New RIA Article: The Intricacies of Industrial Robot Design

February 11, 2013

In a new RIA article, Bennett Brumson looks at how application influences the interplay of design and software architecture for industrial robots. He talks with industry pros about how the needs of the user influence design — and how that will affect the future of industrial robots.

Robot Design, Integrated Controls and Software Architectures of Industrial Robots
by Bennett Brumson

The software architecture of industrial robots, the “brains” of an automated work cell, enables the robot to perform assigned tasks quickly, repeatedly and accurately.

“Robotics are all about the requirements of an application, such as reach, speed, payload, inertia, joint rotation and performance. Robots look different because they can be used for many different applications,” says Claude Dinsmoor, Material Handling General Manager at FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan). “Software and controls generally have a baseline architecture but have a built-in unique architecture on top of that aimed at an application.”

As computing power increases and software becomes more sophisticated, robot design architectures evolve to keep pace while maintaining robotics’ inherent flexibility.

Read the full article at Robotics Online. Want to learn more about robot architecture? Sign up for RIA’s free webinar — “Robot Design, Integrated Controls & Software Architectures of Industrial Robots” on Feb. 28 at 12 noon EST. And don’t forget to leave your thoughts on our website at the end of the article!


Friday Fun Video: Automate at a Glance

January 25, 2013

The 2013 Automate Show closed yesterday, with preliminary reports of a 40% increase in attendance from the 2011 show and good feelings from exhibitors all around. The Automate Show also allowed the robotic and automation industries to voice their success stories to the press, who’ve recently been focused on a negative portrayal of robotics.

Here’s a glimpse of several live demos at the Automate Show from the New York Times.

And who’s faster? Man or machine? An Automate attendee has a little fun at the Adept Technology booth.

Thanks to the staff of A3, the exhibitors, and everyone who worked hard to make this year’s Automate Show a success. We’ll see you all again in 2015!


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!


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.


Robotic Material Handling

November 12, 2012

Material handling is an important aspect of robotics, but it’s a big category with a wide range of applications. From blood samples to food products to car parts, different materials demand a vastly different set of parameters. Robotics Online’s contributing editor Bennett Brumson takes a look at some of the trends and developments occurring in material handling.

Robotic Material Handling
by Bennett Brumson, Contributing Editor

James Kravec, Senior Sales Engineer with Girard Engineering Inc. (Strongsville, Ohio) speaks of the role of robotics in foundries. “Moving 2,300-degree Fahrenheit parts for eight hours a day is not an easy job. If the operator in the hot metals industry is not paying attention to their work, producing scrap parts is very easy. A robot can work a complete eight hour shift and their productivity is greater due to consistent cycle times. Operators are very inconsistent.”

Schwan cites glass-handling applications as an example of a large, heavy and potentially delicate object manipulated through robotics. “QComp does a lot of large glass handling. Some pieces are six foot by ten foot and weigh over 300 pounds. One of the challenges associated with the large piece of glass is creating a safe area around the work cell. If a large piece of glass were to become detached from the robot, guarding must be robust enough to protect people in the area or those passing by.”

Maneuvering glass panels around a work cell is challenging, Schwan says. “Large pieces of glass can interfere with the robot as it goes through its path of motion. Programing must limit certain joint movements to prevent the glass from hitting the robot arm. The tool needs to support the outer edges of the glass as well as its weight.”

While large capacity robots are often needed to lift and shift heavy parts, smaller, smarter robots can accomplish these tasks using less sophisticated and less expensive off-the-shelf lift assistants, says Rege. “If 10 operations must be performed in a work cell and nine operations need a low payload capacity robot, integrators often use an off-the-shelf lift assistant for the operation needing a higher payload capacity.”

The ability to interact with off-the-shelf lift assistant devices makes the use of a smaller robot possible. “Smaller robots reduce the footprint by doing all operations in one work cell.” Using a small and smart robot increases the efficiency of the work cell while simultaneously increasing floor space utilization, Rege concludes.

Read the full article with more insights at Robotics Online. Don’t forget to read “Material Handling Onstage” to get a sneak peek at what some of our exhibitors are bringing to the 2013 Automate Show.

What new material handling trends have you implemented in your company?


Packaging World Reports on Robot Trends

October 24, 2012

There have been a lot of new trends in the robotics industry in the past year, from additive manufacturing to Baxter. Industry magazine Packaging World recently reflected on four trends it’s seeing particularly in packaging and handling robotics.

Trends in robotics and best practices for buying and specifying
by Brian Kelly

1. Sanitary design. Certain robots have recently been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for handling meat and poultry products. As meat and poultry processing is a messy business, these robots are now being built with sophisticated coatings, seals, and parts to withstand all the substances involved. Many improvements were made to pass the strict hygiene requirements: from using food-grade grease, to manipulators engineered to be completely clean and smooth, hollow arms to keep all cabling and wiring protected, and joints constructed without crevices where mold or bacteria can build up.
2. Flexibility due to more powerful controls. Today’s robots use more powerful controllers that interface more easily to other equipment on your line. With this added power comes the ability to better respond to variations in packing and palletizing patterns demanded by different retailer customers.
Read the full article, along with some tips on buying robot equipment, here at Packaging World. What trends or tips would you add to the list?

