Industry Pros See Positive Outlook for Robotics in 2013

January 8, 2013

December always wraps up with a look at the past year and January always starts with a look towards the future. What will 2013 bring for the robotics industry? Bennett Brumon checks in with several top industry professionals to see what trends and market shifts they’re predicting.

Robotics Industry Expected to Thrive in 2013
by Bennett Brumon , Contributing Editor

Most players in the robotics industry are sanguine on the prospects of nearly all applications in 2013. “I think 2013 will be awesome. General industry is historically two years behind the rebound of the automotive industry, following an economic downturn. The automotive industry did not buy anything for a few years then came on strong,” says Edward Minch, Automotive Group Director of Sales and Engineering at Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc. (Wixom, Michigan). “General industry is taking care of capital investment it ignored during the recession.”

Likewise, Mick Estes, General Manager at FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan) says, “I expect to see continued growth in the automotive industry with increasing investment of robotics in the power train sector. Tier Two suppliers continue to invest in robotics to remain competitive on the world market.”

Estes also anticipates strong growth in general industry. “Packaging and palletizing applications as well as assembly for the general industrial market will increase.”

John Bubnikovich, Executive Director of Marketing and Business Development at ABB Inc. (Auburn Hills, Michigan) speaks of the continuing role of the automotive sector within the robotics industry. “The automotive sector still accounts for 65 percent of the North American robotics market. Automotive’s revitalization has been very influential in the great bounce-back the robotics industry has seen recently.”

Bubnikovich goes on to say, “Robotic laser cutting is emerging as an optimal means to cut and trim hot-stamped steel, a light weight, high strength material increasingly used in the automotive industry to reduce the overall cost and weight of cars while improving passenger safety and fuel economy.”

Bin picking is one application several leaders in the robotics industry have high hopes for in 2013. “I see rapid expansion of three-dimensional bin picking, the ability to retrieve randomly arranged products from a bin,” says John Burg, President of Ellison Technologies Automation (Council Bluffs, Iowa).

Terry Zarnowski, Director of Sales and Marketing with Schneider Packaging Equipment Co. Inc. (Brewerton, New York) has a similar outlook for the prospects of bin picking in 2013. “Bin picking is now a viable reality.”

Minch sees advancements in vision technology combined with improved force sensing, as one of numerous bright spots for the robotics industry. “These advancements will help the robotics industry penetrate into new markets, such as consumer electronic equipment and automotive component assembly and random bin picking. Robots can ‘see’ and have a sense of touch. Force sensors use feedback from servomotors to tell how hard the robot is pushing on a part during assembly processes such as driving a screw.”

Read more at Robotics Online. What trends do you see for the robotics industry in 2013?

To see more of the latest robotics technology, come to Automate 2013, Jan. 21-24 in Chicago. See live demos, talk with industry pros, and find your automation solution! We’ve designed Automate 2013 with small and medium sized businesses in mind so start the new year off right — register for your free show pass today!

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The Automate Show Opens Soon — Get Your Free Show Pass Today!

January 2, 2013

We are just weeks away from the opening of the 2013 Automate Show in Chicago! If you’re considering automation to improve and grow your company this year, come to Automate to see live demos, talk with industry professionals, and find the solution that’s perfect for you! Read the press release below for more information or register for your free show pass here.

(Ann Arbor, Michigan) Conference registration is now open for Automate 2013, North America’s leading automation event that takes place January 21-24 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

“The 2013 Conference is the strongest we’ve ever put together,” says Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation, the main organizer of Automate 2013.

“We’re gearing many sessions to small and medium sized companies who are new users or considering using robotics, vision, motion control, and other automation technologies,” Burnstein asserts. One of the featured sessions highlights small company executives who have successfully automated in order to become stronger global competitors. Speakers include Drew Greenblatt, President, Marlin Steel, Torben Christensen, President, Wiscon Products and Matt Tyler, President & CEO, Vickers Engineering.

