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Seeing the Future with 3D Vision

Written by Michael Lindley, VP of Business Development and Marketing

Robotic work cells are providing several benefits in cost and productivity. But they can be made even more effective with 3D laser scanning systems.

cake decorating systemOver the past 18 months, the demand for robotic work cells that target business issues has skyrocketed. On a continual basis, we see clients who are achieving a return on investment (ROI) by cutting operating costs, increasing productivity and reducing errors.

The robotic work cells can be made even more effective with the addition of 3D laser scanning technologies. The scanning is able to capture all aspects of a part, allowing us to inspect and analyze objects or environments, which is often necessary for the measurement and data collection on the exact shapes and orientations. By employing 3D technologies, we develop a more robust data set, creating a smarter solution that can be used in more variable work conditions.

Various industries can utilize 3D scanning systems—from manufacturing and engineering to design, development and surveying, to movies, art and medicine. It often results in two key benefits: lower-cost manufacturing processes and higher-quality products (increasing yield). It has been estimated that 3D scanning can reduce manufacturing costs by 75 percent.

Based on our experience, below are a few examples of how businesses can benefit from 3D scanning systems.

The 3D concept phase

When working with clients, we often go through a concept phase prior to starting the actual design work. At this stage, clients are thinking about the big picture—the inputs and outputs, and how a work cell fits into the overall manufacturing process. What we have found is that we can use 3D scanners during the idea generation phase to digitize objects and then use them to interpret and enhance concept diagrams. The more work that can be done virtually, the more will be saved when it comes to final design and build. The 3D scans that we generate during the design phase can be incorporated into robot simulation tools offered by leading manufacturers—Fanuc Roboguide or ABB RobotStudio.

3D scanning for design development

By employing 3D technologies, we develop a more robust data set, creating a smarter solution that can be used in more variable work conditions.

As discussed, 3D scanning can be applied at the beginning of the design phase by scanning a physical object to generate a computer-aided design (CAD) model. Our designers usually need to design around existing parts and part tolerances. By having 3D models of the parts we will be handling, we can drastically improve the accuracy of the final design because so much of the trial-and-error work can be done with software. 3D model scanning systems can benefit the actual design process in the following ways:

  • Increase the effectiveness of working with complex parts and shapes.
  • Assist with the design of input/output mechanisms for the work cell.
  • If CAD models are outdated, a 3D scan will provide an updated version.
  • 3D scanners quickly capture all physical measurements of any object.
  • A 3D scanner ensures that the parts fit together on the first try.
  • Assist with end-of-arm tooling for robots to ensure end effectors properly handle and manipulate parts.
  • Scanners use modern manufacturing on parts that were manufactured before CAD existed.
  • Allows for a comparison between as-designed models and as-built parts.

3D scanning—maximizing investments

We have discussed the many ways 3D scanning technologies can improve the concept and design phases of a robotic work cell. Outside of those applications, we have had numerous incidents where we have employed 3D scanning to create more flexibility in a work cell. For example, by using 3D scanning, we are able to locate parts in space and, if required, provide a path offset to a robot so it can handle a part that is in a random orientation. Another example is to use 3D scanners to inspect the part before it is handled by the robot. By scanning the part, we can compare it to the “golden model,” and if it is out of compliance we can pass over it or sweep it into a rework bin. Last, by scanning parts, we can determine what it is and then execute the corresponding robot program. This creates dynamic functionality, which requires less input from an operator, allowing them to focus on other tasks.

The world of 3D scanning technologies is rapidly expanding. With more processing power, lower price points and easier user interfaces, it is safe to say these technologies are here to say. If you are in the market for 3D scanning, check out the new solutions from leading manufactures such as Sick, Cognex, Keyence and Hermary.

Michael Lindley is vice president of business development and marketing at Concept Systems Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association(CSIA). See Concept Systems’ profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

How to Determine Robot ROI

As robotic performance continues to accelerate, now is the perfect time for mid-sized companies that have been waiting for a decline in robotic prices to deploy these automated solutions. Here’s how to determine the value of this decision.

robotic-pick-place2While reading a report by The Boston Consulting Group, I learned that global sales of industrial robots rose by 23 percent last year, with deliveries expected to double to 400,000 a year by 2018. The report also predicted that industrial robot pricing will continue to decline over the next decade by more than 20 percent. If this holds true, it will make more applications viable for robots, thereby decreasing the investment required for integration—which is the primary roadblock keeping many manufacturers from moving forward with robots. In fact, the one question I hear most often from clients is: “What’s the ROI on my investment in robotic automation?” Continue Reading →

Automation Roadmap: Assessing Your Network Architecture

To facilitate efficient and cost-effective process improvement, your network architecture needs to be thoughtfully planned out, not just patched together.

By now, you know you want to create an automation roadmap that aligns with corporate goals, which typically center on production, efficiency or quality gains. In my last couple of blogs (accessible here and here), I provided a structured approach to developing your automation roadmap, which generates a nice list of projects, in order of priority, accompanied by budget and timeline considerations. But before you make your way to the corporate offices to garner budget approval, there are a couple of additional considerations that will add the finishing touches to your automation roadmap: network architecture and safety. In this post I’ll address network architecture; next month I will address safety. Continue Reading →

An ROI Approach to Budgeting

results-productionDetailed evaluation of anticipated return on investment for each prioritized project helps gain project approval and maximize project results.

In my last two blogs, I discussed the importance of an automation roadmap and how to get started developing one. Hopefully, you’ve created a prioritized list of potential projects and are now ready to tackle how to budget for them.

Many people seem to think that in order to establish a budget, they need to develop a spec, reach out to vendors and conduct a formal Request for Quotation (RFQ) process. All of this takes a lot of time and energy, so I hope it is welcome news that I do not recommend this approach. Rather, look at it from a Return on Investment (ROI) perspective.

What payback period does your company expect on each investment? A two-year ROI seems to be an undocumented industry standard, but each company will have its own. Meeting or beating that payback timeline is typically important for project approval. Continue Reading →