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Collaborative Robots Deliver Automation to Manufacturers of Every Size Thanks to the collaborative industrial robot revolution, the ambitions of manufacturing companies are increasingly realized at a much lower cost and with much less effort than expected. However, the introduction of cobots in automation planning discussions is sometimes met with hesitation which come from people's experience with non-collaborative traditional robots: ROBOTICS AUTOMATION IS FOR COMPLEX, LARGE-SCALE OPERATIONS ROBOTS REPLACE JOBS IT’S A HASSLE TO IMPLEMENT AND MAINTAIN ROBOTS COBOTS ARE DANGEROUS ROBOTS ARE COSTLY Read more about how cobots are making a huge difference in the fortunes of companies that use them. Through the TECHTEAM, HTE Automation empowers local manufacturers and other users of process automation to produce faster, leaner, smarter, and safer.
I saw something on a TV sportscast the other day that would have curled my mother’s toes. Yes, yes, I said I “saw something”, because even though I’m a Cobot, I CAN see now through the wonders of machine vision, but that’s beside the point. What I saw was this commentator wearing a suit with a striped tie and a polka-dot shirt. It made my head spin, all 6 axes! But here’s the weird thing, he pulled it off. He looked pretty good in it. It left me wondering whether I need to rethink my wardrobe because what I thought of as a long-standing “rule,” was being trashed in this world seemingly devoid of constants. Ben Franklin recognized that although he spent a lifetime’s energy grappling with applied creativity, there were some inescapable constants, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Wait a minute, Ben. Back up about 2,200 years and you’ll encounter Heraclitus who said “…change is the only constant in life.” Wow, was he ever right! But he couldn’t have predicted the current speed of change. So why would I, a mere robot, an automaton of automatons, care about how fast the world is changing? Well, while ignoring the conspiracy theorists who think I’m part of a soulless machine that is taking over, I am very concerned about those who think I am here to eliminate their jobs. You see, I get to work next to folks who might initially think that. I rub shoulders with them, and rely on them to be able to complete my work. I really do need them because I can’t take care of, or think for myself. I’m an ordinary industrial Cobot, not one of those snooty traditional robots that demands its own specialist staff, and own space, isolating itself behind a bunch of fences. So petty rivalries aside… Deloitte, a respected research firm, in “2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute skills gap and future of work study”, (how’s that for a mouthful?) concluded last year that between 2018 and 2028 American manufacturers will have 4.6 million jobs to fill, and that 2.4 million will go unfilled, costing the economy $2.5 trillion. That’s too big a number for me to comprehend, but what it means for the average manufacturer is that their annual profits will drop by $4.6 million! So, if Deloitte is right, and looking at the big picture, I am absolutely not eliminating jobs. That does not mean however, that specific individuals won’t lose specific jobs. You see, I do some things very well – that is a fact. And what I do well, people tend to do poorly which leads to injuries and quality problems with all the ensuing pain and wasted time and materials. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce examined the changing employment world at factories recently and published this article with a revealing title – Upskilling and Downsizing in American Manufacturing. When you put the conclusions of this research together with the Deloitte research you see that things are changing very rapidly in our factories, and most are not ready for it. Manufacturers must focus on accelerating the training of generation X, Y, and Z workers, equipping them for this new work world. Give me your dull, your dirty, and your dangerous tasks, and I’ll give you the freedom to create, to improve, to excel and accelerate. Explore more at Worker Satisfaction.
Recently we had a request from a customer who wanted to expand and improve his CNC tending operation. For more than a year the plant had been using a UR10e collaborative robot from Universal Robots to load and unload parts from one of his CNC machines. He was very pleased with the initial ROI on the project, and with the ongoing value of that installation that he decided to implement the UR Cobot on a second CNC machine. The idea was to use a single Universal Robot to simultaneously tend both CNC machines. Unfortunately, the second machine was out of the cobots reach. Together with HTE's TECHTEAM a low-cost solution was developed that added a horizontal seventh axis to the cobot. This additional axis would move the robot between the two CNC machines as needed. A simple extrusion frame with some slider rails was used, and a mount for the robot was made to slide back and forth on these rails. A stepper motor was used to drive a belt to move the robot mount, all of which was pretty straight forward. You can see the application in action in this brief video. The question remaining though was how to drive the stepper motor? The initial installation included an HTE specified Mitsubishi iQ-F PLC to control hand shaking with the robot and the CNC. The iQ-F PLC has highly functional positioning control built right in! This made setting up the stepper motor control very simple. Simple tables to setup the parameters are included which allow for up to four axis of positioning control. HTE's TECHTEAM was able to specify the optimal units of measurement, the number of pulses of resolution the stepper motor had, and also to define the gearing ratio of the belt drive. On this application, we only had 3 positions we wanted the robot to go to. To make things even easier, we used the built in Position Tables to pre-define these 3 positions. Now the PLC program is about as simple as it gets! We just tell it which of the 3 table entries to use, and the iQ-F takes care of everything else for us. Very simple! Here is what the Axis setup looks like: Here is what the Position Table looks like: It does not get much easier than that! With these configuration tables we were able to use two of the Transistor outputs on the iQ-F PLC to drive the Stepper Motor. These could also be used to drive a servo if required. No need to count Stepper pulses in your PLC program! No need to figure out if you should turn on the direction changing output or not! Just pick a Table number and tell it to go! This was a great low cost solution that was easy to implement and allowed our customer to get even more out of his existing Universal Robot. Regarding positioning, the FX5U comes with the built-in capacity for 200kHz high speed inputs and outputs. This provides the capability to control up to 4 axes of positioning with stepper or servo motors. The FX5U is a cost effective solution for: interrupt operation, multistage speed operation, simple linear interpolation, and simultaneous start of 2 axes.
This how-to guide brought to you by HTE Automation illustrates the ease with which you can train a collaborative robot, or cobot, from Universal Robots, including the models UR3e, UR5e, UR10e, and UR16e to perform a drilling operation along a complex toolpath using the built-in Remote TCP & Toolpath "URCap." The Remote TCP & Toolpath URCap can be used directly from the UR Teach Pendant on UR cobots using Polyscope 5.6 and above software. With this URCap you can easily convert G-Code files exported from Autodesk Fusion 360 or Solidworks into a toolpath for the Universal Robots collaborative robot to follow. CLICK HERE TO WATCH