September 06, 2012      

IFR — Scape Technologies has developed an advanced bin-picking system that combines 3D vision, gripping options, and robot control in a cohesive software solution. The software supports all standard industrial, six-axis robots.

Some of the most advanced bin-picking on the market takes place every time DFT Presswork in Nordborg, Denmark, receives a bin of metal cylinders in their production area.

This Danish manufacturing company produces metal components by means cold forging. The customers are players in the automotive and other industries. During the forging process, each metal cylinder must be taken out of the bin and delivered to a die.

This process was previously managed either by manual labor or by noisy, mechanical solutions. Today a bin-picking robot cell, developed by Odense, Denmark-based Scape Technologies, gets the job done virtually noiselessly. And without cigarette breaks, toilet breaks, or risk of industrial injuries.

Consultants at the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) assisted Scape Technologies with the development of the robot tool by solving the complex task of gripping varied items.

“We have also worked with other companies regarding vision systems that could make our production more flexible,” explained Mogens HOrdum, managing director of DFT Presswork. “So we examined the market and found that Scape Technologies was the only company who had a viable solution.” DFT Presswork has used with satisfaction the system for more than a year.

The bin-picking process itself is controlled by Scape Technologies’ unique software. The software controls a 3D scanner mounted on the robot, which is placed over the picking bin. Data from the 3D scanner is used to locate the individual cylinders and choose one for grasping.

The position of the robot’s gripping tool is adjusted according to the position of the chosen cylinder, and finally, the software ensures that the gripping arm does not collide with the edges of the picking bin or the other cylinders, as it gently picks up the chosen cylinder.

The intuitive gripper design from DTI is able to grasp a variety of items from a completely chaotic and random assortment in the picking bin.

The whole cycle time takes a maximum of 11 seconds. By default, it does not require independent programming by the operator in advance, i.e. CAD drawings of the individual items, thanks to Scape Technologies’ software library.

A difficult process

More and more European manufacturing companies have, like DFT Presswork, gradually discovered the benefits of fully automating the bin-picking process. But it has taken some time to reach this level of system maturity.

Bin picking is one of the few remaining production processes which are still not fully automated. Simple pick-and-place robots conquered mainstream production lines long ago, but the bin-picking process itself, where random items are taken out of a jumble in a picking bin, has challenged the automation industry for more than 10 years.

“The thing that makes it difficult is the fact that a robot is normally designed to do the same pre-programmed movements over and over,” said SOren BOving Andersen, managing director of Scape Technologies. “When it receives a bin where all the items are placed randomly, the robot needs to figure out where the individual items are and how to pick them and how to move about in the bin.”

“For humans, it is a trivial task as we simply grab the one on top. But that is not the case for a robot,” he said. “Originally, humans also have to learn to grab things. The first year of any infant’s life is spent ‘calibrating’ the eyesight to correspond to, for instance the length of the child’s arms. This is not in any way trivial, and the child spends almost every waking hour solving this challenge.”

“We may not remember this daunting task later in life, and thus picking up items is totally intuitive for humans,” Andersen continued. “Working with robots, we start all over again as the robot has to be calibrated in much the same way — but on the fly.”

Scape Technologies has been working on its award-winning bin-picking system since 2004. DTI helped by developing a standard gripper design suitable for the heavy metal industry. It is a system where advanced 3D vision, robust gripper design/gripping options, and robot control are packaged in a cohesive industrial system.