October 11, 2016      

CHICAGO — The International Manufacturing Technology Show here last month offered something for everyone interested in industrial automation, from robotics and 3D printing to the industrial Internet of Things. IMTS 2016 featured more than 115,00 registrants, 2,407 exhibiting companies (the highest number ever), and more than 1.3 million square feet of exhibit space.

While it would be impossible to discuss all of the robotics products and feature launches presented at the show, here are a few companies (in alphabetical order) that caught the attention of many of the attendees.

ABB unveils flexible foundry robot

ABB’s new IRB 1200 Foundry Plus 2 was on display for the first time at IMTS 2016. It is a compact robot designed to increase flexibility and reduce cycle times for precision-casting processes such as smartphone cases and other electrical components.

ABB exhibit at IMTS 2016

ABB demonstrated the flexibility of its Foundry 2 robotic arm at IMTS 2016.

The IRB 1200 Foundry Plus 2’s predecessors have been used in heavy-duty metal casting and automotive applications. They are becoming increasingly important in consumer electronics, according to Frank-Peter Kringis, ABB Group vice president and global business-line manager for robotics.

The Foundry Plus 2 is available now. Zurich-based ABB designed the robot to hold up to the dust and grime of foundries and automotive plants while also providing the “lighter touch” necessary to work on consumer electronics.

“We offer the best-in-class robots for the production environment,” Kringis said. “Our robots last for many years in harsh production environments.”

ABB also showed off its YuMi “barrier-free” robot, which can work closely with humans in a wide variety of small-parts assembly and handling applications.

ABB’s display included a vision-enabled YuMi operating with its FlexFeeder, a compact, flexible, parts-feeding system. There was also an interactive, hands-on demo of a separate YuMi, allowing attendees to program the robot using ABB’s lead-through programming technology.

The company has a four- to 12-week delivery time on all of its robots, Kringis said, adding that the company is seeing increased demand for its smaller robots.

KUKA brings cobots, 3D metal printing, and the cloud to IMTS 2016

KUKA Robotics showed various devices, including multiple collaborative robots. It also ran a range of applications demonstrating how these cobots incorporate auxiliary safety technology so they can be used alongside humans.

In addition, the Augsburg, Germany-based company displayed vision-guided robots and 3D metal printing capabilities.

The demand for additive manufacturing using metal is rising because the materials used in the process are far less expensive than parts designed using more traditional processes.

Metal components made with 3D printing can also offer the same quality as traditional parts, which may require more expensive materials, said Peter Gratschmayr, a senior sales engineer at Midwest Engineered Systems Inc., the integrator for KUKA’s 3D metal printing efforts.

In addition to its robotics and 3D printing demonstrations at IMTS 2016, KUKA announced KUKA Connect, a new software platform that connects its robots to the cloud. The system conforms to global standards and enables customers to access and analyze their robots’ data on from any device with an Internet connection.

With big data from sensors and analytics, KUKA customers can get a host of updated performance information about all of their connected robots. The responsive user interface allows administrators to access multiple layers of data.

KUKA Connect is a subscription?based platform. Since it operates in the cloud, no software needs to be installed, enabling customers to have immediate access to new features and functionalities.

More on Industrial Automation:

Universal Robots expands cobot ecosystem

After debuting at Automatica in Europe, Universal Robots A/S brought the latest expansions to its collaborative robot ecosystem to Chicago. Historically, Odense, Denmark-based UR has specialized in making robot arms and left applications to developers and integrators. That has changed.

With Universal Robots+, the company helps customers choose accessories, end effectors, and so that there are no questions about integration, predictability, or security.

UR’s +You is a unique, free-of-charge developer program, offering marketing and support for developers.

Both build on the company’s focus on collaboration, said Esben Ostergaard, chief technology officer and co-founder of Universal Robots.

With Universal Robots+, the company helps develop and showcase applications developed around its UR3, UR5 and UR10 robotic arms, which enables better-quality flow compared with going outside the ecosystem, he said.

Previously, the communications between developer applications and the company’s arms required relatively complex code, which is time-consuming and a difficult task for the majority of end users.

Developers can customize the accessory components (known as “UR Caps”) and software plug-ins to reduce implementation periods, Ostergaard added. Developers who receive approval for their URCaps will be able to buy the company’s robots at a reduced price.

Ostergaard added that the company’s robots — with and without UR caps — are increasingly used in environments alongside humans. Although cobots will do some of the repetitive tasks that humans have historically performed, companies using robots typically are more successful, so they hire more humans to handle other tasks as they expand, he noted.

However, the gap in skilled workers to handle those advance tasks will more than double between now and the year 2020, according to Ostergaard.

The company is trying to address this issue partly through its training academy, which offers a series of free e-learning modules to provide users with basic training in robotic programming.