“I think companies considering automating will find this session fascinating because it will provide real-world examples of companies who would have had to either go out of business or send manufacturing offshore but instead succeeded by automating,” Burnstein said.

Other key topics covered in the conference include the fundamentals of robotics and the fundamentals of vision, new developments in industrial robot safety, new motor and drive technologies, robotics system integration, motion control technology for increasing throughput, and practical applications using vision guided robots.

More than 75 industry experts from around the world will give presentations at the five-day conference (ending January 25). Keynote speakers include Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media and Henrik Christensen, Director of Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Professionals in the vision industry can take special classes that are required to earn the highly-coveted Certified Vision Professional (CVP) designation. The CVP is offered at both the Basic and Advanced Levels, with testing also offered at Automate 2013.

The Automate conference is accompanied by a four-day trade show featuring exhibits from some 150 leading automation companies. It offers a broad-range of automation solutions for packaging, welding, assembly, material removal, inspection, painting & coating, and other leading applications.

Burnstein said the front of the show is dedicated to exhibits from system integrators, the ideal starting point for users just beginning to investigate automation or those looking for new ideas. “The integrators are the ones who put successful solutions together, so they are extremely important to the user community,” he noted.

Another show-floor highlight will be Expert Huddles, small group discussions on key topics of interest to users. “These huddles will feature industry experts leading the discussion – among the topics will be return on investment, the best first tasks for automation, and how to select a system integrator. We expect to have more than 75 huddles throughout the show and all of them are free to show and conference attendees.”

Trade show attendance is free (16 and over required). Fees are required for the Automate 2013 conference. Full details can be found at www.automate2013.com. Automate 2013 is collocated with ProMat (sponsored by the Material Handling Industry of America). ProMat is North America’s premier material handling and logistics show. “Having both of these shows together gives attendees a chance to explore the state of the art in automation solutions as well as seeing what’s coming next for both the automation and material handling industries,” Burnstein noted.

About the Organizer
Automate is organized by the Association for Advancing Automation, the not-for-profit umbrella corporation of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, and the Motion Control Association (MCA). Together these associations represent nearly 700 member companies from 32 nations. Members include suppliers, system integrators, end users, universities, consulting firms and others involved in automation.

For more information on RIA, visit www.robotics.org. For AIA, visit www.visiononline.org. For MCA, visitwww.motioncontrolonline.org. Automate show and conference information can be found at www.automate2013.com. To reach Association Headquarters, call 734/994-6088.


Robots and Vision for Semiconductors and Electronics Manufacturing

December 5, 2012

In the newest article on Robotics Online, Bennett Brumson looks at robotics in the semiconductor and electronics industry, taking special note of the trends and unique requirements for automation systems there.

Robots and Vision for Semiconductors and Electronics Manufacturing
by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor 

Delta robot performing connector assembly tasks, courtesy FANUC Robotics America Corp.Robotics have long been a staple in the electronics and semiconductor industry. Complex assemblies and a plethora of tiny parts make flexible robotics the ideal solution for the rapidly-changing electronics and semiconductor market.

Robotics for the electronics and semiconductor sector will be a component of Automate 2013, the trade show and conference covering a wide array of automation technologies.

“Kawasaki’s customers, the Semiconductor Equipment suppliers, use robots to manufacture wafers before those wafers are sliced and diced into microchips. As microchips get smaller and smaller, they require less power to function which is why smart phones are thinner and able to do so many things,” says Barney Huang, Director of Sales and Marketing at Kawasaki Robotics USA Inc. (Wixom, Michigan). “Microchips are more densely packed onto electronic devices.” Robotics play a key role in facilitating production of electronics and semiconductors, Huang says.

Need for Speed
Electronics embodies the essence of the fickle consumer market. Manufacturers need speed and flexibility to profitably tap into a market segment before consumer tastes change. “I see a trend in the need for smaller and faster robots. Using small robots makes sense for manufacturers to handle small parts. Production lines need to move very fast in the electronics and semiconductor industry,” says Chris Blanchette, Account Manager with FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan).

