Universal Robots has declared January to be “National Cobot Awareness Month”, prompting manufacturers to discover cobots as the solution to hiring woes and productivity goals—all with a jump-start on return of investment before year-end.
Collaborative robots are now the fastest-growing segment of industrial automation, with the yearly revenue for cobot arms expected to reach $11.8 billion by 2030, up from $1.9 billion in 2018 according to newly released analysis from ABI Research.
January is traditionally a month for new hope and new energy to meet life and business goals. But for manufacturers facing a new year with the lowest unemployment rate in more than five decades, it can be a tough time to expect workers to come back with enthusiasm from holiday celebrations to dull and menial tasks. That makes January an ideal time for National Cobot Awareness Month, says Stu Shepherd, regional sales director of Universal Robots (UR) Americas division.
“It’s been more than 10 years since Universal Robots sold the world’s first commercially viable collaborative robot, but the cobot market is still largely untapped. By making January National Cobot Awareness Month, we want to send a signal to manufacturers that cobots are here to solve the monotonous tasks they simply can’t staff. With an average payback period of only six to eight months due to increased productivity, quality, and consistency, they can make their investment back and then some before year end if they start now,” said Shepherd.
While cobots’ built-in safety systems that allow them to work side-by-side with employees was the defining feature of collaborative robots, UR has expanded that definition to include user-friendliness, simple set-up, flexibility for easy re-deployment, and affordability. Today, UR cobots allow employees to move from repetitive, low-value tasks to higher-value activities that increase productivity and quality as well as work conditions.
Collaborative scenarios for the production of tomorrow will be commonplace, just like PCs are in the workplace today. In this interview, Markus Glück of SCHUNK GmbH & Co. KG, explains where the current challenges and opportunities lie in this collaborative environment.
Prof. Dr. -Ing Markus Glück
According to automation experts, collaborative scenarios for the production of tomorrow will be given, just like PCs are in the workplace today. Besides collaborative robots (or so-called cobots), gripping tools also play a central role in collaborative applications. In an interview, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Markus Glück, Managing Director for Research and Development, and Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) of SCHUNK GmbH & Co. KG, explains where the current challenges and opportunities lie.
Schunk’s Svh and Co-act Egp-C are now certified for human-robot collaboration (HRC) operations. why is certifying individual components so important, when it is actually the entire automated system as a whole that has to be certified for collaborative operations?
Markus Glück (MG): At our current stage, a large number of users are looking into HRC although only a few applications have been implemented into operational environments thus far. The topic is relatively new for all the parties involved, which includes manufacturers of robots or end-of-arm tools and sensors, users, as well as the DGUV. Our experience shows that the path to certification can sometimes be challenging, especially for the first applications that do not have the benefit of experience. This is exactly what we are dealing with: we are supporting users with the interdisciplinary expertise of our SCHUNK Co-act team as well as minimizing the efforts involved in certifying entire systems with the help of our certified components.
Why is the certification process so complicated?
MG: In order for the DGUV to certify an entire automated system for HRC operations, it is first necessary to ensure that operators cannot be injured if contact is made. This is where the protection principles of DIN EN ISO 10218-1/-2 and DIN EN ISO/TS 15066 and the Machine Directive come into play, which stipulate that any hazards posed to humans and any associated risks must always be considered and assessed. That means it is important to make a very precise assessment of factors such as: what work spaces are present; what risks are involved; and where work spaces have to be restricted in order to prevent injuries. This is only possible when each application is considered on an individual level: each component, task, workpiece and security system. That simply takes time and careful attention.
Are there any safety concerns or fears with regard to grippers used in HRC applications?
MG: So far, we have not come across any great fears among users concerning grippers used in collaborative applications. On the contrary, there is actually a much greater sense of curiosity and enthusiasm—especially when it comes to intelligent systems such as the SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper. People see their encounter with the system as playful: they intuitively test out what triggers the safety technologies and how the system behaves. They start to gain confidence, which quickly dispels any fear associated with contact.
