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!


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.


New Robots Test the Robot Safety Standards

December 19, 2012

Industrial robots are a great tool for manufacturers, but it’s a tool that comes with strict safety guidelines. The robotics industry has spent a great deal of time and resources to create standards that will provide employees with a safe working environment.

Now, with robots designed specifically to work and interact with humans, a whole range of new opportunities for robot applications has appeared. Companies like Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots have designed their new robots with particular care concerning worker safety, but they are embarking on a new horizon. With the potential for direct human-robot interaction, how will we develop safety standards?

Setting the Safety Standard for Cage-Free Robots
by Travis Hessman

From their easy programming and expanded flexibility to their comparably low cost and decreased footprint, Mitch Rosenberg, vice president of Marketing and Product Management at Rethink Robotics — Baxter’s Boston-based manufacturer — has an endless list of features that have made these robots so notable in the industry of late.

But the key feature holding them all together and driving this emerging market, he said, is safety.

“We are seeing increased interest in robots that can work safely alongside humans without safety barriers,” Rosenberg explained. The appeal, of course, is that “robots working shoulder to shoulder with people don’t require manufacturers to completely rework their workspaces or manufacturing processes.”

Unlike traditional caged robots, he said, these robots can simply be added to the existing manufacturing line with very little process redesign. This increases the overall flexibility of the robot while reducing risks as compared to accommodating traditional robotic tools.

Add to that the low investment costs they carry and that “inherently safe” label Rosenberg uses to describe them and these new machines seem destined for a record fast market takeover.

However, very few companies — most notably Rethink Robots and Universal Robots — have yet ventured into this ripe field. The rest in the industry are all stymied by that same prickly issue that makes the technology so attractive for U.S. users. Safety.

Read the full article at IndustryWeek. What do you see as the challenges — and solutions — to the issues of safety with this new model of robotics?

You can see robots from Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots, as well as many other companies, at the 2013 Automate Show in Chicago, Jan. 21-24. Automate offers you live demonstrations of automation technologies and systems across a broad range of industry sectors and applications, as well as the knowledge to successfully apply them. Register for your free show pass at the Automate website.


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?


Robot Safety Trends in Automotive

September 12, 2012

by Jeff Fryman , Director, Standards Development
Robotic Industries Association
Posted 09/10/2012

Jeff Fryman, Director, Standards DevelopmentThere are vibrant new activities related to industrial safety in robot applications around the country today, and none more so than in the automotive industry.  Recovering from the last recession, our nation’s industries are stronger and more competitive than ever, and much of that competitiveness can be credited to new and innovative applications using industrial robots safely.  The auto industry has been a leader in applying robots to save time, improve processes and assure consistent quality of products; and continues to be a leader in assuring the safety of their workers.

A key word in manufacturing today is “lean”; a reduction of waste – wasted time, wasted energy, wasted effort and wasted cost.  Eliminating these wastes means thinking “out of the box”.  Elimination of fixturing (fixed stands and clamps) is probably the biggest trend toward lean manufacturing.  Taking time, effort, and cost out of manufacturing processes is the key to lean manufacturing and competitiveness.  We refer to robot applications as “flexible” automation, and that can mean flexibility in design, capabilities and not just motion.  Designing lean robot applications is important to achieving innovative solutions to ordinary manufacturing tasks, and with new robot features this can be done while also achieving enhanced worker safety.

Let’s look at an “old design” application; maybe a spot welding assembly process.  Each step in the flow has a fixture for each part; and if I want to run different parts, each has its own fixture.  After the initial parts are loaded to the fixture, a robot carrying a spot welding gun moves in and makes the welds.  To move to the next step in the process the part is unloaded from the fixture, placed on a conveyor and moved to the next position where it is again loaded to a fixture.  Maybe at this step a robot picks the part off the conveyor and loads it to the fixture.  Another robot picks up a part from another loading fixture and adds it to the assembly.  Then a robot carrying a spot welding gun moves in and makes more welds.  At this point the completed assembly is unloaded and racked.

Now let’s analyze this application from a “lean” perspective.  Where are there wastes in this example that can possibly be eliminated?  This design limited the process to the specific part being worked on, or a possible compromise of the fixturing to accommodate multiple parts.  Transferring parts entailed additional motions and a conveyor of some type.  Three fixtures and clamps to hold parts in place while the robot slung the heavy weld gun and positioned for each weld.  This also requires a large capacity robot to handle the weight and bulk of the weld gun.

So what would a new “lean” method look like?  A robot with light weight end-effector designed to accommodate variations in parts is loaded and moves into position at a fixed weld stand, moving and properly positioning the part for each programmed weld.  It then presents the part to another robot that has already picked up an additional part to be added to the assembly from a bin using machine vision guidance.  This robot than takes the assembly and presents it to a robot with a servo-controlled spot welding gun, and then both robots move in coordinated motion to position the part for each of multiple complex welds.  The part is then placed in a rack by the robot.

Where are the savings?  Direct transfer of the part between robots has eliminated the conveyor and one fixture completely.  The vision guided bin-picking application has totally eliminated another fixture, and the end-of-arm tooling is lighter weight and floor space can be saved without fixed location fixtures.  The stationary stand and use of servo-controlled spot welding guns allows for lighter capacity robots to be used in the application, hopefully saving costs as well.

This application can be done today, within the guidelines of the current robot safety standard.  The soon to be released new robot safety standard takes this ability to innovate even further!

New safety features available with new robots (not existing ones) will allow for the reduction of robot application footprints on the order of 30%.  How would you like to have 30% more floor space in your existing facility?  And there is more – the re-introduction of man-in-the-loop production techniques; where in the example above the operator directly loads the end-effector during the robot operation.

