols, it’s increasingly important that companies be able to easily and quickly implement new command and controls, Tardella said.
The newest Actin updates enable users to develop controls and commands without some of the previous constraints, he added. “There are a lot of possibilities.”
The latest updates also help with real-time communications with robots, so there isn’t noticeable latency between a command and a robot’s reaction, Tardella said. Energid demonstrated at the show how the software adapts to a changing robot base position while performing a task. Once a system is modeled within Actin, the robot designer can focus on the end-of-arm application while no longer worrying about the base.
Tardella said he sees the Actin capability as useful for applications for mobile robots, mounted (for example, on rails) robots and underwater robots. Actin has already been used to help develop some of the controls for an autonomous rig drilling system.
Energid also demonstrated automated bin picking, using a tabletop demo to show how Actin can simplify the programing of picking parts under different scenarios. The demonstration also showed how the ability to use real-world input from collaborative robots in order to design collision-free motion environments.
Comau introduced its wearable exoskeleton, the Muscular Aiding Tech Exoskeleton (MATE), to help workers who move heavy equipment and perform repetitive tasks. The exoskeleton uses an advanced passive structure and delivers lightweight, breathable and highly effective postural support without batteries, motors or other devices.
The MATE was developed in partnership with ÖSSUR (a non-invasive orthopedics company) and IUVO (a spin-off company of The BioRobotics Institute specialized in wearable technologies).
MATE is important for many companies where workers are moving heavy equipment, said Mark Anderson, head of robotics and automation products. He acknowledged that many robotics companies are seeking to use robots to take over the repetitive, heavy lifting in warehouses. But robots aren’t the answer in every situation, meaning humans still need to do some of this work.
MATE follows the movements of the upper limbs without resistance or misalignment, reducing shoulder muscle activity, helping workers perform the same tasks with less fatigue.
“MATE is another tool to help get the job done,” Anderson said. As such, the device is part of Comau’s “HUMANufacturing Tech” theme, which sees humans and robots as essential elements to increase productivity and quality within the evolving smart factory paradigm.
Though MATE is designed to help humans work with less physical stress in that smart factory, safe usage of the exoskeleton is an essential, Anderson said. “We work with users to train them on what they can and cannot do [with MATE]. It does not make someone Iron Man.”
MATE is already in use in automotive assembly, with significant demand indicated from companies across several industries, according to Anderson.
In addition to MATE, the company also displayed its in.Grid interactive IoT platform and Vir.GIL (Virtual Guidance Interactive Learning), the company’s digital assistant for manual operations.
The in.Grid platform combines digital and physical worlds through sensorization, data analysis and real-time monitoring of equipment and systems so operators can quickly verify production parameters at any stage of the manufacturing process, streamline maintenance operations and prevent problems before they occur.
Vir.GIL uses lights, sensors, speech and human-like gestures to guide workers. By putting Vir.GIL in machine-learning mode, the expert operator performs and confirms each position of an assembly process while Vir.GIL memorizes the hand positions and intervention points. Upon learning the sequence, the system can guide a non-experienced operator. The digital assistant also collects anonymous real-time data to verify technical parameters.
Acieta used the event to launch its FastLOAD CR2000 standard machine tool cell. The new cells are designed with all components fully integrated for fast delivery and start-up as well.
“Companies want to address their manufacturing problems quickly, and with our FastLOAD CR2000, we can deliver a high-quality system with an aggressive lead-time,” said Mark Sumner, Acieta’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Utilizing a FANUC collaborative robot in this system provides manufacturers a great way to drive increased productivity in a small footprint, a safe work environment, and at a high return on investment, so succeeding with robotics is easier and faster than ever before. It’s changing the way people think about robotics.”
The FastLOAD CR2000 can tend two machines simultaneously so an operator can load and unload parts while the robot is working on the other machine. It features a FANUC CR-15iA collaborative 6-axis robot, an intuitive touchscreen interface with easy in-shop Wi-Fi programming, and gripper fingers that allow for parts ranging from 5/8-inches to 5 ¾ inches in diameter.
The company’s mGrip modular automation kit enables uses to build soft, flexible gripping ends for robotic arms in order to grab a variety of consumer packaged goods and other products from an assembly line, such as foods and other soft goods that would be damaged by more rigid grippers or suction devices, according to Austin Harvey, senior product manager.
Each kit includes components needed to build tools with various configurations and spacing options.
Harvey said manufacturers, particularly in the food industry, need a variety of soft gripper configurations offering human hand-like dexterity so they can work with various sizes of products, like snack cakes, produce, etc., which have different tolerances for gripping strength.
The company’s gripping platform is already in use at a number of companies in the food and beverage industry, including Just Born Quality Confections (maker of PEEPS), a popular inclusion in Easter baskets.
The company displayed its THE600 SCARA robot, now offered in North America. The robot is twice as fast, with a 60% higher payload capacity, than the THE400, which the company launched last year.
Larger payloads were important elements of numerous introductions at both Automate and ProMat, as manufacturers, warehouse companies and others seek to fill increasing capacity demands.
TM Robotics also exhibited other robots from its extensive selection, including the TVM range of 6-axis robot models. The TVM range is a vertically articulated series available in three different sizes, lending itself to a multitude of industries.
“Combining high speed operation with a high payload capacity, the THE600 model has been developed to meet growing demand for fast-cycle automation,” said Nigel Smith, TM Robotics president. “Manufacturers are looking for machines to deliver improved precision and enhanced performance without breaking the bank, particularly in parts assembly, testing and transfer processes.”
TM Robotics also demonstrated several other SCARA machines as well as its robot control software, TSAssist, which is compatible with any Toshiba Machine SCARA, Cartesian or 6-axis robot.
As smart factories and smart warehouses continue along their evolutionary paths from concept to reality, an increasing number of sensors will be found on robots, machines, and related systems.
While these sensors offer a tremendous amount of data to aid efficiency, predict system failures and a variety of other uses, the data does little good if there isn’t an efficient way to collect and interpret information from different systems with different protocols a challenge that LITE-ON Technology offers to solve with its newly launched IIoT Gateway 2224-VGA.
The gateway includes a pair of two independent Gigabit Ethernet portals so it can work in LAN as well as WAN environments. The gateway incudes a programmable platform as well as the ability to sense data flows between HMI and PLC (Programmable Logic Controller).
Bosch Rexroth offered a number of technologies designed to aid companies in the smart factory, displaying them in a “Factory of the Future” showcase.
Rexroth’s Smart Assembly 4.0 Conveyor used Industry 4.0 compatibility of products from Rexroth’s linear motion, assembly, and automation technology portfolio.
Related technologies the company displayed in its [email protected] demo included:
- The onboard IoT Gateway for the Smart Assembly 4.0 Conveyor, which displays any parameter on the system and can communicate with other devices and display their data.
- The ActiveAssist Workstation, which offers intuitive worker guidance, enabling teams to easily visualize information.
- The ActiveCockpit, an interactive data visualization and communications platform designed to support employees and management personnel.