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MG: Many aspects of human-robot collaboration are just as complex as humans themselves. Unlike conventional systems, simply meeting the standards is not enough. Firstly, standards only require that no serious injury or damage can be caused to the machine or the operator. However, that is not enough when it comes to daily use. Imagine if an HRC system were to bump into an operator 100 times a day. Even if this did not violate any standards, the system would have no chance of being accepted. It is much more important to make people, rather than the technical system, the main focus of all the considerations. The worker has to trust the robot. The gripper has to adapt to the human—not the other way around.
Isn’t a gripper like that pushing the limits of complexity?
MG: Complex systems do not have to seem complicated nowadays. Take the smartphone: starting around secondary school at the latest, interacting with embedded technologies comes completely naturally to children: they write messages, surf the internet, watch films, photograph notes on the blackboard, make videos of experiments, make payments, or use their phone as a calculator, timetable or school agenda. They do all of this without thinking about how the device works. They just try out new apps intuitively, especially if their classmates show them first, and then they are practically already part of their standard app collection. This is exactly the scenario that we are pursuing with the SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper technology study: despite, or better yet, because of its complexity both inside and out, its use should be as intuitive as possible.
With the help of capacitive sensors, the SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper continuously monitors its surroundings. If a human hand approaches, it automatically switches into safe operating mode.
Can you describe the schunk co-act jl1 gripper’s safety aura in a more detailed way?
MG: The sensor technology installed in the SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper detects when humans are approaching and facilitates a reaction independent from the situation, without humans and robots coming into contact. It is divided up into three zones: each finger and the housing make up one zone each and can detect when a human is approaching independently of one another. This makes it possible for instance by successively triggering the sensor system in both fingers to determine the direction the human is approaching from and use this information to determine an evasive movement of the robot immediately. Using the freely programmable controls integrated into the gripper, the corresponding reactions can be pre-processed and sent as a signal to the PLC. For example, it receives the command to reduce the speed by 25, 50 or 75 percent, or to stop. A pre-defined evasion strategy is even possible, as long as the direction of approach is clear. Each reaction mechanism can be defined individually and adapted to the corresponding application.
What type of technology is behind all of this?
MG: Technically speaking, we use several systems in parallel: First, there is a capacitive sensor, that is, an electric field built around the gripper. As soon as something containing a lot of water enters this field, it is detected, for example a human hand. This makes it possible to distinguish between the approach of a component or another gripper and the approach of fingers, hands or arms. In contrast to the established options on the market for work space monitoring, which generally cover a wider area, the capacitive sensor system makes it possible to immediately detect objects within a narrow radius of 20 cm, truly getting closest to the human before ever coming into contact. The second level is the force-moment sensor, which is installed in the flange. This registers the emergence of unexpected force effects. It detects an effective collision and stops the robot. In addition, it allows for additional functions to be realized, for example, we can determine whether a glass is full or empty. If and how workpieces are gripped. Finally, the third level is formed by tactile sensors. Comparable with the human sense of touch, these sense individual contact incidences as well as pressure distributed across a large area in a spatially resolved manner. Using intelligent algorithms for pattern recognition, objects can be identified during gripping and the grip can be adjusted reactively. It is also possible to know if the object is being optimally gripped or if it needs to be corrected because, for example, instead of an object, it is gripping a human hand.
Where are we heading? what will grippers be able to do tomorrow?
MG: Specifically, there are two main aspects: assisting humans and alternating their handling of different kinds of components. With the help of specially developed gripping strategies, the delicate SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper adjusts its behavior in real time depending on whether it is gripping a workpiece or a human hand. For this, the gripper uses a decentralized control architecture with diagnosis and safety functions carried out in parallel.
In the long run, we believe that grippers, like human hands, will be able to independently manipulate the position and orientation of the gripped components in six degrees of freedom. This can be referred to as in-hand calibration technology. It will enable the realization of extremely flexible, autonomous gripping scenarios.
Tractica forecasts that the global collaborative robotics market will continue to grow rapidly over the next few years while providing opportunities to various industry participants, reaching revenue of $9.7 billion by the end of 2025.
As the implementation of smart factories surges forward, more companies are becoming aware of the growing importance of and uses for collaborative robots (known as cobots), according to a new report from Tractica. Still, a gap exists in understanding what these robots are as well as the implications for businesses.