Continuing, Blanchette says, “Robot makers build different types of robots to meet the needs of the electronics and semiconductor market. These types of robots include very fast delta-style robots. Also, six-axis articulation is a necessary requirement to orient small parts in more than one plane or off axis.” Six-axis articulation in conjunction with high speed is an important trend in the small part electronics industry, says Blanchette.

Blanchette goes on to say, “Robotic assembly of connectors is a growing trend. This application requires precision and tolerance because of so many small parts. Component assembly on circuit boards requires finesse during the assembly process which cannot be done with high-speed chip shooters.” Blanchette adds robots provide a very cost-effective solution to populate components onto circuit boards. “After the assembly of electronic circuit boards, the boards must be assembled into a package. Robots are a great tool for assembling those packages into electronic modules.”

Moving silicon wafers at high speeds without causing damage is a fundamental task robots are increasingly called on to perform. As wafer sizes become progressively larger, that task becomes more demanding. Robotics are more than capable of meeting throughput requirements without causing damage to delicate components.

Read the full article at Robotics Online. Interested in seeing robotic systems for the electronics and semiconductor industry at work? Come to the 2013 Automate Show, where companies will have working exhibits and full solutions for your automation needs.


Sneaky Robot ‘Cheats’ at Game

June 29, 2012

It might be time to start designing robotic ethical software — researchers at the Ishikawa Oku Lab at the University of Toyko have designed a robot with sensors fast enough to ‘cheat’ at rock, paper, scissors. The robot manages to process its opponent’s move and make its own so fast that its impossible to tell that it’s cheating — except for the fact that it wins 100% of the time.

While this video is a fun demonstration, it also shows the amazing progress in robotic and machine vision technology. The more advanced the technology can get, the more applications we can discover. What could we do with a robot that can ‘see’ and react faster than humanly possible?

Source: Robot Hand Beats You at Rock, Paper, Scissors 100% Of The Time on IEEE Spectrum


Service Robot Scales Wind Towers Vertically

June 28, 2012

The robotics industry is full of futuristic-minded people who realize the benefits of using technology to do jobs that are tedious, dangerous, or otherwise difficult for people. Helical Robotics has coupled the technology of robotics with another forward-thinking industry, wind power, to come up with a new tool in the maintaining of alternative energy solutions.

Robots ready for outside, up-tower work
by Paul Dvorak

Access to a wind tower has traditionally required the use of cranes, bucket trucks, or rappelling teams. Engineers at Wisconsin-based Helical Robotics have designed another way and one, they say, streamlines the work. It uses remote-controlled, robotic devices that can scale a wind tower. These robotic platforms can be fitted with a wide range of devices from cameras and non-destructive testing equipment, to robotic arms and lifts.

By using a service robot, the wind power industry can not only save money on expensive maintenance equipment and procedures, but they can also eliminate some of the need to for people to complete tasks at dangerous heights. Click here to read the full article on Helical’s new robot on Windpower Engineering & Development. What other applications can you see for a vertically-gliding robot? Go to Helical Robotics’ website for more information, including the video below.


Machine Vision for Robot Guidance

June 7, 2012

by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor
Robotic Industries Association
Posted 06/04/2012

Robot using vision for small part handling or assembly, courtesy FANUC Robotics America Corp.Without a vision guidance system, robots would be blind, unable to present itself to parts. The increased power of vision guidance systems eliminate the need for expensive fixtures that often must be removed or modified when manufacturers introduce new products or parts.

“The biggest change in the past five years is how vision-guided robotic systems are used and how these systems can automatically generate new frames and new tools. Increased accuracy of vision guidance systems provides for increased robotic accuracy,” says Steve Prehn, Vision Product Manager at FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan).

