CHICAGO -- The International Manufacturing Technology Show featured several exhibits highlighting the benefits of collaborative robots, or “cobots.”  Fanuc exhibited an autonomous charging and inspection station that featured one robot responsible for manipulating the auto while the other charged and inspected the vehicle.

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 & 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.

Articulated robot arms with 3D area sensors (easy-to-use vision tools) that enable bin picking setup in a matter of minutes.

“Collaborative robots, mobile robots, IIoT-enabled systems, AI and automation careers are some of the dominant automation trends at IMTS 2018,” says Tim Shinbara, VP – Technology, AMT. Automation advances on display at IMTS 2018 included articulated robot arms with 3D area sensors (easy-to-use vision tools) that enable bin picking setup in a matter of minutes.

Mobility Matters

Cicco believes that machine tool owners and managers 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.

About IMTS

IMTS, the largest and longest running manufacturing technology trade show in the United States is held every other year at McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill. IMTS 2018 will run Sept. 10-15. IMTS is ranked among the largest trade shows in the world. Recognized as one of the world’s preeminent stages for introducing and selling manufacturing equipment and technology, IMTS attracts visitors from every level of industry and more than 117 countries. IMTS is owned and managed by AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology.

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