Palletizing and De-Palletizing Applications

May 23, 2012

Palletizing and de-palletizing bags of dog food, courtesy FANUC Robotics America Corp. by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor
Robotic Industries Association

Robotics have been a staple of manufacturing for decades. Improvements to end-of-arm tooling, software, and vision systems have pushed flexible robotics downstream of manufacturing to perform palletizing and de-palletizing tasks. Subsequent to manufacturing, robots also apply packaging and ready these packaged goods for transport by stacking assemblies onto pallets for distribution.

“I see exciting developments in logistics and distribution applications. Recent enhancements of software and gripping technology help assemble unique, custom built-to-order pallet loads of different size items,” says Richard Motley, Senior Account Manager at FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan).

The proliferation of new packaging and the ergonomics of palletizing and de-palletizing jobs provides manufacturers and distributors increased incentives to deploy robotics. Palletizing and de-palletizing applications show promise for continued growth within the robotics industry.

From Hard to Flexible Automation
Conventional palletizing systems have dominated the market for decades but integrators see a trend moving towards robotics, says Terry Zarnowski, Schneider Packaging Equipment Co. Inc.‘s (Brewerton, New York) Sales and Marketing Director. “The biggest trend we see is a movement towards robotics from conventional palletizers. Robotic palletizers provide flexibility and the ability to palletize different stock-keeping units (SKU) with minimal or no change over. Existing conventional palletizers are aging and we have been getting more requests from our customers to replace conventional systems with robotics.” Conventional palletizers cannot handle multiple SKUs effectively.

Until relatively recently, Zarnowski says, a manufacturing line ran a dedicated product over the course of several years. “Now, we see much shorter runs of products that might be on the market for only a year or two. The manufacturer will change something about the product or it’s packaging to make that product more marketable to consumers.” Those changes require flexibility, a feature most old-style conventional palletizers lack, says Zarnowski. “Palletizing and de-palletizing applications have really taken off and is the largest growth sector of our business. We have shipped hundreds of robots for these applications in recent years.”

As conventional palletizers make way for robot-based palletizing and de-palletizing, the process is less centralized using smaller robots. “We see the decentralization of palletizing and much more end-of-line palletizing. We see the movement towards this configuration and a movement away from the traditional configuration that used bigger robots in large-scale palletizing work cells,” notes Rick Tallian, Consumer Industry Manager at ABB Inc. (Auburn Hills, Michigan). “This configuration allows end-users more versatility in system design and reduces material handling expenditures on equipment such as conveyors.”

New Packages for New Products
The inherent flexibility of robotics lends itself to the rapid growth in handling new packaging designs, says Earl Wohlrab, Palletizing and Robotics Systems Product Manager with Intelligrated Systems Inc. (St. Louis, Missouri). “Packaging types have changed quite a bit over the last several years. These new packages are increasingly difficult to handle. Packaging is moving away from rigid corrugate casing.”

Wohlrab says more environmentally friendly packaging with more desirable graphics for consumers continues to impact the palletizing and de-palletizing market. “Those changes lead people towards robotics.” The speed of robotics is always increasing and will soon rival conventional case palletizers when manipulating less rigid packaging, Wohlrab concludes.

Likewise, Thomas Herndon, General Manager at FIPA Inc. (Cary, North Carolina) speaks of future products wrapped in new packaging types that robots will be called on to handle. “New packing designs and new products have to be handled somehow. The people who design new packaging intended to catch a consumer’s eye are not the ones who design the machine that will pick it up. Packaging materials are changing, becoming more porous due to the use of recycled products. Consumers want green packaging.”

Herndon turns his attention to new pallet designs. “The pallets themselves have changed, with less wooden and more plastic pallets. New style pallets for frozen foods allow air circulation throughout to ensure the product on the pallet is frozen evenly.” Like new packaging designs, Herndon says developers of new pallets did not consider how plastic pallets will be handled. “Some plastic pallets are just a grate, which are difficult to grab by the edges if wedged next to each other.” These grate-like pallets cannot be grasped by vacuum grippers but require more complex expansion grippers for manipulation, Herndon says.

Traditional wood pallets can simply be lifted from the top by vacuum-actuated foam grippers, explained Herndon.

Similarly, Sridhar Karnam, Product Marketing Manager at Adept Technology Inc. (Pleasanton, California) talks about changing pallet configurations. “Pallets are getting smaller. Each production line is not only capable of processing parts but palletizing them for shipment. In the last few years, end-users have been asking for palletizing robotic systems for food packaging applications.”

Robotics and compliant end-of-arm tooling facilitate manipulating products not yet in production nor in the marketplace. “Robotics help in planning for the future for products not in the pipeline yet. We cannot imagine new products to be introduced in five years. Manufacturers need a tool able to handle those future products,” says Herndon.