Seeing Accurately
More powerful and accurate cameras are a boon to end-users of industrial robotics. “Vision guidance systems are able to capture very accurate three-dimensional locations with just one camera,” says Doug Erlemann, Business Development Manager with Baumer Ltd. (Southington, Connecticut). Erlemann sees more accurate software, more rugged equipment and cameras with features that alleviate lighting problems. “Cameras with automatic gain are more accurate and robust. Vision guidance systems take into account more than just vision calculations and robot calculations, but are tied together in the overall system.”

Erlemann speaks of how increased accuracy of robotic vision guidance systems facilitates welding applications. “For very fine applications such as aircraft welds, the guidance system must be perfect. Software can run a welding bead to within 10 microns. In welding applications, 10 microns is very accurate.” Typical welding applications require accuracy to within plus or minus a millimeter or two says Erlemann, but some high-end aircraft demands near-perfect welds.

Screen image of a 2-D vision system in a packing application, courtesy Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc.Likewise, Brian Carpenter, Software Engineer with Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc. (Wixom, Michigan) sees more accurate vision guidance systems for robotics. “Recently, more single camera three-dimensional systems are available. Resolution and accuracy improvements to stereoscopic systems have increased and do not require calibration and can accommodate different working distance.”

Stereoscopic vision guidance systems allow more precise depth measurement. Camera systems will be capable of locating objects as well as track and predict their location while moving, Carpenter says. “Tracking will allow for faster, more responsive tracking.”

Prehn says vision guidance systems are utilized by end-users as a feedback device for generating very accurate frames and tools. “Robot-mounted cameras and the images they generate refine an object’s position through triangulation, providing for tremendous accuracies. Robots operating within six degrees of freedom are a perfect match with three-dimensional vision-guided solutions.”

Prehn goes on to say, “Robust locational systems have the flexibility to quickly adapt to new parts as they are presented to the robot and provide accurate results to have them engage with new parts. Increased processing power allows integrators to go after markets that would be too difficult otherwise.”

Assembly applications on the micro and nano-levels are among the new markets for robotics served by enhancements to vision guidance systems. “Guidance systems accurately locate very small objects or zoom in to validate positions very precisely. When looking at very small fields of view, resolution goes to the micron range. End-users use vision guidance systems to validate and correct for positional inaccuracies over the robot’s working area,” says Prehn.

Charles Ridley, Material Handling Service Manager with PAR Systems Inc. (Shoreview, Minnesota) also talks about the role of robotic vision guidance systems in micro-assembly applications. “The challenges with micro-assembly are similar to other robotic vision applications. Ensuring that the robot chosen for the application has the repeatability and accuracy to handle the tolerances that come with a micro application is key. The vision guidance system must have a higher resolution.”

Calibrated Guidance

Vision guidance systems require calibration with the robot to ensure proper positioning when that robot performs its tasks, says Greg Garmann, Technology Advancement Manager with Yaskawa America Inc.’s Motoman Robotics Division (Miamisburg, Ohio). “Calibrating multiple camera systems between the robotic space and the vision space so that the robot can understand what the vision camera sees is important. Many applications require variable focal lengths and end-users want automatic focus to determine the depth or distance the guidance camera is from objects.”

Vision-enabled robots at Automate 2011, courtesy Comau RoboticsEnd-users must recalibrate the vision system occasionally, says Garmann. “When the focus is changed, that also changes the field of view and the calibration of the camera system to the robot. End-users want automatic focus so the guidance system can understand different focal lengths.”

Calibration issues are important to end-users of Comau Robotics’ systems (Southfield, Michigan) says Process Technology Director, Joe Cyrek. “With advancements in computing power, systems allow for robot guidance in six degrees of freedom with one camera and cable without calibration. That advancement is significant.” Cyrek adds, “End-users want no calibration and simplicity in vision guidance systems. A single camera, cable, a simple interface without the need for calibration equals increased mean time between failures and decreased mean time to recovery, and fast set up.”

Algorithms and their application into robot guidance solution have changed the perception of robot guidance from “complicated” and “avoid at all costs” to “simple” and “find more ways to use it,” says Cyrek.

