What True Flexible Automation Looks Like

One of the biggest challenges for manufacturers and machine builders is finding solutions that can cover a wide array of applications. The cost of learning new technology, stocking a myriad of spares, and maintaining a trained staff can be daunting. We are seeing manufacturing demands change to accommodate high mix production runs with frequent changeovers.

Fixed automation solutions certainly still have their place, but demand for true Flexible Automation is on the rise.

If you are involved with manufacturing, chances are good you have been hearing about the “Rise of the Robots”. The truth is, this rise has been happening for quite some time and we are now starting to see significant shifts in how the technology can be applied. For instance, it is now possible to have a robot working next to - or even collaborating directly with - a human operator without a safety cage. These are called collaborative robots, or cobots.

A major player in this type of technology is Universal Robots, a Danish company that started selling their force limited collaborative robot solutions here in North America at the end of 2012. This past summer, they released their 3rd Generation of robots, which adds multiple significant features that allow more diverse applications.

Additional Safety Upgrades

These features add flexibility in how the robot can be incorporated into a solution allowing:

  • Simple scaling of the force the robot can exert.
  • Virtual planes to be programmed that can be used to:
    • Limit the range of the robot in a safety rated fashion.
    • Change the force, speed, or both force and speed of the robot when it passes through one of these planes.
  • Use of safety rated inputs to change the force, speed, or both force and speed of the robot when the input is activated by an external device.

More Diverse Applications

Using these additional features will allow for Flexible Automation Solutions to be used in situations where:

  • Previously, the force exerted by the robot was too high to pass a risk assessment for collaborative operation.
  • The placement of the robot was such that if its range of motion couldn’t be limited safely, a cage would have to be implemented.
  • In a particular zone of operation, the speed and/or force made it unsafe for an operator to collaborate with the robot.
  • Using external safety devices such as Area Laser Scanners allow for the robot’s speed and/or force to be altered based on operator intrusion into a monitored work area.

One of the rarely shared ‘secrets’ in the robot industry is that without the right End-of-Arm-Tooling solution, it doesn’t matter how good your robot is.

Adaptive Gripping

The flexibility of your End-of-Arm-Tooling can greatly affect your ROI. A technology that allows the same robot to be used for multiple applications without changing the End-of-Arm-Tool is something called “Adaptive Gripping”. This technology has been pioneered by Robotiq and one of their most popular grippers has just gotten an upgrade. Robotiq’s Model 85 Two Finger Gripper has definitely turned some heads in the past.

Robotiq 2-Finger Adaptive Robot Gripper - 85

Robotiq Model 85 Two Finger Gripper

  • Parallel grip from the outside or inside and the ability encapsulate a part without a tool change.
  • Change gripping force and speed on the fly.
  • Part detection without extra sensors.
  • Run without air (compressed air is getting more expensive and limits your mobility).
  • Grip stroke that would normally require a much larger pneumatic gripper.

For customers that have parts with varying geometries, or who move their collaborative robots from application to application, this set of features has allowed our users to experience true Flexible Automation.

Using this type of technology, you can eliminate the potential challenges associated with tool changers and multiple grippers, eliminate the cost of designing multiple finger designs, and handle delicate components. Now with the new generation Model 85 about to be released, users will find it even easier incorporate Flexible Automation into their solutions and have nearly twice the gripping force and speed.

Pairing these two technologies together now allows users to automate processes that never made financial sense before. But beyond the simple ROI calculations, we are starting to see flexible automation working its way onto the manufacturing floor that is allowing us to do more with less.

Universal Robots & Robotiq are valued supplier-partners with Cross Company's Automation Group

Contact Cross Company

CrossRobotics Business Manager with Cross Company Motion Solutions. Specialties include all things robotics, machine design, electro-mechanical systems, servos, automation, mechatronics & manufacturing. Follow Andy @AndyCrossCo.

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