Beverage case robotically palletized, courtesy Schmalz Inc.Flexible robotics require flexible, adaptable grippers, says William Symanski, an Applications Engineer with Schmalz Inc. (Raleigh, North Carolina). “Universal tools are designed to handle a wider range of products and have better palletizing software. Distribution centers require multiple ways of gripping up to 20,000 SKUs. One tool is able to handle an entire pallet layer of products.”

Grippers must not only deal with a high mix of products that might change frequently, but also extremely irregular shapes, says Lisa Maitre, Senior Project Engineer with Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc. (Wixom, Michigan). “Advancements in the of flexibility of robot tooling for palletizing has greatly benefited palletizing applications. New styles of vacuum tooling using foam pads instead of suction cups makes possible the use of the same tool for a broad range of products, including non-uniform products.”

Load, Unload
Increasingly powerful vision systems play an important role in palletizing and de-palletizing applications, especially the latter, says Motley. “Vision plays a big role in guiding the robot in de-palletizing applications. The robot can de-palletize by layer or pick items individually.” Motley says while vision is also used in palletizing work cells, vision is less important due to products having a more well-known location through the use of conveyors and bar codes.

Tom Sipple, Material Handling Product Marketing Manager at the Motoman Robotics Division of Yaskawa America, Inc. (Miamisburg, Ohio) has a similar take on the function of vision in de-palletizing work cells. “Vision does not play much of a part in palletizing but is a big part of de-palletizing. When bringing in layers of product into a de-palletizing work cell, the vision system takes an image to locate products and guides the robot into the ideal position for de-palletizing.” Vision is a powerful part of the solution in de-palletizing applications, concludes Sipple.

Products often shift location on a pallet during transportation, making robotic de-palletizing more challenging upon arrival, points out Robert Rochelle, Food and Packaging Industry Specialist at Stäubli Corp. (Duncan, South Carolina). “Vision is a necessity in de-palletizing operations as product shifts in transit. Vision can eliminate the need for conveyor crowders or to sort a variable product mix on an in-feed sorting device.”

When building a mixed pallet, the robot’s software algorithm should take into account unloading sequences, says Sipple. “Robotic technology can deliver mixed product pallets, although the throughput is not as high as conventional palletizing systems. When putting mixed products onto a pallet, the robot software must consider many factors, such as the ideal unloading sequence, products subject to crushing, stability and how irregularly shaped products can be stacked.” To illustrate his point, Sipple warns against placing canned goods atop of bread.

Skill-Building
Robot users and integrators have several opportunities to educate themselves on palletizing and de-palletizing applications. Adil Shafi, President of ADVENOVATION Inc. (Houghton, Michigan) will conduct a one-hour webinar, Palletizing/De-palletizing-Robot Basics, beginning at 12:00 PM EDT on Thursday, May 24.

“The webinar will cover flexible tooling, hard tooling, mechanical, vacuum, vision and traceability. The webinar will show several application videos of how these things work,” Shafi said in previewing the webinar. “I will present a background of the topic of palletizing and de-palletizing, through application videos, a brief power-point presentation, and a panel discussion.” Shafi will tailor the webinar for both palletizing and de-palletizing experts as well as novices alike. The webinar will look at single product and mixed-load palletizing, order flow and fulfillment, throughput, among other subjects.

Players in the robotics market have another opportunity to find the latest and greatest products in palletizing and de-palletizing applications at Automate 2013. Automate, the premier trade show and conference for all things robotic, is co-located with ProMat at Chicago’s McCormick Place, January 21-24, 2013. These shows promise to be a one-stop shopping venue for manufactures’ automation needs.

“Schneider will show our newer palletizing products, including a high-level robotic palletizer. This system takes up minimal floor space and palletizes at very high speeds,” says Zarnowski. “The work cell is a hybrid of the best attributes of a high-level conventional palletizer and the best attributes of a robotic palletizer: flexibility, speed, compactness, and ease of use that our customers want.”

Several participating companies will have a presence in both Automate and ProMat. “Schmalz will have booths at both Automate and ProMat. We will show universal tooling, systems with a wider work envelope, to handle a wider range of products,” foretells Volker Schmitz, President of Schmalz.

Building an Application
Ergonomic issues of workers lifting and reaching comprise incentives for manufacturers and distributors to consider investing in robotics for palletizing and de-palletizing applications. “Palletizing is a repetitive task, an ergonomic concern. Throughput with a robot is much higher than with a person using a lift assist,” says Maitre.

In a similar vein, Motoman’s Tom Sipple says, “Handling cases over a day means handling a lot of weight. Distributors have great difficulty to get and retain people to work in these conditions. Turnover rates are very high as are the costs of training and retraining workers. Just one back injury can cost as much as one robotic palletizing system.”

Palletizing and de-palletizing applications are a continuing bright spot for the robotics industry. “Palletizing and de-palletizing applications are definitely a growth area. In 2009, the whole robotics industry declined by 50 percent. Despite that decline, palletizing and de-palletizing applications grew by 3.5 percent,” recollects Adept’s Sridhar Karnam. “This application grows by as much as seven percent a year and we see five to seven percent growth in palletizing and de-palletizing applications in the next five years.”

Read the article at its original posting here.