Calibration of robotic vision guidance systems is also on the mind of Nicholas Hunt, Automotive Technology Support Group Manager at ABB Inc. (Auburn Hills, Michigan). “I see more light with structured wavefronts coming of age for three-dimensional surface scanning applications. The result requires processing massive amounts of data very quickly. New processors provide the necessary speed to fit the demands of production throughput.” Hunts stresses the need for good calibration between the robot tool center point and the camera, or calibration between the camera and the work cell. “Vision system calibration issues might not be evident until weeks later.”

FANUC’s Prehn sums up the importance of proper calibration. “If mistakes are made in calibrating the camera system or applying positions relative to where the camera finds the object, the integrator can get into trouble.” Taking advantage of training courses offered by robot manufacturers or the Robotic Industries Association (RIA, Ann Arbor, Michigan) in vision guidance systems is a good way to avoid calibration pitfalls.

“Lighting, Lighting, Lighting”
Proper lighting is crucial for guidance systems to function properly and consistently. “Vision has always been about lighting and lensing, and guidance is no exception. Maintaining nominal lighting, whether it be raster Robot with gripper and vision guidance system ready for work, courtesy Applied Robotics Inc.lighting or structured lighting, is key to consistently reporting part position to the robot,” says Henry Loos, Controls and Applications Engineer with Applied Robotics Inc. (Glenville, New York). “Do not skimp on high quality lighting and use high quality lenses.”

ABB’s Nick Hunt says, “In machine vision for robotic guidance, the mantra should be ‘lighting, lighting, lighting.’ While debugging a system, some integrators spend too much time looking at the application or the processing of the information. Integrators should pay more attention to the lighting and focal lengths of the camera.”

When setting up a robotic guidance vision system, lights should be arranged to cast diffused illumination rather than direct light, Hunt suggests. “Machine vision applications should not use direct lighting, but should diffuse lighting with light boxes, light-emitting diode (LED) ring lights or other form of structured light.” Hunt says structured lighting is easier to apply than in the recent past. “Suppliers have stepped up to make simple LED ring lights easy to implement on today’s guidance cameras. The benefits of structured LED lighting in robotic machine vision applications are quicker, lowering integration costs while minimizing the effects of inconsistent ambient light.”

Lighting issues are best addressed in the early planning phase of a work cell to save time, effort and money, Hunt says. “Ambient lighting is very important. Integrators should not underestimate how much difficulty end-users might run into if lighting issues are not well thought out. Vision guidance systems are easier and less expensive to implement than in the past with simple LED ring lights.”

Lighting equipment degrades slowly through time, cautions Ridley. “Lighting characteristics change over time, presenting the biggest stumbling blocks to consistent vision operation.” Similarly Carpenter of Kawasaki Robotics says, “Lighting changes over time, even if LED lights. The intensity of the light changes over years so end-users must budget for making changes to lighting systems or have someone on staff who plans for that.”

2, 2.5, 3-D
Robotic vision guidance systems scan objects in two or three dimensions. Unless the application requires three-dimensional vision guidance, integrators favor using two-dimensional systems. “Get the simplest vision guidance system that meets the needs of the application. If the application only needs 2.5-dimensional guidance, end-users should not bother investing in a three-dimensional system,” advises Cyrek.

“Vision guided robotics systems matured in the two-dimensional arena first,” says Adil Shafi, President of ADVENOVATION Inc. (Rochester Hills, Michigan). “Three dimensional solutions have evolved steadily over the past decade most notably when directed at individual objects with reduced calibration, when the geometry of the part is feature-rich or highly repeatable. This trend will continue to grow as lighting, computing power and algorithms improve. Expect more bin picking solutions in the next decade.”

Three-dimensional guidance systems are being increasingly adopted by end-users due to growing reliability at a lower cost. “Single camera 3D systems are becoming popular due to resolution and accuracy improvements. Single camera three-dimensional systems are great because they do not require as difficult calibration as stereoscopic systems and can accommodate different working distances,” says Carpenter.

