Potato chip bags and tight workspaces have posed challenges to robotics manufacturers. Robotics makers have responded with a variety of next-generation solutions for areas as diverse as packaging and assembly.  And, the good news is that the costs for these next-generation solutions have come down creating opportunities for small companies to compete with large ones.

Space

Engineers with EPSON Robots looked at large robots operating in small work cells. The solution came with the Flexion N-series, a six-axis robot that moves “through” itself with folding-arm technology instead of around itself. A video clip shows the technology at work and how it can be used in production lines where traditional six-axis robots have challenges.

Picking

A robot arm’s end effector determines the arm’s functionality. Potato chip bags, fabrics, and fruits and vegetables need a delicate yet dexterous touch. Several companies that developed from research hubs have been changing the way robots grab. Grabit, from SRI International, uses electroadhesion to pick up items. The end effector can stack items more closely together to save space, a relief for warehouses in urban neighborhoods.

The KR QUANTEC  handles the beer cases using a vacuum gripper.
The Kuka KR QUANTEC handles the beer cases using a vacuum gripper. (Source: Kuka.com)

Leverage

Robots have become more affordable with custom capabilities. Small manufacturers can compete on a global scale with big players particularly with respect to wages of workers. Not only can robots do a variety of tasks, they can also perform quality control. A Kuka robot uses force torque sensors to assemble parts like a tube inside a dishwasher. Its sensitivity allows it to jiggle and maneuver the fit like a human. Force torque sensors give robots a tactile sense of touch by sending force and torque feedback to control the robot’s positioning. Robots have another benefit by working alongside people and extending their capabilities in places like factories, hospital operating rooms, and down on the farm where labor is in short supply. Sensors and software have boosted the IQ of robots and provide the means to improve manufacturing and customer satisfaction through quality.

>> Read more by A3 – Association for Advancing Automation, January 25, 2017

Next-Gen Robots Lighten the Load