As manufacturers aim at improving factory process efficiencies, new robotics present perhaps the best and fastest payback for furthering lean goals and boosting plant-floor productivity.

The latest innovations in factory automation, which combine robotics, vision systems, metrology solutions and other factory automation FANUC Robotics’ Zero Downtime (ZDT) system shown at Automate 2015 with LRMate 200iD robots is being piloted at a large automaker and is planned to roll out this were on display front and center at Automate 2015, held at McCormick Place March 23-26 in Chicago. The wide range of robotic innovations span from new and improved collaborative robots, or co-bots, to more standard industrial robotic arms teamed with vision and lasers and a robotic exoskeleton, called ReWalk, designed to help people with lower-limb disabilities.

While the nascent collaborative robot class may be new to many, Universal Robots (UR; Odense, Denmark) has been at it for some time now. At Automate, UR introduced its third-generation co-bot, the UR3, a 3-kg (6.6-lb) payload robot featuring improved safety systems and aimed at fenceless operations in light assembly. One of the biggest barriers collaborative robots face is simply getting people used to the idea that robots can operate safely alongside humans in the factory.

“The main thing is cultural and getting people to understand what these robots can do,” said Esben Østergaard, Universal Robots’ chief technical officer. “We’re getting the word out, because people don’t believe it.”

Co-bots have a lot of advantages over standard industrial robots, he added, in lower costs for the robot, and especially for lowered costs of installation, programming and training. Total overall cost savings over traditional factory robots is significant, Østergaard said, with installation costs for standard robots typically being up to four times that of these smaller ABB’s Mark Oxlade programs an ABB IRB 6700 robot equipped with Trumpf’s Programming Focusing Optics (PFO) system for fast arc welding at Automate.collaborative models.

A potential barrier to the adoption of co-bots is the urgent need for ratification of pending safety standards dealing with these “safe” robots in fenceless operations, Østergaard added. The current safety standards must be ratified by late this year by all of the countries involved, or the standards-setting bodies will have to start over, he said.

Another entry in collaborative robots made its North American debut at Automate, with the formal introduction of the LBR iiwa (intelligent industrial work assistant) from KUKA Robotics (Shelby Township, MI, and Augsburg, Germany). The iiwa robot features seven axes of operation and safety sensors for working alongside humans. Available in two models with 7-kg and 14-kg payloads, the iiwa is highly flexible with a kinematic system based on the human arm. The robots are highly precise, with ±0.1-mm repeatability, aided by built-in mastering sensors that allow the bot to self-calibrate.

At the Perceptron booth, the company’s showed its new Autoscan Collaborative-CMM metrology solution, which teams Perceptron’s Helix smart sensor, its Vector analysis software and a collaborative robot built by Universal Robots for fast, accurate inspection. The patented Helix sensor tackles up to 200 scan lines per feature, programmed with automatic feature extraction from the generatThe lightweight KUKA Robotics LBR iiwa (intelligent industrial work assistant) robot debuted at Automate. ed point cloud datasets, and allows multiple features to be inspected with the robot in static mode. “The robot is really a vision of where the company is going,” said Keith Mills, Perceptron vice president of global marketing, noting the company is focusing on CMMs, robots and laser technologies.

From practical factory applications to the cutting edge, FANUC Robotics America (Rochester Hills, MI) showed a great range of its robots, displaying an interactive kiosk with the company’s ZDT (Zero Downtime) initiative and also a small robot 3D-printing parts. Shown at Automate with a FANUC LR Mate 200iD/4S robot, the ZDT is an effort aimed in increasing factory uptime with real-time robotic diagnostics. This ZDT diagnostic tool detects critical information about a robot’s health and relays it to customers to address potential system or product issues, with a dedicated ZDT app for smartphones and iPads.

“We’re currently piloting this project right now with a large automotive customer,” said Michael Longo, Manager-Engineering, Data and Application Architecture, ZDT Service Center, FANUC Robotics. “You want to have predictive analysis for preventative maintenance and robot health. This is going to be the next big thing, with zero downtime and being able to capture all that data.” The ZDT system is due to roll out to customers in the US sometime this summer, he added.
Perceptron introduced its new Autoscan Collaborative-CMM, a collaborative robot using a smart sensor, at Automate 2015. The system delivers automated inspection to the shop floor pairing the company’s Helix smart sensor with a UR robot.
Teaming laser scanners with robotic welding, ABB Robotics (Auburn Hills, MI) showed off its new Scanner Laser Welding system with an IRB 6700 robot equipped with the Programmable Focusing Optics (PFO) technology from laser developer Trumpf Inc. (Farmington, CT), enabling fast welding on-the-fly coordination of head mirrors and robot motion without the use of a PC.

“The mirrors control how the light travels,” said Mark Oxlade, market develop manager, Arc Welding, Discrete Automation and Motion Division, ABB Inc. “This configuration is taking it from nine seconds to six seconds to do a weld, about 30% faster so it’s a much higher level of efficiency.”

At the Güdel booth, Yaskawa Motoman Robotics teamed with ReWalk to offer a robotically controlled system that helps disabled persons to walk. the automation developer previewed its next-generation TrackMotion Vertical with a Yaskawa MA2010 arc-welding robot mounted on the Z-axis vertical lift. The system was shown in a 4-m high unit, and it will be available both as the shelf mount shown at the show and in a wall-mounted system, said Joe Campbell, vice president, sales and marketing, Güdel Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI). TrackMotion Vertical is a modular system including the rack, rail, motor gear, carriage plate and gearbox, Campbell said, and it’s aimed at welding, painting, and finish prep applications including sanding, washing, and buffing.

Besides the standard industrial applications, robotics also is making inroads into the health and home care services markets, with innovations like the Yaskawa-ReWalk partnership that enable people with disabilities to walk normally. At the Yaskawa Motoman (Miamisburg, OH) booth, the ReWalk robotically controlled exoskeleton-type system was demonstrated by a veteran from Wounded Warriors. When strapped on the body, the system uses computers and motion sensors to detect subtle changes in the person’s center of gravity, triggering the motorized legs to help with hip and knee movements.