I had seen early adaptations of collaborative robots at a Hanover Fair in 2007, but it was only last year when they started showing up here at Optimation.
Articulated robots in manufacturing have traditionally been separated from operators by safety guarding. Despite all of the advantages that can be achieved by using robots for functions that require repetitive motions or need to be tested and verified, there are potential dangers of operating machinery in close proximity to people while they are performing their tasks. Universal Robots is a company that makes collaborative robots designed to be operated this way; thereby eliminating the cost of guarding and providing a means to increase the productivity of an operator for manually intensive tasks.
Collaborative robots are already compelling to me for reducing barriers to using robots in operator stations, but it wasn’t until recently that I came across an opportunity that dramatically changes the value proposition.
Integrated Coordinate Measurement
Imagine that after you have assembled a part you have to verify that the part geometries meet specific location requirements. You may need to verify that it is nested correctly before the assembly is started. Or afterward you want to measure the profile curvature of an assembly to make sure that that all the mating parts are properly joined. Even if an operator could visually inspect this condition, it may be a requirement that it is formally documented.
Our engineers came up with an approach to install a laser on the robot and program a robot path that accomplishes these tasks. The accuracy is very respectable. The robot holds 100 microns of accuracy and the laser is far better than that. Also the profile can be done as a “golden path” and configured for different parts.
Our mechanical engineers offered a fixture that is purposely built to specific parts. It will put forces where they are desired in the assembly step as the robot “snaps” the part together. It makes sure that the assembly process is optimized.
In the end, the operator is not exposed to repetitive motion, their productivity is improved, part checking is done in collaboration with the operator as they do their job and geometric coordinate measurement is achieved. On this project we also present the part to a vision system to verify other aspects of the part are OK -- tabs did not break and the molded part was formed accurately. This is three machines in one – assembly, coordinate measurement, and inspection. In our case there were not additional output packing needs. But if there where, that could be done too!
I am very much looking forward to where collaborative robots are going. What about you? What have you been learning about collaborative robots?