The automation market is rapidly growing. Technological developments continue to roll out across the globe to help manufacturers and businesses produce goods faster, smarter and more efficiently.
The growth and adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has played a pivotal role in offering advancements within the manufacturing process, changing the way in which businesses operate.
The use of robotics in the manufacturing process has exploded. Towards the end of 2019, I wrote an article to highlight how robotics are unlocking untapped areas in manufacturing. I explored how advancements in robotics have been adopted across the manufacturing space and highlighted some of the most exciting companies involved.
Companies such as SCHUNK, Soft Robotics and Omni Robot have played a crucial role in getting robotics into mainstream processes. I also highlighted major players in the space like ABB and FANUC on the verge of major breakthroughs in developments.
With the robotics world constantly transforming and an increasing in adoption, this time around I wanted to highlight the exciting developments that have happened since then and what companies are paving the way to a robotics revolution.
ABB Robotics have been making advancements at a rapid rate to become one of the world’s leading robotics and machine automation suppliers.
The company recently developed on their current SCARA robots, giving users the ability to commission and control the robots from their computer through RobotStudio, ABB’s simulation and offline programming software.
Robot Control Mate allows users to jog, teach and calibrate robots, making it simple to control their movements. The offline programming software can also be used to control the physical movements of a robot in real-time.
The development also means users can create, simulate and test a full robot installation in a virtual 3D environment without impacting the actual production line. It’s a big step in encouraging SMEs to become new robot users, leading to a more widespread adoption.
FANUC is one of the largest suppliers of industrial automation equipment in the world.
Since being founded in 1956, the company has taken the definition of innovation to the next level with their own self-titled city, FANUC City. It’s the home of FANUC's unique production facilities covering 1.7 million square metres. This is on top of 12 research and development centres, administration buildings, staff accommodation, leisure facilities and even a clinic for FANUC employees and their families. Sounds pretty cool, right?
Exploring the company’s technological developments, the company created the FIELD System (Fanuc Intelligent Edge Link & Drive System) - an open platform that enables the execution of various IIoT applications that focus on heavy devices like robots, sensors and machine tools.
The platform allows manufacturers to connect various devices across other manufacturers and generations. It ultimately means production data can be collected and analysed on the shop floor to help in speeding up production processes and making them more efficient.
FANUC look to create a system that can be personalised to easily respond to a wide variety of automation needs, increasing overall effectivity and quality of the production process. The development also improves predictive and preventative maintenance, anticipating any failure in the mechanism.
Another company showing growth and innovation is Universal Robots.
The company recently announced a new series of collaborative robots – appropriately named ‘cobots’. The UR3e cobot has been designed as a table-top robot, perfect for light assembly tasks and automated workbench scenarios weighing just 24.3 lbs (11 kg).
The new development reduces the typical time of robotic deployment from weeks to a matter of hours. It’s a system designed to work side-by-side with existing workers, as well as offering an alternative to dangerous or repetitive jobs resulting in accidental injuries.
The companies range of robots are lightweight, space-saving and easy to re-deploy to multiple applications without having to change production layouts. It’s a positive step towards automating and streamlining repetitive industrial processes, even at smaller scales.
Robotics start-ups are also releasing innovative solutions aimed at increasing autonomy and efficiency in manufacturing. The company offers a way to decrease the programming burden associated with industrial robots.
The start-up’s developments eliminate the need for laborious and meticulous programming of motion plans by calculating such plans in real-time based on the robot’s current position and a designated end position. Any real-time calculation means the robot can account for obstacles and facilitate complex multi-robot workcells where the robots must work alongside each other to avoid any collisions.
The company’s innovative hardware is purpose-built for the problem of motion planning means less time needs to be invested in computer-intensive tasks which could be seen as a turn-off by some manufacturers or businesses.
Some would prefer to avoid any kind of programming at all when it comes to having robotics in their production line.
Rapid Robotics have been developing a way to maximise simplicity with robotics, with no need for system integrators, programming, extra hardware or required robotics skills.
The company developed templates for a number of common tasks that require minimal configuration using iPad app before being ready for use in production. The simple operating system was designed for first-time users in mind, with no robotics training required.
The cobots are able to learn with the use of cloud technology, constantly developing new capabilities and connecting together with other hardware for centralised monitoring and task syncing.
If that wasn’t enough, the robots use AI and computer vision to learn shorter paths, set up workspace faster and increase consistency across the production line. This ultimately reduces downtime and increases production quality.
The robotics space continues to be a truly exciting an area of innovations and developments. It’s safe to say robotics technology has and will continue to increase in speed, intelligence and efficiency.
Autonomy, easy installations and simplified operations means the adoption of the technology can become more widespread. Businesses are naturally keen to see how their production processes can also become quick, safer and with minimal faults.
It won’t be long until we see fully automated, robotic production lines. The age of smart factories is just around the corner.
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