The World Robotics report shows an annual global sales 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 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.
One of the most common robots in the manufacturing world is the robotic arm. The robotic arm is in most cases programmable and used to perform specific tasks, most commonly for manufacturing, fabrication, and industrial applications. Article by Ahmad Alshidiq.
An industrial robotic arm is a device that operates in a similar way to a human arm, with a number of joints that either move along an axis or can rotate in certain directions. In fact, some robotic arms imitate the exact movements of human arms. They also resemble our arm, with a wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder. The six-axis robot has six degrees of freedom, allowing it to move six different ways, unlike the human arm, which has seven degrees of freedom.
Industrial robotic arms, however, move much faster than human arms. An industrial robot arm increases the speed of the manufacturing process, the accuracy and precision. These robotic arms cut down on worker error and labour costs. Also, the quality of the product begins to improve because of the robot’s ability to, for example, accurately sand down edges, produce straighter welds or drill precise holes. This just continually improves the product over time, while also improving the integrity of the brand. But robotic arms need proper safety measures, else it can pose safety hazard to humans.
Sensors and Vision Robotics
An important advancement in the use robotic arms is the development of sensors. Robotic arms usually have sensors to perform specific tasks and to ensure the safety of human workers. Although early robots had sensors to measure the joint angles of the robot, advances in robotic sensors have had a significant impact on the work that robots can safely undertake. A summary of some of these sensors according to Design Robotics:
2D Vision sensors incorporate a video camera which allows the robot to detect movement over a specific location. This lets the robot adapt its movements or actions in reference to the data it obtains from the camera.
3D Vision Sensors are a new and emerging technology that has the potential to assist the robot in making more complex decisions. This can be achieved by using two cameras at different angles, or using a laser scanner to provide three-dimensional views for the robot.
A Force Torque sensor helps the robotic arm to understand the amount of force it is applying and allows it to change the force accordingly.
Collision Detection sensors provide the robot an awareness of its surroundings.
Safety Sensors are used to ensure people working around the robot are safe. The safety sensors alert the robot if it needs to move or stop operating if it senses a person within a certain range.
There are many other sensors available which include tactile sensors or heat sensors. The benefits of these different types of sensors for robotic arms are that they provide the robot with detailed and varied information from which it can make decisions. The more information the robot has available to it, the more complex decisions it can make. Ultimately the purpose of these sensors is to help make working environments around robots safe for people.
The industrial robotic arm, which is usually made of steel or cast iron is built from the base up, ending with the wrist and whatever end effector is needed to perform the arm’s chosen task. A robotic controller rotates motors that are attached to each joint. Some of the larger arms, used to lift heavy payloads, are run by hydraulic and pneumatic means.
The arm’s job moves the end effector from place to place – picking up, putting down, taking off or welding a part or the entire work piece. These robotic arms can be programmed to do several different jobs or one specific job.
What comes after the robot’s wrist, and what’s added around the robot, varies depending on the application. But no matter the application, your robot will always need to be equipped with other components in order to work properly. These components might include end-of-arm tools (grippers, welding torches, polishing head) and sensors (such as force-torque sensors, safety sensors, vision systems).
When factories install a robotic cell, their purpose is to automate a process. That process could be one that’s currently done at a manual cell, or it could be an entirely new function. A robotic arm comes with two important elements, according to MachineDesign: the controller, which is the computer that drives its movement, and the teach pendant, which is the user interface that the operator uses to program the robot.
These metal marvels will continue to operate in manufacturing for years to come – arms lifting and moving progress along until the next lightning fast innovation is introduced. All these benefits continue to grow as robots continue to improve and enhance over time.
Every company requires unique automation solutions for their specific production environment, but businesses can’t redesign facilities for every different process and application. In this article, Niels Ole Sinkbæk Sørensen, General Manager, OnRobot, APAC, explores why it is crucial that companies choose the optimal set of robot accessories to maximise the automation value.
It is crucial that companies choose the optimal set of robot accessories to maximise the automation value. The appropriate accessories can help turn the entire production lifecycle into a seamless process, from purchase and installation to operations and redevelopment.
End-of-arm tooling devices, or EOAT, are usually fitted at the end of a robotic arm to perform a range of tasks. Robot grippers, for instance, can deftly handle various materials, while robust sensors generate alarms to correct a robot’s positioning. Tool changers allow for quick and easy switching from one tool to another. When fitted with these advanced tools, robots become intelligent objects capable of sensing, acting and behaving within smart manufacturing environments.
New-age intelligent robot accessories offer the innovation, expertise and precision that smart manufacturing requires. These technologies, however, are also changing the economics of manufacturing, e-commerce and agriculture as these industries increasingly leverage EOAT’s built-in technology and intelligence to considerably reduce production costs and efforts.
The RG2-FT intelligent gripper.
