A glass-making robot developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research (ISC) could be commercially available as soon as early 2013 with an estimated price tag of $600,000-900,000, Robotics Business Trends can reveal.
The robot, which is used to create and analyze new types of glass, promises to deliver dramatic cost savings for the automobile industry, glass manufacturers, and electronics companies by speeding the development process and reducing industry’s reliance on human glass specialists.
?We can reduce glass development times by about 75 per cent. The savings on employee wages depends on how much people are paid but the robot will save you at least $25K-$60K minimum per month,? says project lead, Martin Kilo.
Using current technology, glass specialists develop new glasses by mixing up to a dozen compounds from potential elements. The compounds are heated in a furnace and then poured into a mold and cooled to room temperature.
During this process, samples are taken so that experts can analyze properties such as viscosity, how it crystallizes, and how well it wets metals.
?This method is time-consuming. It takes a human 2-3 weeks to produce 16 new types of glass. Our robot can produce and analyze 16 new types of glass in about 24 hours, saving time and money and the cost of the worker,? says Kilo.
In the automobile industry, glass is used as a glue and a sealant, requiring types of glass that can withstand high-temperatures close to the engine block and protect the sensors used to detect exhaust emissions. Fuel-cell manufacturers also require state-of-the-art glasses for soldering different types of metal together.
The Fraunhofer robot was inspired by high-throughput screening (HTS) robotic systems commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry, reveals Kilo. HTS robotics enables pharmaceutical companies to mix and analyze millions of drug combinations in a period of weeks at a rate of around 300,000 per day.
?We observed the development of HTS systems in the pharmaceutical sector and thought it might be possible to transfer this idea to glass developing. We have succeeded in doing that, even though glass analysis has some minimum restrictions,? says Kilo.
Glass requires much larger sample sizes for analysis –a minimum of 10 grams in required, compared to pharmaceutical testing which can perform useful analysis with samples as small as 10 mg. Within the glass manufacturing industry it’s commonly known –but not widely publicized– that the quality of a glass melt depends on the person who made it, says Kilo.
?With this robot we can create new glasses in a more reproducible way and eliminate to some extent this ‘human factor’,? says Kilo.
Robotic systems like this can potentially be used for many kinds of materials, Satoru Inoue, from Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), who was not involved in the Fraunhofer research told Robotics Business Review.
Inoue was part of an NIMS team that created a similar glass-development robot (albeit one that features less automation and operates within more restricted temperature ranges). That robot is currently used by COMET, an NIMS spin-off company providing HTS services to the electronics and automotive industries.
Kilo agrees that the glass-making robot’s capabilities could easily be transferred to other materials, hinting that it might be tweaked in the future for use in the development of new metal alloys. The robot’s final cost has not been fixed, but will depend on the types of features customers want included, says Kilo.
?We would like to offer this as a modular system and give our customers the choice between a robot that can analyze all of the glass’ properties automatically or not,? explains Kilo.
?The project has been in development for about three years and we are almost at the end. It was really hard work and the system is really unique. Hopefully, by the end of next year we will have our first customer.?
With Fraunhofer already receiving interest in the robot from glass manufacturers, I’ll be shattered if they don’t.Read More