To learn more about these exciting developments, join us for the National Robot Safety Conference XXIV, September 24 – 26 in Indianapolis, Indiana. We will delve into these and many other robot and machine safety topics during 3 days of outstanding workshops, conference sessions, tabletop exhibits and more.  Complete information on the conference can be found at http://www.robotics.org/safety12 or call RIA at 734/994-6088.

NRSC 12 - Register Now

Be safe, and I hope to see you at this year’s robot safety conference in Indy later this month!


New 2012 Edition of ANSI/RIA R15.06 About to be Approved

August 13, 2012

Jeff Fryman, Director, Standards Developmentby Jeff Fryman , Director, Standards Development
Robotic Industries Association

The big international news getting all the buzz this month is obviously the London Olympics.  The big national robot news is that the 2012 edition of R15.06 is in the final stage for ANSI approval.  For those of us working on the revision process for over ten years, it almost feels like the last leg of a marathon race.  The finish line is in sight, and if you join us for the September National Robot Safety Conference you might actually be there when we cross it.

Shortly after the ANSI/RIA R15.06-1999 was approved, we shifted our standards development efforts to updating the international standard, which was then ISO 10218:1992.  It had a similar topic – robot safety – but hardly a similar set of requirements.  The “seed” document we used for the international revision was actually the 1999 edition of R15.06, but divided it into two parts, one for the robot manufacturer, and one for the integration, installation and use.  These two parts have become ISO 10218-1:2011 and ISO 10218-2:2011, and have been adopted as harmonized standards in Europe.

With the success of “globalizing” the safety requirements from R15.06, the challenge became adopting an international standard to be our national standard and thus “close the loop” on having globally accepted safety requirements worldwide.  Our Canadian colleagues are also on board with this effort and we expect to see the Z434 revised to adopt the ISO requirements as well.  That will mean that systems designed and built in one country can be freely moved to other countries and be compliant.  Adopting the international standard means almost no changes to our ongoing expectations for robot safety, but does introduce some new capabilities as a result of the ever changing technical improvements.

Every robot system is different and has its own unique requirements for safeguarding personnel working with the system.  In recognition of that, the integrator in now responsible to conduct a risk assessment of each system to determine the hazard associated with tasks and mitigate against them.  Dozens of risk assessment methodologies are available, including the methodology found in the 1999 standard.  We anticipate providing an updated version of this methodology during the transition period from the 1999 edition to the 2012 edition.

A new technology being introduced is “safety-rated soft axis and space limiting”.  This feature, available only on new robots, has different names from each of the manufacturers.  But the functionality is the same. Safety-rated software is used to control the robot motion so the restricted space can be more flexibly designed.  Case studies presented at the National Robot Safety Conference have suggested savings in factory floor space on the order of 30 to 40 percent; and cost savings in system designs in excess of $100,000.00.

Another new feature, also available only with new robots and purposely built new robot systems is the introduction of man reintroduced to the loop of active interaction during automatic robot operation.  Called “collaborative operation” systems can be designed for the operator to directly load/unload the robot; or manually drive the robot to a selected location eliminating costly fixtures.

Standards developing efforts will now shift to providing new documents providing guidance on using the new R15.06 such as unique requirements for compliance with our national occupational safety requirements; aids to risk assessment; and aids to properly position and implement safeguarding robot systems.  Most of these documents will be directed to the “user”.

National Robot Safety Conference XXIVI invite you to learn more about industrial robot safety and the new 2012 R15.06 document by attending RIA’s 24th annual National Robot Safety Conference, September 24th to 26th in Indianapolis, Indiana.  We have a complete program that highlights important features and requirements in the new standard presented by some of the key persons responsible for it.

Details on the conference, including sessions, tabletop trade fair, registration, hotel information and more, can be found at http://www.robotics.org/safety12 or call RIA at 734/994-6088.  You will meet some of the marathon runners involved in this effort to provide the latest in global industrial robot safety.  Be sure to register and join us!

Read the article at Robotics Online.


Sensor Screen Offers Flexibility for Robot Safety

April 12, 2012

When working in an environment with heavy, complicated machinery, workers must take great care not to stumble into any hazardous situations. There are many different ways to make sure that your factory floor is safe for robots and people, and there are many different technologies out there that can help ensure the well-being of your employees. Here’s just one example of safety technology from RIA member Banner Engineering:

Flexible Safety Solution
By Mike Carlson

Due to the wide range of hazards present in any industrial plant, facility managers need safety solutions that are cost-effective and flexible. Safety light screens provide a flexible safeguarding solution with versatile mounting options, numerous cascading capabilities, and broad applications suitability.

Safety light screens (or curtains) are optoelectronic devices that can detect the presence of opaque objects, such as a hand, arm, or foot, upon entering the sensing field. The emitter/receiver pair is comprised of two basic components, an LED array, which emits infrared light beams, and a phototransistor array that detects the corresponding beams. The emitter modulates the light at a specified frequency and “code” that the phototransistors detect, allowing the internal logic to accept only that particular pulse of light and to ignore signals from external light sources. This precludes factory floor ambient light from affecting the performance of the safety light screen.

Read the rest of the article at InTech here. What are some of the procedures you use to keep safety a priority at your company?

The RIA offers several resources for maintaining safety in your work environment. Check out some of our classes and conferences based off the ANSI/RIA R15.06-1999 Robot Safety Standard or look into organizing in-house training at your own facility on the R15.06 Standard or on risk assessment.