IMTS 2018 will bring people and automation closer together — literally — with exhibits highlighting the benefits of collaborative robots, or “cobots.”
“Automation suppliers have made tremendous leaps with software, control and sensor technology that enable quantifying what the robot ‘feels.’ If it feels anything out of the ordinary, it will stop before exerting too much force,” says Mike Cicco, president and CEO, FANUC America Corporation and a board member of AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, which owns and produces IMTS. “Where robots previously operated in restricted areas, we can now bring people and automation together to improve assembly operations.”
As cobot examples, consider a situation where a robot bin picks a heavy ball screw and holds it while an operator inserts bearings or an electronics assembly where a human performs the complicated chore of routing cables through a chassis and a robot performs repetitive tasks, such as driving screws.
“Collaborative robots, mobile robots, IIoT-enabled systems, AI and automation careers will be some of the dominant automation trends at IMTS 2018,” says Tim Shinbara, VP – Technology, AMT.
Cicco believes that machine tool owners and managers attending IMTS should explore collaborative and mobile robots, and that’s true for both high-volume and low- to medium-volume operations. He envisions a work cell where the robot could tend the CNC, such as for loading and unloading on long part runs. The cobot could function without requiring additional guarding and the operators could go about their routine without safety concerns (improvements to safety standards that reflect current technology now make this possible). For small batches or other instances where manually tending the CNC makes sense, the robot could be pushed to the side or moved to another cell.
“Automation mobility is moving forward. Equipment used to be bolted to the floor, but now there is a whole slew of what people are calling mobile robots, which pairs an automated guided vehicle with an articulated arm robot,” says Cicco. “We’ve also found interesting ways to deliver parts to robots and automated cells through mobile robot platforms.” Instead of investing in automation for each milling operation, a mobile robot can tend multiple machines, notably for operations with long cycle times.
Mobile robots can be self-propelled, manually wheeled or skid-mounted. In the past, relocating a robot would have required reteaching all of its movement points using a pendant control, a time-consuming task. The new generation of mobile robots eliminates this issue. Using fiducial markers — reference dots placed on the CNC — the mobile robot uses a vision system to capture images of the dots. As long as operators orient the robot relatively close to its original position, the robot can recalibrate all of its “teach points,” saving hours of programming time.
“We’ve seen quite an advancement with mobile robots that can be parked away when not in use and then be quickly and effectively deployed,” says Cicco. For job shops and manufacturers who want to save their human talent for high-value operations, using mobile robots for tedious tasks make sense.
As more than a side note, Cicco says that the industry is running into a shortage of robotic talent. Just as job shops and manufacturers cannot find people who want to become machinists, they are having a hard time finding people to program and maintain robots. Responding to this need, automation suppliers continue to work toward a goal of making operating a robot as intuitive as powering up a smartphone or PC.