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Tag Archives | machine safety

Automate Showcases Future of Industrial Robotics, And It’s Remarkable

Attending the recent Automate Show in Chicago was an extraordinary experience that allowed me and more than 20,000 other attendees an opportunity to peer into the future of industrial robotics. Being part of a company that is at the forefront of the industrial robotics and manufacturing automation industries still provides only one perspective, and Automate brought together leaders from all corners of the industry, such as Fanuc, ABB, Kuka, Keyence and Cognex, to showcase advances and share insights. The range of technologies on display that were designed to enhance processes, improve product quality and lower manufacturing costs was astonishing. I walked away from the show with a deeper sense of awareness of two notions: the rise of robots is upon us, and machine vision provides robots with the artificial intelligence that will forge the future of robotics in our increasingly globalized society.

The Rise of Robots

Material removal, end-of-arm tooling by Concept Systems

As many in automation are aware, robots are becoming an increasingly popular answer to completing dangerous or repetitive tasks: grinding, deburring, bin-picking, part inspections, etc. Several manufacturers and esteemed integrators assembled elaborate booths displaying various robot capabilities, many currently in use and others as possible future applications. This alone is indicative of the rise of robots, but it is only the beginning. The leading robot manufacturers all appear to be focused on making robots simpler to program/configure and easier to integrate with technologies that create incredible functionality. The result: collaborative robots.

The show floor featured a number of collaborative robots performing a wide variety of tasks from part handling to packaging, some even bagged candy to hand out or served ice cream in a cone. Using various sensing technologies, the applications for collaborative robots to work with human counterparts are infinite. Long gone seem to be the days of robots in hard guarding and being tucked away in the corner, wrapped in ominous metal fencing. Today’s robots are becoming more flexible in their range of applications, friendly in their interface, and free to be placed anywhere on the manufacturing floor.

Forging the Future

machine vision, part inspection, Concept SystemsAfter seeing the surprising versatility of machine vision applications on display at Automate, it became clear that machine vision is the technological advancement that will launch industrial robotics into the future. When combined with the interconnectivity of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and other smart tools such as mobile analytics, machines equipped with technologies like 3D embedded vision, multispectral and hyperspectral imaging, and deep learning will possess a primitive form of artificial intelligence that allows greater flexibility in application and the ability to actively learn processes without programming.

For example, Cognex and Keyence both have solutions that can compare 8-10 different part characteristics in a fraction of a second. These are designed to be mounted on the end of a robot so you have a complete solution that is capable of part picking and inspection. Part picking and part inspection are tasks that are often hard to fill and results can vary widely as operators tire throughout long shifts.

In another instance, Fanuc is working on developing the ability to configure a robot through learning instead of programming, specifically the capability to give a robot a task, like picking objects out of a bin and putting them into another container. In this scenario, once the robot it is configured it will spend some amount of time figuring out how to complete the task via trial and error, and within a short time the robot will have mastered the task as well as if it had been programmed by an engineer. It seems apparent that as we continue to combine advancing vision technologies with low cost, power processing abilities the future is endless as to what can be accomplished.

Although the next Automate isn’t until April of 2019, I highly recommend that you get this event on your calendar early and plan to attend. The Automate show attracts more than 20,000 visitors, all looking for new ways to enhance their manufacturing processes, lower production costs, and increase their competitive edges.

Vision/Lighting 101

Because computers are always improving—think of your smart cellphone. If it’s not replaced every 2-3 years many of the applications and functions become obsolete rending the cellphone almost useless—new technologies and solutions are making robotics smarter and more capable.

One major upgrade in robotic technology is one that allows robotic vision in three dimensions (3-D) instead of two (2-D). Robotics using 2-D technology has been around for years, but for intricate work, 2-D visioning wasn’t the best way to get the job done. Thanks to improved technology and newer cameras, robotic systems can now be upgraded to see the world the same way we see it—in 3-D.

At Concept Systems, Inc., we put these visioning upgrades to work when we worked with a cake maker and decorator. The decorator used a robotics system that took a photo of the diameter of the cake as it progressed down the conveyer. Further down the line, an automated system created borders and designs on top of the cake. The camera was able to exactly diagram the surface area of the top of the cake, but every cake is a little bit different. Some were a tiny bit taller or shorter than the programmed height. The height variance meant that some of the cake designs were distorted on the finished product.

Enhancing a system doesn’t have to be costly. The cake maker earned back its investment in the updated robotic vision system in only 8 months. In some instances, upgrading from 2-D to 3-D can automate systems that were once done manually, and those cost savings add up! The cake maker’s overhead photo visioning system also made creating borders at the bottom of the cake almost impossible, so staff members were creating bottom borders by hand, costing time and labor.

While the cake maker project sounds costly and time-consuming, it didn’t require a lot of down time or new equipment expense. Existing robots were retrofitted to with a new 3-D visioning system, though laser scanners were also installed. The scanners’ lasers used triangulation to create an exact 3-D image of each cake before passing it down to the robot decorators.

The combination of the latest 3-D vision technology coupled with SCARA robots can now be used to bring automation to industries beyond the food industries. Updating and modernizing complex machinery and robots just makes sense. It can lower costs, increase productivity, simplify processes and even increase machine safety.

Let Concept Systems, Inc. put this upgraded technology to work for your business.

Collaborating on New Robotic Projects

No matter where robotics might take you next, a collaborative R&D approach can help realize what needs to be accomplished.

control systems engineersHave you noticed how ubiquitous robots are becoming? We’re used to seeing them in manufacturing environments welding car frames, assembling circuit boards or palletizing boxes, yet these days you can even find them pouring drinks on a cruise ship, moving LED screens at a concert or solving a Rubik’s cube.

We recently worked with two different startup companies with a vision for new product niches. Both lacked the manufacturing process knowledge to bring their ideas to life, and were stymied because there were no established norms to follow or OEMs with standard solutions. Their search led them to us because of our broad industry experience in constructing automation solutions, but more specifically because of our reputation for taking on challenging robotic automation projects. And trust me, neither of these are industries an automation solution provider would traditionally target.

The purpose of this blog is not how we appealed to a non-traditional industry, but rather how we approached these projects and applied our technology and industrial manufacturing knowledge to develop a solution that met their unique needs. Continue Reading →

Collision Avoidance Key to Operator and Robot Safety

Manufacturing environments are busy, and avoiding collisions between robots and operators is a high priority. As more manufacturers add robots, there’s increasing interest in ensuring they work safely with each other and with people.

The robotics industry can take pride in its impressive safety record with more than 1.5 million industrial robots operating worldwide, according to Carole Frank, safety director for the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). As robotic applications increase, it’s vital to continue to be vigilant about robotic safety. In fact, risk assessment is now required by new safety regulations: ISO 10218-1 and -2 delineate safety requirements for robots, replacing ANSI/RIA R15.06.

Collision Avoidance

Many robots are certified by a third-party source or approved by their manufacturers. That’s good, but it’s also important to be sure the robot is safe in its surrounding environment. So take a holistic approach and evaluate each industrial application rather than each device separately. Continue Reading →