Increasing Cobots Adoption In Southeast Asia
The global automotive industry is projected to invest US$470 million in collaborative robots (cobots) by 2021, while electronics will invest approximately US$475 million in cobots. Southeast Asia, a powerhouse for the automotive and electronics industries, is increasingly adopting cobots and other lightweight industrial robots to stay ahead of the curve. With increasing robot adoption across the region, demand for modern EOATs will automatically rise, making collaborative automation easy for industries from electronics and automotive to agriculture, carrying out pick and place, machine tending, packaging, testing and other tasks.
Singapore has a strong track record of encouraging companies to adopt smart tools to drive favourable production outcomes and facilitate workforce upskilling.
However, there are still concerns regarding the lower skills level of workers in other Southeast Asian countries. In Thailand, 83.5 percent of the labour pool is unskilled. Meanwhile in Malaysia, low-skilled jobs were 90 percent of the labour market in 2018. EOAT’s smart features, ‘plug and play’ integration and user-friendly design enable even those with no robot programming background to automate applications. This will help existing workers adapt to the new technology easily and address the skills gap in the region.
EOAT for Faster and Smarter Automation Adoption
EOAT enables businesses to take on new applications because robots are more efficient when accessorised with EOAT for custom-tailored solutions. EOAT has a great influence on the robot’s performance and flexibility. In fact, automation process efficiency largely depends on the grippers and other intelligent tools that interface with the robot.
Modern grippers and power sensors show that the potential of intelligent robot accessories is enormous. With collaborative applications, businesses want more than just efficient automation from machines – they also want to access the robots remotely and diagnose problems online. Intelligent EOAT with smart hardware and software helps collect and analyse data to deliver feedback and increase capabilities.
With EOAT, machines will become more compact, smart and self-contained to efficiently run collaborative applications, which makes automation easier and more affordable for businesses.
Choosing the Right Robot Accessories
The tools and accessories fitted on and around robots make or break a robot’s effectiveness.
EOATs communicate two-way information exchanges between tools and robots that enable efficient operations and increase production. For example, some high-precision grippers use built-in technology that allows them to mimic human fingertips. These grippers are used in agriculture to pick and place herbs and other delicate items without damage.
OnRobot’s RG2-FT intelligent gripper, with its ground-breaking sense of sight and touch, is the world’s first intelligent gripper that can see and feel objects using built-in force, or torque sensing.
EOAT push the limits of human interaction – modern grippers are so sophisticated that they can even handle the fragile silicon wafers used in manufacturing computer processors. Force torque sensors help locate and detect an object’s presence for greater accuracy. These grippers are used in those manufacturing processes that require the application of a precise force to achieve high-quality results.
Such applications as surface finishing, packaging and palletising, machine tending, and assembly not only require precision, but also the ability to customise tasks based on batch size and subsequent necessities. This unique capability has also allowed enterprises of all sizes to introduce the right EOATS into their production line.
Modern Industrial Landscapes Require Application-Focused Solutions
Businesses that continue using traditional methods, such as fabricating unique tools for specific manufacturing tasks, are at a significant disadvantage because of the high cost and inflexible nature of this approach. In comparison, grippers, sensors and other flexible application-focused solutions can be customised to handle different shapes, sizes and materials. According to a recent release, material-handling contributed to nearly 42 percent of the robotics EOAT market share in 2018 – the largest of any segment.
These flexible, highly versatile tools can be seamlessly integrated into multiple production environments. Their adjustable features, advanced technology and smooth assimilation will shorten production cycles and reduce downtime. This opens options to other hardware solutions, reducing the cost of robotic solutions and lowering barriers to automation. Ultimately, EOATS will save money.
A Complete Solution
As technology continues driving transformation across industries, companies must consider automation to reduce costs and improve operational flexibility. To achieve this, robotic accessories need to be smarter as they are crucial in carrying out collaborative applications. Bringing intelligent technologies and tools to the forefront allows companies to meet the growing need for industrial mechanisation – and with a shorter learning curve, this empowers all enterprises to dream big with automation.
Targeting the growing demand for end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) in robotics automation in Southeast Asia, Denmark-based OnRobot A/S has opened a regional headquarters in Singapore, to be led by James Taylor as general manager. Mr Taylor will lead the regional team, overseeing all commercial activities in Asia Pacific.
The company plans to aggressively target Southeast Asia, especially Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, which have high industrial robot demand coming from industries such as electronics, automotive and CNC machining, and huge potential for collaborative automation.
“On a global level, demand for EOAT is expected to rise as robots are increasingly adopted. OnRobot’s new regional headquarters in Singapore demonstrates our commitment to the robotics market in Southeast Asia and belief that the industry has strong regional growth potential,” said OnRobot’s CEO Enrico Krog Iversen. “Singapore being the automation hub is ideal for OnRobot’s regional headquarters. Our focus will be to provide complete collaborative robot solutions in the Southeast Asian region to help manufacturers attain productivity while reducing costs and improving their ability to scale.”
