What’s new in robotics: Tech that enhances automated processes

Orders are up across North America as new products hit the market.

July 2, 2020   by PLANT STAFF

Interest is growing in automation technologies. PHOTO: Photocreo Bednarek –

Robot orders were up in 2019, despite slowing global economic growth and disruptions to trade resulting from US tariff wars and other factors that raised the uncertainty level for businesses. As 2020 gets underway, robotics innovators and systems providers have new products for manufacturers in the mood to enhance their automated processes.

First some numbers. The Robotic Industries Association (RIA), part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) based in Ann Arbor, Mich., reports 29,988 units were ordered in North America, a 1.6% increase over 2018, although revenue was down 1.3%, closing the year at $1.681 billion.

The International Federation of Robotics forecasts almost 2 million new robot units will be installed in factories around the world from 2020 to 2022. Research firm estimated the global market was valued at US$34 billion in 2019 and forecasts a double-digit compound annual growth rate over 2020-2025.

“While 2019 was a challenging year and the outlook for growth in 2020 is murky, we’re still seeing growing interest in automation technologies and solutions that will lead to continued future growth,” said Jeff Burnstein, A3 and RIA president.

Canadian orders were up 25.6% from 2,415 units to 3,033. Shipments were essentially level, rising 1% from 3,050 to 3,080 for the year.

Canadian manufacturers may be slower to invest in Industry 4.0 technologies than their peers in the US and elsewhere, but there is recognition automation is key to production efficiency and competitive advantage.

The 2020 Advanced Manufacturing Survey conducted by BDO Canada LLP and PLANT Magazine shows 44% of the 251 leaders of mostly small and medium-size Canadian enterprises said their companies were spending on robotics. Forty-eight per cent of those spent an average of $147,083 in 2019. About a third of respondents intended to invest in robotics over the next three years.

Manufacturers of automation systems and machinery have some ideas for those who are ready to invest. Here’s a sampling of some new offerings:

Faster 3D printing. New software from ABB Robotics eliminates manual programming, allowing manufacturers to print products in 3D within minutes.

The global technology company, based in Zurich, Switzerland (Canadian headquarters in Montreal), has found a way around time-consuming plotting of points and trajectories with its 3D Printing PowerPac.

Any standard slicer software design is translated into ABB’s simulation environment and robot code. This means an operator moves from CAD design to final modelling in just 30 minutes.

For end-of-arm tooling. Yaskawa America Inc.’s six-axis SP235 high-payload (235 kg) robot reduces air-cut time with its quick axis speeds and acceleration.

The manufacturer of automation systems in Waukegan, Ill. says high moment and inertia ratings accommodate a wide range of spot guns and other end-of-arm tooling. A slim profile lets it reach into tight spaces and high-density layouts. Its vertical reach is 3,490 mm; horizontal is 2,710 mm.

Programming for complicated parts is simplified with wide wrist motion range for greater application flexibility.

Quality control. New Scale Robotics, a manufacturer of automation tools in Victor, NY, has come up with an automated alternative for SMEs that are manually measuring parts with digital calipers for quality control in high-mix, small-batch manufacturing environments.

The Q-Span system integrates easily into the quality control lab or on the production floor with up to three gripper/caliper tools on a collaborative robot. It picks up small parts, measures multiple dimensions, makes in-process decisions based on measurements (for example, pass/fail or sort by range), and places each part in the appropriate tray or bin.

All data is recorded to a PC for later analysis and statistical process control (SPC), but also monitored in real time to detect trends and alert operators to process drift.

A Q-Span System handles small parts weighing up to 100 grams and measuring up to 100 mm. Measurement resolution is 0.0001 in. (2.5 µm) with better than 0.0002 in. (5 µm) repeatability and 0.0006 in. (15 µm) accuracy.

Autonomous mobility. Omron Automation Americas’ LD-250 autonomous mobile robot carries payloads of up to 250 kg while avoiding people and obstacles by calculating the best routes to transport material.

The automation company based in Hoffman Estates, Ill. says its Fleet Manager system controls up to 100 mobile units with different payloads through a single system while managing traffic, battery charging and navigation.

An extra-sturdy structure handles unwieldy items traditionally transported in human-operated carts. The LD-250 is customizable with special conveyor tops, courier systems and adaptive material handling mechanics. It also takes advantage of several Omron technologies such as the high accuracy positioning system (HAPS), side lasers and acuity vision localization.

Combining the LD-250 with Omron’s collaborative robot creates a heavy-duty mobile manipulator that handles tasks along with material transport.

No disruption programming. RobotWorx, a Marion, Ohio automation integrator, is partnering with OCTOPUZ Inc., a robotics software developer in Waterloo, Ont., to enable programming of path-sensitive, complex robot applications on a computer without disrupting the manufacturing process.

Users create detailed virtual simulations of their real-world robot cells in minutes, complete with machinery and manufacturing components. Within this virtual cell, OCTOPUZ uses built-in machine logic to automatically identify the optimal toolpath trajectory and program the required code for a multitude of industrial tasks. The code is then accurately converted to the robot brand’s unique language for use in the real world.

High performance. DENSO Robotics, a global supplier of advanced robotic technology in Anaheim, Calif., has launched new VM-VL series robots for large part manufacturing, transportation, warehousing and other industrial applications.

VM robots are built to handle payloads of up to 55 lb. (25 kg) and come in two models: one with a maximum arm reach of nearly 5 feet (1.5 metres) and the other with a maximum arm reach of nearly 6 feet (1.8 metres). The VL robot handles payloads of up to 88 pounds (40 kilograms) with a maximum arm reach of more than 8 feet (2.5 metres).

Features include enhanced internal wiring for safer, more efficient operations; an easy-to-use RC9 programmable logic controller; and WINCAPS Plus, new software that optimizes 3D visual programming, motion planning and position guidance.

Applications include large part assembly, long reach computer tool tending, palletizing and depalletizing, material removal and deburring, and 3D bin picking.

All-round robot. The KR QUANTEC robot from KUKA Robotics Canada in Mississauga, Ont. covers several applications, such as handling, spot welding and high path accuracy processes (laser cutting and milling).

The newest version carries a payload of up to 300 kg and is suitable for nearly every market segment, including the automotive, aerospace, foundry and medical industries.

Fast and precise, it uses enhanced oil for a longer lifespan, and has leaner interference contours.

Digital motion modes ensure optimal robot motion for specific applications.

Research robot. Dingo, the lightweight indoor robot from Clearpath Robotics in Kitchener, Ont. is designed for research and education. Suitable for benchtop and laboratory testing, it’s extensible (allows the addition of new capabilities and functionality) and programmable.

It comes in differential and omnidirectional drive configurations for a wide range of indoor robotics applications such as autonomous navigation, mobile manipulation, and mapping, reaching speeds of 1.3 metres per second. The payload is up to 20 kg.

The robot comes with a range of computing options, and the ability to greatly upgrade battery power, allowing users to fully customize for specific applications.

Dingo includes wheel encoders, programmable front-facing LED lights and a payload mounting system, as well as tool-less access to user power and communication ports for integrating sensors, manipulators and other third-party hardware.

This article appeared in the March-April 2020 print edition of PLANT Magazine.




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