EU project SMErobotics: Versatile robots for the digitized industry
Fraunhofer IPA, Germany - IFR R&D member
Technologies that make robot systems tailored to the needs of small and medium-sized productions: This is what the European Initiative SMErobotics will present at this year's AUTOMATICA in Munich. With the technologies developed and deployed in the project, companies benefit from a more efficient and flexible use of robot systems even in low-volume and high variant productions in applications as diverse as assembly, welding, or wood-working.
Technologies that make robot systems tailored to the needs of small and medium-sized productions: This is what the European Initiative SMErobotics will present at this year’s AUTOMATICA trade fair from June 21st to 24th in Munich. With the technologies developed and deployed in the project, companies benefit from a more efficient and flexible use of robot systems even in low-volume and high variant productions in applications as diverse as assembly, welding, or wood-working. Thereby, they can increase the throughput as well as the product quality.
Robots that can be setup with minimal efforts, which largely configure themselves and learn from human-robot collaboration offer a significant step towards a digitized production. Within the European SMErobotics initiative which is coordinated by Fraunhofer IPA, partners from research institutions and end users engage in joint R&D and demonstration efforts. Partners of the Consortium developed technologies for robots that simplify and broaden automation solutions in typical production scenarios of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Currently, various robot systems for assembly, welding and wood-working are being deployed and tested at end-user sites. The result is that SMEs can combine novel robotics solutions with their customer-oriented production. At the trade fair, suppliers of automation equipment and manufacturing companies are invited to explore advanced technologies and solutions that enable flexible and personalised production scenarios.
Software as a key component
The project focusses on the development of several applications that allow a more cost-efficient use of robots even in the case of varying lot-sizes, product variants and throughputs. To meet flexibility requirements, the systems should be easy to operate by workers or specialists like welders with no or very little expertise in robotics. Both becomes feasible through novel means of intuitive user interaction and software based tools that enable automated process planning and that replace the so far normal but cost- and time-consuming programming.
Based on intuitive human-machine interfaces, robot programmes can be adapted without specific knowledge. The specialist of an SME can even evaluate the process in order to continuously improve the process quality. The processes are particularly robust due to the intelligent sensors of the robot system: They can precisely locate the work piece and compare it to the CAD data. Thus, the system detects tolerances or product variants of the work piece and can adapt the process if needed. Also, failures are treated automatically.
Innovative assembly solutions
So far, robot systems are rarely executing multi-part assembly processes because of their complexity and the high number of variants that have to be handled. The SMErobotics demonstrators using innovative technologies show how automation can be realized reasonably despite these challenges.
This includes for example a dual-arm robot system which can manipulate or assemble a work piece similarly to the human approach. Safety sensors enable the space-saving and easily reconfigurable use without fences. Another demonstrator presents the completely automated planning of an assembly process. Therefore, the system uses CAD data as well as knowledge databases that include geometric information about the work piece and the robot. The software uses a so-called skill-based programming: Specific functions are provided as programme building blocks. They can be re-used and re-composed as needed what substantially simplifies the programme adaptation to new variants.
All assembly solutions as well as nearly all other demonstrators are designed for safe human-robot collaboration. This is particularly interesting for SMEs with their fluctuating demands because tasks can be flexibly shared between human and robot. Furthermore, the exhibit RoboPAM shows a hybrid working place for the assembly of electronic devices. Human and robot can use the same tools.
Besides assembly, welding is a typical process in SMEs. The cognitive and collaborative welding assistant CoWeldRob generates automatically collision free motions and is capable of welding manually prepared or inaccurate work pieces. This is due to 3D sensors and use of CAD data that allow the system to consider variations of the work piece or of the setting. It adapts the process in accordance to them and also takes parameters specific to the welding process into account.
For the welding of structural steel a cooperative dual-arm robot system has been developed. Similarly to a human-like approach, it can manipulate as well as process the work pieces. Both welding demonstrators have intuitive user interfaces so that welding experts can easily correct the process if needed. With these and further demonstrators SMErobotics shows a big variety of SME-specific solutions. These range from technology-components for system integrators and application developers to ready to use systems for SME and other end users.
Robot Investment Tool
The presentation of the online tool
completes the offer at the booth. End users can quickly and based on their individual information calculate the investment costs for a robot system. Furthermore, they have the opportunity to directly get in contact with system integrators. This provides an overview about the topic and a first basis of decision-making to companies which didn’t use robot systems so far.