For years, industrial robots have helped enhance productivity and reliability across manufacturing sites while lowering production costs. Their power is further enhanced by Industry 4.0 trends like the Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled technologies, advanced automation, artificial intelligence (AI), digital twins, and cloud computing. Robots empower manufacturers to:
- Decrease processing cycle times
- Boost operational performance
- Provide engineers the flexibility to optimize assembly and manufacturing processes
How can new robotics technologies be applied?
Today’s industrial robots have proven to be particularly effective in increasing efficiencies across three key machine application areas:
- Picking and packing: In this area, challenges may include:
- Processing hundreds of products per minute
- Enabling robotic motions without knowing the final movement
- Anticipating conveyor movements to determine if a product is within the robot’s reach
- Coordinating multiple vision systems
- Maintaining operations during robot servicing
- Balancing the load of the robots
- Supporting on-the-fly products adaptations with robot assignments to keep the line running even if a component fails
As operating parameters become more complex, engineers must design new ways to improve speed, enable flexibility and adaptability, and simplify and shorten maintenance time.
Delta robots, in combination with fast motion controllers, can address these challenges with the following:
- Low inertia that enables high acceleration, a crucial factor for achieving high performance in short-distance movements, which is common for pick-and-place processes
- Single controller handling multiple Delta robots and conveyors within a 1 millisecond cycle time
- Motion trajectories adapting within milliseconds based on new information inputs
- Ability to suddenly change trajectory once the vision system provides product position information
- Hygienic design (e.g., models manufactured in stainless steel and some featuring wash-down housings) enhances the safety and cleanliness of operations
Robust Delta robots are ideal in picking and packing environments requiring sophisticated motion control functions. However, not all robots are the same. When configuring end-user solutions, machine builders and plant managers should look for industrial robots combining high speed, hygiene, and performance across broad work envelopes up to 1.8m in diameter.
- Material working and assembly – Repetitive tasks like material handling, packing, loading, and unloading represent a prime opportunity for robotics solutions with rapid payback. Robots can be an extension of the machine-building by original equipment manufacturers (OEM), helping empower machine integrators to add value to assembly operations by enabling more efficient interoperability.
Appropriate robotic technologies should offer:
- Highly adaptable systems capable of processing product adjustments at a lower cost
- High-precision positioning
- A broad range of robot arms to meet specific requirements or are delivered according to customer specification
- Motion controllers capable of handling machine and robotics parts in one environment
- Synchronized robot–machine movements
Cartesian robots are ideal for machine applications as they can be adapted, designed, built, and customized for various work envelopes, payloads, and space constraints. The key is the reconfigurability of these systems (e.g., offering different types of single-axis systems combined to meet the required degrees of freedom) to create the mechanics that meet the customers’ unique needs.
- Conveying in logistics – This can include several tasks ( e.g., order preparation, picking, or parcel distribution operations) facilitating sorting and efficiently performing singulation and other material handling duties
In logistics applications, where product payload and travel distance vary significantly, larger and more versatile industrial robots are required. Delta robots can handle payloads up to 15kg, Cartesian robots can handle over 100kg, and Cobots can handle up to 18kg. Robots need five or more degrees of freedom to better position product grippers to accommodate products dumped onto conveyors (e.g., in heaps or boxes). This is possible with more advanced sensors and data to adjust the motion in real time.
The number of products per minute, their weight, travel distances, and how they must be handled may differ greatly. With robotics, engineers can benefit from:
- Up-to-date controllers
- Simulation and emulation tools
- Libraries of pre-programmed objects
- Open standards and a broad range of robot arms like Delta and Cartesian robots
Robust cybersecurity processes and design, adhering to industry certifications and standards like Achilles Communications Certification and internationally recognized ISA/IEC 62443-4-1 and 62443-4-2, help enable a secure, reliable, cost-effective Industry 4.0 logistics solution.
Cobots add a new dimension
Across these three applications, collaborative robots — or Cobots — are also emerging as user-friendly with lower-cost ownership options to further drive production efficiencies. Compared to traditional robots, Cobots perform similar activities but are:
- More flexible
- Equipped with more sophisticated safety functions
Cobots perform tasks that often go hand-in-hand with human workers to help quicken production processes and increase productivity. There is a wide range of tasks robots and humans can perform together, such as picking or transporting products across a warehouse.
Technical complexity increases with the number of robots in a single application, sensors, and process equipment, making applications more software-driven than ever before. Up-to-date controllers, simulation, and emulation tools, combined with libraries and open standards, can keep development costs under control.
For more information
Modern-day robots and cobots offer OEMs and machine integrators new opportunities to grow business with existing and new clients. They increase manufacturing performance, quality, and sustainability (through lower energy consumption, smoother production, and reduced waste) while offering the connectivity, flexibility, scalability, safety, and cybersecurity required to address the needs of smart manufacturing.