OnRobot specialises in EOAT for collaborative applications. It currently has nine products comprising grippers, sensors and tool changers. Its innovative Gecko Gripper recently won four prestigious awards, the 2019 Robotics Award at Hannover Messe, the silver award at the 2019 Edison Awards, the NED Innovations Award 2019, and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award (IERA) 2018.
The company aims to reach 40 to 50 products, including grippers, sensors, vision and other technologies to enable collaborative robot solutions in Southeast Asia and across the world.
Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News is pleased to conduct an interview with Mr. Lieu Yew Fatt, Managing Director of Omron Electronics Singapore on his views on the future of robotics technologies in Asia and its impact on manufacturing processes and supply chains.
1. In your opinion, what are the top three megatrends that are shaping the robotics industry in Asia?
Firstly, robots are becoming increasingly proactive due to intelligent features being incorporated into them today. Robots are no longer limited to menial or laborious duties. Empowered by artificial intelligence, robots can take on higher level tasks due to their ability to ‘learn’ and ‘think’.
Secondly, the use of collaborative robots or “cobots” is set to increase. Robots have yet to really work collaboratively with humans due to safety concerns and inadequate sensory information. However, we are making substantial progress in improving safety and sensing technology, increasing the potential to revolutionise the way humans work with robots in the future.
Lastly, decision makers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits that their businesses can reap by incorporating robots. As a result, people with skills and expertise in robotics are becoming more highly sought-after.
2. What are the key challenges that prevent manufacturers in Asia from adopting robotics in their manufacturing processes and supply chains?
Manufacturers are still faced with resistance from employees who are not familiar with robotics. Unfortunately, many employees still fear that their jobs are threatened by robotics and automation.
Incorporating robotics into factories and production lines is also seen as a long-term project. Small and medium sized manufacturers, vigilant of their costs and cashflow, may not see investing in robotics as immediately beneficial or justifiable.
Successful implementation of robotics is also typically perceived as requiring major adjustments to work processes or even infrastructure. This can lead to resistance from employees who are unwilling to change or adapt.
3. How do you suggest that the above challenges be solved?
Manufacturers must understand that the implementation of robotics is not about replacing workers. When incorporated successfully in the production line, for example, robotics and automation can alleviate workers from routine and laborious tasks. These workers can move on to perform more value-added tasks in the factory, ultimately enhancing the quality and quantity of output.
The belief that robotics only provides a long-term return on investment may also be incorrect. For example, for some organisations, simple optimisations to existing manufacturing lines have resulted in significant cost savings at comparatively low costs. For instance, Omron has helped one packaging manufacturer increase output speed by 30 percent by using anti-vibration technology. The speed of the existing yoghurt packaging line was limited due to the need to stop the product from sloshing during movements. Anti-vibration technology removed this bottleneck and allowed them to perform at a much higher standard.
Training employees to pick up robotics skills and the ability to work with robots is also effective in driving adoption. Furthermore, robotics technology has evolved to the point where major infrastructure changes are no longer required in order to achieve the same goals. To explore what is possible, the industry has evolved to allow SMEs and businesses to experiment with these technologies rather than make an upfront commitment. The Omron Automation Centre, for example, provides solutions and training to companies who are looking to explore advanced technology solutions.
4. In 5 to 10 years’ time, how do you think the robotics industry and its relationship with manufacturing and supply chains will evolve in Asia?
In five to 10 years’ time, robotics and automation will be a sine qua non for the manufacturing industry. Robots are expected to take on more higher-level roles as technology continues to evolve, providing relief to manufacturers today who are typically under increasing pressure due to fast-evolving consumer trends, shorter product life cycles, increased competition and labour shortages.
On top of robotics, advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to play key roles in production lines and instil a sense of human-free proactiveness that will continue to transform the way we work in factories.
Smart adaptive algorithms are equipping robots with the ability to analyse and process data with quick efficiency. Advanced analytics and AI software will also allow robots to arrive at programmed actions based on the intelligence they discover.
It will also no longer be a surprise that machines and robots can track a large amount of production variables through advanced analytics. This allows timely control of crucial production factors such as manufacturing accuracy and quality control that are not easily spotted by humans.
5. What are your thoughts on the Singapore International Robo Expo? Do you think the industry is ready for an event like this?
As a country that is largely thriving on a knowledge-based economy and with a strong focus on building itself into a leading smart nation, Singapore is an ideal location for events like the Singapore International Robo Expo.
The Singapore government has been a keen advocate of industries adopting robotics and other advanced technologies to digitalise operations. For instance, the government recently launched the Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index, a whitepaper that illustrates the government’s efforts to capitalise on the Industry 4.0 trend and transform the manufacturing landscape in Singapore
This event also provides an opportunity for the different stakeholders in the robotics industry to gather and exchange ideas. For example, Omron’s booth featured its Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle that featured a mobile robot and a collaborative robot arm tightly integrated together as a “mobile robotic handler”. These demonstrations help mature Singapore’s conversations and approaches on how certain functions, such as transportation and the loading of work materials in this case, can be fully automated.