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Large company adoption of cobots is already occurring and benefits such as lower costs, increased safety, flexibility, and personnel efficiencies are the key driving factors for cobot demand in small and medium enterprises as well. More startups are entering the industry with new user-friendly cobot offerings, making the market increasingly competitive and diverse. Even with potential barriers such as high potential costs and significant planning, deployment, and training time, Tractica the global cobot market will continue to flourish.
“New opportunities are opening in the market as makers develop cobots with higher payload capacities and speed. The integration of cobots with the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) opens new possibilities for the coordination of cobots doing smart manufacturing with the rest of the automation processes,” says senior analyst Glenn Sanders.
“Humanlike abilities of perception, object recognition, gripping and manipulating objects, and dual grippers present the potential to drive greater demand in the coming years.”
Universal Robots (UR) has helped Vietnam-based Vinacomin Motor Industry Joint Stock Company (VMIC) – a subsidiary of the Vinacomin Group, future-proof its production processes with cobots. VMIC, one of the first state-owned manufacturers to deploy cobots, has seen productivity increase two to three times, with improved product quality, leading to a 50 to 60 percent rise in orders.
VMIC deployed two UR10 cobots to undertake two tasks; pick and place and machine tending
Mr Darrell Adams, Head of Southeast Asia & Oceania, Universal Robots said, “Cobots continue to offer businesses in Southeast Asia vast benefits to transform their manufacturing processes and remain competitive. VMIC is exemplary of this, automating its once heavily-reliant manual processes and now boasting high productivity and better output quality.
“UR is at the forefront of cobot technology, helping businesses like VMIC accelerate the transition to smarter production and sustainable growth. We are seeing greater cobot technology adoption in the region as companies realise the immense potential of automation. Beyond the mining industry, cobots are deployed in sectors such as automotive, electronics, textile, pharmaceuticals, footwear and food processing industries,” he added.
Growing Adoption Of Robotics In Southeast Asia
Robot adoption is increasing in the region. According to the International Federation of Robotics, Asia is the largest industrial robot market, with over 280,000 units installed last year. While Southeast Asia makes up a small share of that total, the region has steadily seen an increase in installed robots annually. Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia are ranked among the 30 largest markets in 2018 with a total of 87,100 operational robots. The electronics and automotive industries remain the largest robot users in the region.
Singapore claimed the highest robot density globally in 2018 with 831 robots per 10,000 workers, followed by Malaysia and Thailand with 52 and 51 units each. Digitalisation and greater automation in industrial production is expected to drive robot installations. Countries such as Malaysia and Thailand are expected to see an average annual growth rate of five to 15 percent from 2020 to 2022. The automation and control market in Vietnam is estimated to be worth US$184.5million by 2021 according to Frost and Sullivan.
UR10 Cobots Implemented At VMIC
Manual processes dominated work at VMIC, which manufactures parts for mining vehicles. This reliance on physical labour resulted in low productivity and inconsistent quality. Customer numbers and orders were low, affecting workers’ income. Realising that it was imperative to embrace automation, the company deployed two UR10 cobots to undertake two tasks; pick and place and machine tending.
VMIC reached out to local automation systems integrator Vnstar Automation JSC (Vnstar) – a partner of Servo Dynamics Engineering (Servo), a UR distributor in Vietnam – to automate its processes.
The World Robotics report shows an annual global sales of robots value of 16.5 billion USD in 2018 – a new record. 422,000 units were shipped globally in 2018 – an increase of six percent compared to the previous year. IFR forecasts shipments in 2019 will recede from the record level in 2018, but expects an average growth of 12 percent per year from 2020 to 2022.
“We saw a dynamic performance in 2018 with a new sales record, even as the main customers for robots – the automotive and electrical-electronics industry – had a difficult year,” says Junji Tsuda, President of the International Federation of Robotics.
“The US-China trade conflict imposes uncertainty to the global economy – customers tend to postpone investments. But it is exciting, that the mark of 400,000 robot installations per year has been passed for the first time. The IFR´s longer term outlook shows that the ongoing automation trend and continued technical improvements will result in double digit growth – with an estimate of about 584,000 units in 2022.”