Prehn also anticipates more 3D guidance systems in robotic work cells. “Integrators have been doing three-dimensional guidance for quite some time. As guidance technology advances, end-users are able to leverage guidance systems to greater accuracy.” Increased processing power of vision systems and robot controllers allows vision-guided robots to enter new markets, Prehn says.

Watching and Learning
Integrators, robot end-users, teachers, students, newcomers and experts, can learn about vision-guided robotics through a free webinar hosted by RIA and Shafi on Thursday, June 7 at 12:00 PM EDT. The Robots: Vision Guidance Technology (2D) webinar will cover basic concepts, good applications, product examples, flexible tooling, hard tooling, vacuum, vision and other related topics. “I will show application videos and a PowerPoint presentation to provide a background of two-dimensional vision guidance applications,” says Shafi. “The webinar is balanced for experts as well as those who have never used robots before, and everyone in between.”

RIA webinars typically attract 400 viewers from around the world comprised of end-users, integrators, component providers, teachers, students and market analysis professionals. “I design webinars to be easy enough for people new to the industry to understand. I build on this foundation to show new trends and expert perspectives. We are assisted by a panel of industry experts who answer questions and present varied perspectives.”

On Track
As vision guidance systems become more powerful and more compact, they will routinely incorporate tracking and traceability functions, says Erlemann. “The automotive sector will eventually go the way of pharmacy applications, where each pill and bottle is tracked through the manufacturing process. The automotive industry will track each door panel and each part of the panel with individual serial numbers, to track where all parts are put together.”

Tracking and traceability are good for failure analysis, says Erlemann. “When a particular car model is seen as a lemon, the guidance system helps track individual panels or parts. Pharmaceutical applications are required by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations to track each part. The automotive industry will move towards that in the next five years.”

Seeing Guidance in Action
Robot makers, end-users and integrators will show off vision guidance systems and other robotic equipment at Automate 2013. The Automate trade show and conference is collocated with ProMat in Chicago January 21-24, 2013 and will feature robot vision guidance systems. “Comau will once again bring our three-dimensional vision system in a user interactive demonstration of its simplicity and flexibility. Last year’s putt-putt golf ball retrieving robot was a crowd favorite,” recalled Joe Cyrek.

Originally posted on Robotics Online.


At the Crossroads of Vision and Robotics

April 18, 2012

Independently, the robotics industry and the vision industry have been making landmark progress in developing technology. At the crossroads where they meet, the vision guided robot (VGR), engineers are making use of the best of both worlds to push the envelope. Players in the robotics field, from integrators to manufacturers, are now starting to more commonly use vision technology, including 3D.

Acceptance, Convergence, Certification Drive Vision Guided Robotics (VGR)

by Winn Hardin, Contributing Editor – AIA

In short, the world finally “gets” VGR technology, but automation industries aren’t sitting still. VGR developers and trade associations are making preparations for the next step in the industrial automation revolution by merging the vision and robotic technologies into a single solution, owned by a single vendor, and by developing certification programs that touch on both technologies, giving customers confidence in the suppliers when it comes to fielding their first VGR solution.

What started with 2D vision guidance has progressed to 3D vision guidance for tracking moving, singulated parts on a conveyor and similar applications. And 3D vision is even more critical for new application areas, such as service robotics, which are even more challenging than industrial robotic applications because they tend to be outdoors in uncontrolled environments.

Traditionally, using machine vision to identify a product’s location in 2D or 3D space and then guiding a robot to the object has been the domain of the system’s integrator. However, as vision and robot technologies have become easier to use and more widely accepted, more robot companies are either taking machine vision technology in-house for easier integration or developing partnerships that will give integrators and customers a consistent design environment.

Read the full article here at Vision Online. What ways do you see vision technology and robotics intersecting?