Drives & Controls Magazine May 2023

27 May 2023 ROBOTICS n powering AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) are already enhancing productivity, while making operations more flexible and faster. They are enabling manufacturers to move away from traditional production lines towards integrated scalable, modular production cells, while optimising the delivery of components. Developments in AI (artificial intelligence) are powering autonomous grasping and positioning technologies, which will expand the range of tasks that robots can perform. This greater use of AI in robotics helps with tasks such as screwdriving, which is already in being used at ABB's Robotics Mega Factory in Shanghai, where AI-powered robots are building new robots. At the same time, continued simplification of the software and controllers used to program robots will further reduce barriers to adoption. As AI in robotics develops, the concerns around complexity and capability that previously prevented companies from investing in robotic automation, are being addressed. As capabilities develop further, robots will appear in greater numbers and in applications outside traditional manufacturing and distribution environments such as electronics, healthcare, e-commerce, pharmaceuticals and food service. The near future will also see the creation of connected digital networks using open platforms to enable quick and easy integration of robots, controllers, and software from different vendors. For example, ABB’s OmniCore controllers have been created to make robots more open and connected, which makes them more accessible, enabling smaller companies and start-ups to embrace automation. Trend 3: More specialist partnerships between industry and educators will help equip current and future workers with the skills needed for them to thrive in a new era of automation With more companies introducing robots, there is a growing need for workers to learn new skills that will enable them to thrive in automated environments. Achieving this will need a joined-up, multi-generational approach, from schools and universities, through to SMEs and supporting associations to provide training. The factories of the future will need workers who know how to apply automated technologies. As robots become more common in factories, warehouses and other environments, there will be an increase in partnerships between robot vendors, manufacturers, and educators to ensure that people have the right skills. There are already over 200 examples of ABB partnering with educators around the world, where our robots, simulation and programming software and AR and VR tools are used to teach students of all ages the skills needed to program and use robotic automation. As more companies turn to automation to boost their productivity, efficiency, and resilience, I expect these three trends to prevail over the coming months. Disruption and uncertainty are forcing companies to think differently about the way they operate. Scalable, flexible and capable of handling an expanding range of tasks, robots offer an ideal way of coping with uncertainty, making businesses more resilient. At the same time, successful robotic automation relies on combining the potential of robots and people to achieve the best possible outcomes. As new technologies continue to make robots easier to use and deploy, we see opportunities emerging that will enable companies and their workforces to reach new levels of productivity, efficiency and flexibility. n Cobots raise sensor-maker’s OEE from 90% to 97% An Italian manufacturer of pressure and temperature sensors is using cobots to improve the productivity of one of its production lines, as well as raising quality and almost eliminating scrap. Brimind manufactures pressure and temperature sensors for industrial and automotive uses. To meet the quality expectations of its automotive customers, Brimind was keen to automate some of the sub-processes on a line that produces combined pressure and temperature sensors for vehicle air-conditioning systems. It identified two machine-tending tasks that robots could perform. The first task takes the electronic core of the sensor and mates this with an aluminium body. The second task takes the assembled sensor body and moves it to a leak-testing station. “These stations were previously served by operators, but due to human errors, the quality level was not as high as we wanted,” recalls Brimind’s MD, Angelo Leo. “The productivity of human operators could also fluctuate. By introducing automation, our objective was to improve and maintain a stable quality level and improve the productivity of the line.” Brimind decided to use cobots for the application. “This assembly line is modular with the stations separated one-by-one into subprocesses,” Leo explains. “By introducing automation using collaborative robots, we maintained this modularity because there is no need for the huge protective barriers to separate the existing stations or disturb the link between those three stations and the rest of the line.” The small, lightweight sensors were also an ideal product to test the use of cobots. Two ABB GoFa cobots were installed in December 2021. They serve three stations. At the first station, the first robot assembles the two components, the electronics and the body, and transfers them to the second station. Here, the second cobot closes the assembly to secure it and passes the completed product to the third station, where it is tested for leaks. The cobots have already exceeded Brimind’s expectations. Its previous manual assembly method achieved an OEE of close to 90%. The company had a goal of raising this to around 95% – the actual results show that the assembly stations are now achieving 97%. Daniele Bini, a process engineer at Brimind, says that the cobots “bring a lot of flexibility and repeatability to the process line – they can be used to handle a wide variety of pieces and offer the ability to produce a small sample of products with the same quality as large-scale mass production.” The cobots are also easy to program. “With just one button I can move the robot to a new position, or change its configuration just with my hand, rather than by moving it with the controller,” says Bini. “This means that we can limit stoppage times when we need to re-program the robot. This ease of programming also allowed us to perform several different trials to understand the best configuration for the job.” To help create a reconfigurable production line and cut the time for installing future lines, Brimind set up the cobots itself, with support from ABB. Operators’ roles have changed from being machine managers to being line managers, overseeing the machines rather than feeding them components. Because fewer people are needed, they can be used in other roles. Brimind now wants to use robots in other parts of its production. “We can apply automation to several other stations in the same production line and to two additional production lines we have for sensors and valves,” Leo reports. Briming is using two ABB GoFa cobots to handle components, assemble them, and pass them to a final station for testing.