Asia is the world’s largest industrial robot market. In 2018, there was a mixed picture for the three largest Asian markets: Installations in China and the Republic of Korea declined, while Japan increased considerably. In total, Asia grew by one percent. Robot installations in the second largest market, Europe, increased by 14 percent and reached a new peak for the sixth year in a row. In the Americas, the growth rate reached 20 percent more than the year before which also marks a new record level for the sixth year in a row.
The automotive industry remains the largest adopter of robots globally with a share of almost 30 percent of the total supply (2018). Investments in new car production capacities and in modernization have driven the demand for robots. On the other hand, robot installations in the electrical/electronics industry declined by 14 percent from their peak level of about 122,000 units in 2017 to 105,000 units in 2018. The global demand for electronic devices and components substantially decreased in 2018.
Furthermore, the metal and machinery industry established itself as the third largest customer industry. Installations accounted for 10 percent of total demand in 2018. Both producers of metal products (without automotive parts) and producers of industrial machinery, have bought substantial amounts of robots in recent years.
Universal Robots (UR) has announced the immediate availability of the UR16e which boasts an impressive 16 kg payload capability.
UR16e combines the high payload with an arm reach of 900 mm and has a pose repeatability, the ability to precisely reproduce the same desired poses or positions, on repeat, of +/- 0.05 mm. This makes it ideal for automating tasks such as heavy-duty material handling, heavy-part handling, and machine tending.
“In today’s uncertain economic climate manufacturers need to look at flexible solutions to stay competitive,” said Jürgen von Hollen, President of Universal Robots. “With UR16e, we meet the need for a collaborative robot that can tackle heavy-duty tasks reliably and efficiently. This launch significantly expands the versatility of our product portfolio and gives manufacturers even more ways to improve performance, overcome labor challenges, and grow their business.”
Developed on UR’s innovative e-Series platform, the UR16e offers immense benefits, capabilities and value for manufacturers, including:
Fast and frictionless deployment with easy programming and a small footprint
UR16e makes accelerating automation easy and fast. Programming and integration is simple – regardless of the user’s experience or knowledge base. Like all UR’s cobots, UR16e can be unpacked, mounted and programmed to perform a task within less then an hour. With a small footprint and 900 mm reach, UR16e easily integrates into any production environment without disruption.
Addresses ergonomic challenges while lowering cost
With 16 kg payload, UR16e eliminates the ergonomic and productivity challenges associated with lifting and moving heavy parts and products, lowering costs, and reducing downtime.
Ideal for heavy-duty material handling and machine tending
Rugged and reliable, UR16e is ideal for automating high-payload and CNC machine tending applications, including multi-part handling, without compromising on precision.
“At Universal Robots we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with collaborative automation,” continued von Hollen. “Today, we’re making it easier than ever for every manufacturer to capitalise on the power of automation by bringing a cobot to market that is built to do more as it delivers more payload than our other cobots.”
Like with UR’s other e-Series cobots; UR3e, UR5e and UR10e, the UR16e includes built-in force sensing, 17 configurable safety functions, including customisable stopping time and stopping distance, and an intuitive programming flow. UR16e meets the most demanding compliance regulations and safety standards for unobstructed human-robot collaboration, including EN ISO 13849-1, PLd, Category 3, and full EN ISO 10218-1.
Southeast Asia is Embracing Robot Adoption
Southeast Asian countries significantly outperform the rest of the world in robot adoption while Europe and the United States (US) lag behind according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. Singapore is the region’s frontrunner and has the second highest robot density globally with 658 robots per 10,000 workers, followed by Thailand and Malaysia with 48 and 45 units each.
Cobots, the fastest growing industrial automation segment, are deployed in the electronics, semiconductor, metal and machining, food and beverage and pharma industries in the region.
They are also increasingly deployed in non-traditional industries such as hospitality and medical. In Singapore, UR cobots are programmed for all kinds of tasks, from manufacturing, to preparing bowls of laksa curry noodles, to assisting in massages. In Vietnam and Thailand, robots are also used in hospitals to assist in surgeries.
