CHICAGO — The International Manufacturing Technology Show here last week provided a chance to see many examples of the latest industrial automation, including machine vision for inspection, mobile platforms for supply chains, control software, and heavy robots. Another rising category is collaborative robots or cobot arms, which are designed to be easier for small and midsize enterprises to use.
Collaborative robots are smaller, slower, and lighter, making them safer to operate around humans without caged workcells. Thanks to versatile grippers and modern programming, cobot arms also offer greater flexibility for high-variability production and pick-and-place processes.
Cobots will grow from 3% of current robot sales to 34%, or $13 billion, in 2025, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). Here are some noteworthy cobot arms and grippers from this year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS):
UR goes gold
Odense, Denmark-based Universal Robots A/S announced the sale of its 25,000th collaborative robot — the most of any provider in the space.
To celebrate, Universal Robots offered a “Gold Edition” cobot in a contest for its customers. The 2018 RBR50 company boasted more than 20 exhibitors using its cobot arms to demonstrate their own applications at IMTS.
In addition, Universal Robots launched its Application Builder tool to make configuring robotic cells easier.
Yaskawa shows six-axis cobot arms
Among other robots, Yaskawa Motoman introduced its MotoMini six-axis robot, which weighs only 7kg (15.4 lb.).
The company’s HC10 cobot arms include dual-torque sensors in all joints. They can constantly monitor force to quickly react to contact, so they can work safely with humans, said the company.
The HC10 is designed to eliminate operator pinch points, while through-arm utilities hide cabling and increase safety by reducing the risks of snagging or interference with other equipment.
Yaskawa’s HC10DT (Direct Teach) uses hand guiding for teaching new program paths. This enables the HC10 can be quickly added to or redeployed in a factory, the company said. Full-speed and collaborative speed cycle times are optimized based upon risk assessments and process requirements
The HC10 cobot arms feature a 10 kg payload and 1,200 mm reach and can perform a broad range of material handling, machine tending, or light-assembly tasks. Function-specific tooling and accessories are available from various Yaskawa partners.
OnRobot Unveils New Grippers, Quick Tool Changer
OnRobot, the product of a merger of three cobot companies, made the U.S. launch of its Gecko gripper, Polyskin Tactile Gripper, and RG-F/T gripper at IMTS.
The Gecko gripper uses a gecko-style adhesive to pick up flat objects without an air system. It can lift solid or porous objects using an integrated load sensor for precise gripping.
The Polyskin Tactile Gripper features tactile sensors for force or position-controlled gripping of up to 400N of gripping force and accurate position orientation.
The RG-F/T gripper features built-in, six-axis F/T sensors at the fingertips and proximity sensors, as well as simple depth compensation and integrated force-controlled insertion software, said the vendor. The gripper also provides a force/torque sensor for precise machine tending, assembly jobs and collaborative operations.
OnRobot is offering the grippers in addition to its newly patented tool changer for cobot arms developed by Purple Robotics, which it acquired last month. The 7-oz. Quick Changer is light, so it has little impact on robot’s payload.
Quick Changer’s compact size also offers minimal distance from the tool center point (TCP) to the robot, minimizing stress on robot joints. The Quick Changer releases end-of-arm tools with just a click, and inserted tools are automatically positioned with a repeatability of ±0.02 mm.
OnRobot CEO Enrico Krog Iversen said he sees the Quick Changer as part of the company’s continued commitment to innovation around collaborative robotics.
“Like our other end-of-arm tooling products, the Quick Changer is fully collaborative, meaning that it is simple to use, cost-effective, and has no sharp edges,” he said.
“We want to make OnRobot a one-stop shop for end-of-arm tooling,” Iversen added. “This provides so much value for the manufacturers. There’s a good lift for value creation. A lot of the value from using cobots comes from the end-of-arm solutions. We create a lot of value for the end users.”
The combination of cobot arms and grippers enables companies to move people from repetitive tasks that now can be automated and to higher-value tasks, Iversen asserted.
Iversen said he expects cobots and end-of-arm tooling solutions to continue strong growth for the foreseeable future. Even if the steam runs out of the U.S. economy, which hasn’t seen a recession in a decade, other economies are earlier in their economic boom cycles, so there’s no near-term challenge to the company’s growth, he said.
“It’s seldom that the entire global market goes into a recession,” Iversen said.