Percolation of robotics into early mechanized industrial world has been slow, controlled and heavily monitored, largely owing to the fear of human labors being replaced by robots, posing a serious threat to hardworking labors. However, global economic progress made inclusion of robots into factories and industrial space a natural progression to survive competition.
Robots have now become a part of every process and sub process in manufacturing, taking over repetitive, hazardous and tough tasks that challenge human capabilities. Their capabilities have evolved over time, making them stronger, faster, efficient, and easy to control. However, they still pose an inevitable threat to human co- workers around them, a gap that major robot manufacturers have been trying to address over the last decade with little success.
In recent times, the commoditization of sensors, electronic miniaturization, high speed computing, and low power communication have opened new avenues of innovation leading to Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT or Industrie 4.0). The application of the same in industrial robotics is expected to improve their situational awareness and responsiveness and make robots more collaborative with their human coworkers.
The latest addition to factory robotics is collaborative robots. Adorned with force torque sensors, inbuilt vision sensors, and hand guided programming, they have perfectly bridged the distance between a man and his robot. However, these robots are slower and weak when compared to their fast and strong counterparts. This has led to an increase in demand for collaborative techniques amongst traditional robots in order to gain the best of both worlds.
In line with that, this Frost Perspective discusses various emerging technologies that are aimed to make the traditional industrial robots more collaborative.
Working without a Cage
Traditional robots are encompassed in electric fences during operation to prevent worker accidents. Using depth-sensing cameras mounted in different positions around the workspace, and on the robot a complete visual coverage of the work zone can be obtained. Veo Robotics, a startup in the United States, developed this approach which is more dynamic and responsive when compared to other systems present in the market. This system makes the robot spatially aware of every object in the workspace by individually recognizing each object and not zoning the space around it.
Moreover, as the software sits on top of the robot’s native program, safety zone dimensions need not be added to the existing program. Once being plugged in, the software required the operator to identify the various objects in the workspace as intrusion, work piece and so on. This allows the robot to make informed decisions about slowing down or stopping when it spots an object in its work path. The system is also programmed to immediately stop when the camera is shadowed or obscured. This system is expected to allow large robots to work around humans without posing any threat to life.
Robotics on Cloud Nine
Robotic work cells have become an integral part of manufacturing facilities, especially popular for machine tending application. The new type collaborative robots have attracted many small business manufacturers to invest in robotics, as they are priced lesser than traditional robots and are easy to program and maintain. However, one of the key challenges is to track the functioning of the robots, which necessitates physical presence of the operator. Cloud Robotics allows users to monitor and take control of their robots from any location. Tend is a cloud robotics software that allows users to monitor their robot performance anytime from any place.
Tend’s software platform plugs into the robot’s control system to track the movement of the robot using its motor operation parameters such as speed, acceleration, and work path point. The data are then visualized on a dashboard and displayed using a smartphone app . As the system does not rely entirely on a visual feedback mechanism, it is much more efficient than those that have a visual monitoring system to effectively process alarms and production status. As the system facilitates minimal hardware requirements and works entirely on software algorithms, it is expected to attract and small and medium sized business to give immediate access to their robot production floors, as a first step toward smart manufacturing.
The Art of Programming
Another bottleneck in industrial robotics is the complex programming and implementation difficulties that require a third-party integrator for installation and periodic maintenance. A recent innovation which eases the challenge is Octopuz robot simulation software. Designed for basic robot operators, Octopuz eliminates complex programming knowledge; by facilitating complete simulation and programming of the robot setup using built-in basic program modules.
With predefined coding modules tailored to each application, this simulation software allows users to code multiple robots of different configurations simultaneously in order to visualize a working shop floor. Various edge following, material removal (laser cutting, water jet cutting, plasma cutting), welding, dispensing and deburring applications have been inbuilt as program modules that can be dragged and dropped. Addition of external feeders, conveyors, or loading systems is also possible by intuitive drag and drop functions, making it easier for the robot operator. In order to ease integration, and improve programming effectiveness, CAM/CAD layouts of work pieces can be imported into the software for code generation and verification before performing field testing. This saves valuable time in repetitive error fixes in mechanical jigs and system programming, thereby making the system sustainable by eliminating third-party dependency.
Hiring a Robot Worker
One of the key transformations that IIoT is expected to bring about is transformation of business models to become more customer-centric. Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers often find it difficult to invest in robotics because of high cost, consequently compromising on quality and competitiveness. While robots may be feasible during volume peaks, their operating costs increase during times of low volume. Hirerobotics is a firm that has capitalized on this opportunity to hire robots to firms that need them for specific time periods and release them later, saving on costly overheads. The robots are cloud connected and can be monitored via a mobile app for alarms, push notifications, and production status. As maintenance is taken care of by Hirerobotics, organizations can save on installation and maintenance overheads. The robots are charged on an hour basis, making them quite attractive to small and medium sized businesses.
Robotics is constantly evolving at a rapid pace to create more intelligent and safe robots, envisioned to become masters of silo factory automation systems. With the advent of IIoT and gigantic leaps in artificial intelligence this vision is expected to become a reality sooner than expected.