James McKew, Regional Director of APAC at Universal Robots, said: “We see greater awareness of robotic solutions and cobots in particular in Southeast Asia. The region is very attractive to companies – domestic or international – looking to increase their competitive edge, and whether setting up new facilities, or relocating from other countries. The new UR16e expands the capabilities of our e-Series range, catering to a wider range of business needs.”
UR16e’s strength and advanced features will be showcased live for the first time at the China International Industy Fair which takes place in Shanghai (17-21 September 2019) followed by Pack Expo in Las Vegas next week (23-25 September 2019).
Whether it is to help humans build automobiles on a production line or assemble intricate parts at a family-run business, collaborative robots represent a paradigm shift not only in automation but also in work dynamics. Article by Andie Zhang, ABB.
Collaborative robots (cobots) have been changing the rules of the industrial world over the past decade. With sensors and built-in safety functions, these dexterous industrial robots can work safely alongside humans, enabling greater flexibility in a wide range of industries around the world.
Technologies such as ABB’s SafeMove2 can make any connected industrial robot a collaborative one, which allow the cobots to be installed without the need for physical barriers such as fences and cages that have traditionally been a requirement for generations of industrial robots. Working with collaborative robots is more than just the robot themselves. It is about the application which can take place at many levels, with incremental benefits at each.
One such way is the ability for cobot to co-exist safely with humans on the same fenceless factory floor, which significantly reduces the space taken up by the robot. The feature is ideal for applications like palletising where the robot can maximise productivity without compromising on safety.
Another way cobots can maximise flexibility and efficiency is by synchronised collaboration where the human and the robot work together in a planned but more intermittent manner, for tasks such as machine tending that require some amount of human interaction along with the robot’s speed and precision. Finally, the highest level of collaboration is for the robot and human to co-operate with each other to share workspaces and tasks continuously. This is especially useful for small parts assembly lines.
Collaborative robots also provide manufacturers with the flexibility to manage the shift to low-volume/high-mix production. Collaborative robots add agility to change between products and introduce new products faster. The people on the production line contribute their unique problem-solving capabilities, insights and adaptability to change, while robots bring tireless precision and endurance for repetitive tasks.
Going large by going small
The global market for collaborative robots is estimated to be valued at $12.3 billion by 2025, with a compound annual growth rate of more than 50 percent, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets.
But where is that potential stemming from? One key driver for growth is the development of collaborative robots for workplaces outside large manufacturing environments. While robotic automation technology has evolved significantly over the years to meet the growing demands for high volume industrial production, it has also evolved to create smaller collaborative robots such as YuMi, which is designed to fit easily into existing production lines to increase productivity while working safely alongside people.
The inherent qualities of collaborative robots make them ideal automation solutions that can be game changers for smaller manufacturers by helping them boost productivity, reduce operating costs and even improve the safety and retention rate of employees. At the outset, collaborative robot installation is far cheaper than large industrial ones because of their smaller size and fewer peripheral equipment. This means that the investment needed for a robotic work cell can go down from over $200,000 to under $50,000.
Robots that create better work environment
Another attractive proposition to make the case for cobots is the lack of labour that is prevalent in most markets. The current generation of working people who have grown up in the digital world, are more qualified than their predecessors and do not want to spend hours performing dirty, dull, dangerous and repetitive tasks such as picking and placing products from bins, tending to machines or packaging finished goods. Also, with shorter product lifecycles, small manufacturers who operate in high labour cost countries and are closer to their end customers cannot simply outsource labour to low-cost countries like large corporations do. In these conditions, collaborative robots are ideal as they not only reduce the need for manual labour, but can work tirelessly and with higher quality, allowing their human co-workers to perform more stimulating work that can lead to higher job satisfaction.
By automating monotonous and often more tasking jobs, manufacturers can also improve the safety of their employees. For instance, Anodica, an Italian family-run business that makes high-end metal handles, knobs and trimmings for appliance and automotive industries use YuMi, a dual-armed collaborative robot from ABB, to assemble their products together with an operator. The robot cell was designed anthropometrically around the operator so that all activities are ergonomically managed. By doing this, the company helps employees avoid short- and long-term injuries related to working in a factory.
Hit the ground running
In the past, setting up an industrial robot could take days if not weeks, disrupting ongoing work that can lead to bottlenecks in production. On the contrary, the plug-and-play qualities of modern cobots such as the YuMi means that they can be installed much more quickly, leading to minimal interference with production processes. Also, their small footprint and features that make them easily movable make cobots suitable for automating existing production lines.
Technological advancements have made collaborative robots far more intuitive than their conventional counterparts. Features such as lead-through programming and user-friendly touch screen interface allow operators with no programming experience to quickly program the robot. Software simulation tools such as RobotStudio offered by ABB allows operators to program the robot and simulate the application on a computer without shutting down production. This helps speed up the time taken to get the robot running, which is especially useful for organisations that have short product cycles. Moreover, digital twin technology can be used to develop a complete and operational virtual representation of a robot on which diagnostics, prediction and simulation can be run to optimise the machine even before it is set up.
Full flexibility for all
Robotic automation in the traditional sense can be challenging for small manufacturers who make high-mix, low-volume products. Collaborative robots, which are more dexterous than fixed automation, offer much-needed flexibility to production. Their lightweight and easy-to-use features means cobots can be moved around a factory floor to perform different tasks.
Today, large corporations are also enjoying the benefits of cobots being able to work in close proximity with humans. For example, the automotive industry, which has a high degree of automation in areas like the body shop and paint shop, can use cobots to automate the final trim and assembly of vehicles. Here, the robots work closely with humans who add finishing touches to the vehicle while robots perform more repetitive tasks.
Suppliers to the automotive industry, like France-based Faurecia Group, which makes interior components, are also using collaborative robots like ABB’s YuMi to maintain flexibility and increase productivity at their plant in Caligny.
Where from here?
The future of collaborative robotics lies in developing enhanced software features such as cloud connectivity and machine learning that increase their functionalities and make them even safer and easier to use. Software features like ABB’s SafeMove2 ensure that industrial robots are also able to work collaboratively and safety with humans, while QuickMove and TrueMove guarantee superior motion control. Adding more intelligence to robots through artificial intelligence will take the advantages of collaborative robotic automation to the next level.
Whether it is to help humans build automobiles on a production line or assemble intricate parts at a family-run business, collaborative robots represent a paradigm shift not only in automation but also in work dynamics.
There are various operational characteristics that must be considered before an educated—and successful—gripper choice can be made. Article by Gary Labadie, Destaco.
In the world of manufacturing, the ability to consistently get—and maintain—a good, reliable grip can be the difference between operational success and failure. However, the engineers who design pick-and-place automation systems used in such diverse industries as automotive, electronics and consumer goods, often give inadequate attention to the most suitable type of gripper to use with their system. There’s a vast array of gripper styles available, and engineers are designing systems that can have thousands of parts. Often, convenience, familiarity or a generalised end-user specification contribute to a less-than-optimal decision.
There are many considerations that should be addressed when choosing a gripper. Among these are the effects that dirt, grit, oil, grease, cutting fluid, temperature variation, cleanliness and the level of human interaction can have on the operation of an automation system. It is not enough to arbitrarily choose a gripper from off the shelf or from the pages of a catalogue.
Know Your Operating Environment
Although there have been some advances made in the design and operation of electric grippers, pneumatic grippers have been the standard for many years and will continue to be the majority for the foreseeable future. In fact, more than 95 percent of the grippers in use in today’s automated manufacturing environment are pneumatically powered.
Pneumatically controlled grippers are generally used for three basic tasks: for gripping and holding a product or component while it is being transferred, for example, from or to a conveyor, workstation, machine; for part orientation, or putting the part or product in the correct position in preparation for the next process; and for gripping a part while work is actually being done. While these tasks would appear to be straightforward, their effective operation is only assured if the correct type of gripper is chosen for the operating conditions.
There are two common classes of operating environments that may require special attention:
Contaminated: Characterised by an environment with high levels of dirt, debris, oil, grease, or higher temperature variations. These environments are common in automotive, foundry, machining and general industrial applications.
Clean: In this type of environment, the focus is on keeping anything on or in the gripper from being released into the work environment and contaminating the part or process. This is common in the medical, pharmaceutical, electronics and food-production industries.
Whether operating in a clean or dirty arena, shielding can be an effective means of increasing reliability. Standard or custom-designed shields can deflect debris away from the internal workings in a dirty environment, or help to keep grease and internal containments contained in a clean one. Gripper materials and coatings such as stainless steel, nickel-plating and hard-coat anodizing can also keep surfaces from corroding or debris from sticking, which can eventually cause binding.
Gripper Design and Environmental Suitability
Basic gripper design and construction can also have an effect on the performance in any given operating environment. A gripper consists of three basic parts: body, jaws and fingers. Generally, the gripper manufacturer only designs and builds the gripper’s body and jaws, with the machine builder or end user supplying the custom fingers to grip or encapsulate the given part. When selecting a gripper, considerations for any application should include appropriate finger length, grip force, stroke, actuation time, and accuracy. The manufacturer normally publishes these specifications for any given gripper model and need to be followed.
Again, specific operating environments will play a significant role in determining which type of gripper design should be considered. The jaw-support mechanism (bearing type) can have an impact on function. The internal design (means of power transmission from piston to jaw) can have an impact, as well. Simply put, various grippers may be the same size and perform the same function, but can have completely different designs, with some being better than others for differing operating environments.
The mode of power transmission, or general design of the gripper mechanism, should also be contemplated. Some examples are double-sided wedge, direct drive, cam driven, and rack-and-pinion drive. There are also numerous finger designs and gripping methods to consider: friction, cradled, and encapsulated.
When considering finger design, safety should always be paramount. In the event of power failure (loss of air pressure), there are other means of preventing a part from accidentally being released from the gripper and potentially causing bodily injury or damage to part or machine. An internal spring may be an option to bias the piston and maintain finger/jaw position on or around the part, but care must be taken to ensure the spring force is adequate. External fail-safe valves can be added to the ports to check air to the gripper in the open or closed position. Some gripper styles allow for rod locks that automatically clamp on the guide rods of the jaws when air pressure is lost.
Designers and engineers who don’t give proper attention to gripper selection may eventually need to be told to ‘get a grip’ when considering their choices. This demand can rise when the performance of an automation system is compromised because the proper grippers were not chosen and unsatisfactory operation ensues.
The performance of any automated manufacturing system is only as strong and reliable as the performance of its weakest link. To ensure that the weak link is not the gripper, strict attention must be paid to the operating environment and a suitable gripper specified based on gripper design and the array of options available, including possible custom solutions the manufacturer may be willing to offer. Only when these areas are optimized will the operator truly know that the best gripper for the application has been selected.
In this interview with Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News (APMEN), Vincent Teo, general manager of Schunk, talks about the gripping and clamping challenges that their customers are facing, and how they are helping them address these issues. Article by Stephen Las Marias.
Schunk is one of the leading providers of clamping technology and gripping systems worldwide. Founded in 1945 by Friedrich Schunk as a mechanical workshop, the company has grown to become what it is today under the leadership of his son, Heinz-Dieter Schunk. The company is now under the leadership of siblings Henrik A. Schunk and Kristina I. Schunk, the company founder’s grandchildren.
Schunk has more than 3,500 employees in nine production facilities and 34 subsidiaries as well as distribution partners in more than 50 countries. With more than 11,000 standard components, the company offers the world’s largest range of clamping technology and gripping systems from a single source. In particular, Schunk has 2,550 grippers—the broadest range of standard gripper components on the market—and its portfolio comprises more than 4,000 components.
Based in Singapore, Vincent Teo is the general manager of Schunk, where he is responsible for the Southeast Asia market, including Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam. In an interview with Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News (APMEN), Teo talks about the challenges that their customers are facing, and how they are helping them address these issues. He also talks about the trends shaping the clamping and gripping market, and his outlook for the industry.
APMEN: What is your company’s ‘sweet spot’?
Vincent Teo: Schunk understands the needs of manufacturing companies, which have assembly, handling and machining processes. Our products can apply in multiple manufacturing sectors.
APMEN: What sort of challenges are your customers facing?
Teo: Today, businesses face the challenge of getting skilled workers—and staff retention for many industries is becoming a struggle. This is even more severe for countries such as Singapore, which depends on foreign workers. If automation can help reduce these problems and improve work conditions, then more high-value jobs can be created.
APMEN: How is your company helping your customers address their problems?
Teo: We work together closely with our partners such as robot manufacturers and system integrators, and we aim to reach out to more customers to help them see the benefits of automation.
APMEN: What forces do you see driving the industry?
Teo: Collaborative robots, or cobots, have revolutionized many applications that were impossible to think of over a century ago. Less complicated programming equates to less man-hour training, making it cheaper for businesses to adopt robotics. This is game changer, and Schunk is working with the major players in this new era of robotics.
APMEN: What opportunities you are seeing in the Asia market for robotic clamping industry?
Teo: The trend towards automated loading on machining by robots is picking up in recent years. The company is well-positioned to support this growing demand with immediate solutions.
APMEN: What about the challenges in the region? How do you see the trade war between China and the US affecting the manufacturing industry?
Teo: There has been increased investments towards Asia. This is a good problem, where we see customers valuing more our solutions to help them to increase their productivity and capture more businesses.
APMEN: What are the latest developments in robotic clamping/gripping?
Teo: We constantly develop new products in anticipation of the needs of our customers. One example is our latest product, the VERO S NSE3 clamping module, which improves set-up time and has a repeatability accuracy of <0.005mm.
APMEN: How do you position yourself in this industry? What sets you and your solutions apart from the competition?
Teo: Schunk is a unique company, having clamping technology (CT) and gripping systems (GS) solutions. With more than 11,000 standard products, no other company has a comparable scale and size across the range of products. With integrated solutions for both, we provide our customers the best opportunity to automate their processes.
APMEN: What advice would you give your customers when it comes to choosing the correct robot clamping/gripping solution?
Teo: For the machining industry, some customers often invested in clamping solutions and realized later that they need to automate their processes. When they started to review, they will realize that their investments may not be future proof. This may further discourage them towards the automation idea. Our comprehensive CT products allow our customers to later upgrade with our GS products, as both offers seamless integration.
APMEN: The trend is toward smarter factories now, with the advent of Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, etc. Where does Schunk come in in this environment?
Teo: Schunk sees the need to embrace new technologies. iTENDO, our intelligent hydraulic expansion toolholder for real-time process control, records the process directly on the tool, and transmits the data wirelessly to a receiving unit in the machine room for constant evaluation within the closed control loop. With iTENDO—the first intelligent toolholder on the market—Schunk is setting a milestone when it comes to digitalization in the metal cutting industry.
APMEN: What is your outlook for the robotic clamping/gripping industry in the next 12 to 18 months?
Teo: We understands our partners’ and customers’ needs. For gripping, we have come out recently with new products to address the growing demand for collaborative robot (cobots). For clamping, our latest NSE-A3 138 is specifically designed for automated machine loading. It has a pull down force up to 28kN with integrated bluff off function and media transfer units.
The industrial robotics market was valued at US$18.05 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach US$37.75 billion by 2024, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.15 percent over the forecast period (2019–2024), according to market analyst Mordor Intelligence. The market has been witnessing a huge demand over the past decade, owing to the rising adoption of smart factory systems, of which these robots play a vital part. The global smart factory market is expected to reach US$388.68 billion by 2024, which provides insights on the scope of the adoption of industrial robots for automation across end-user industries.
In particular, Industry 4.0, the newest industrial revolution, has fuelled the development of new technologies, like collaborative robots and AI-enabled robots, to name a few, and have enabled industries to use robots to streamline many processes, increase efficiency, and eliminate errors. Increased workplace safety and improved production capabilities have further driven industries to invest in robotic systems.
Rising Demand from Automotive Industry
The growing adoption of automation in the automotive manufacturing process and involvement of digitisation and AI are the primary factors driving the demand for industrial robots in the automotive sector.
In 2017, more than 170,000 robots took part in the production process in the European automotive industry. The growing presence of robots and automation in the European automotive industry is expected to fuel the market for industrial robots in the region.
Meanwhile, China has also become both the world’s largest car market and the world’s largest production site for cars, including electric cars, with much growth potential. In Malaysia, there are 27 automotive manufacturing and assembly plants. Overall, the growing automotive industry in Asia is also creating a massive opportunity for the global industrial robotics market.