Automation is on the move, becoming more approachable for human operators and more cost-effective for buyers. The physical and philosophical fence keeping humans and robots separate is starting to diminish in connection with technology moving at warp speed and the reasons to automate are multiplying.
By Bob Doyle, Robotic Industries Association (RIA) | Feb 2016
Robotic organizations gather at the Automate conference (held in Chicago every other year) to demonstrate, interact and show case real-world robotic applications. The conference provides the attendees with the latest trends in robotics such as robot safety, bin picking, and 3D-printed grippers. In all cases, the trend for robotic companies seems to be moving past the assembly lines, in the goal of producing collaborative robots that improve precision and increase productivity— while being safe enough to work together with humans. This is how robotics revolutionizes industrial automation.
Beyond the Assembly Lines
As the Automate conference reveals, robotics companies are striving to incorporate robotics in various industries. A recent exhibitor that has stood out in terms of specialty is Schneider Packaging Equipment Company, Inc., of Brewerton, New York who specializes exclusively in end-of-line packaging solutions. Their Fully Automatic, Random Water-Activated Tape Case Sealer accommodates a wide variety of box sizes, and after automatically determining the box size, applies a special water-activated tape that creates a stronger bond than pressure tape.
Another recent noteworthy exhibitor is Applied Manufacturing Technologies, LLC, of Orion, Michigan, which specialize in robotic automation engineering and integration for material handling. Their FANUC R-2000 robot and multiple ATI tool changer demonstrates overall robotic flexibility and versatility.
One of the most revolutionary robots in the collaborative robot category belongs to Rethink Robotics Inc., of Boston, Massachusetts. Rethink has produced a paradigm-shifting collaborative robot called “Baxter.” The Baxter robot works uncaged and free as a collaborative robot with humans. As of today, Baxter has been sold and deployed in manufacturing and production facilities throughout North America.
Stäubli Corporation, of South Carolina has produced robotics designed specifically for the packaging, food and life science industries. The TX2-40 CS9 has extensive safety features specific to the human and robot collaboration including the safe stop, safe tool, safe zone and safe speed features.
An additional, recent trend within the robotics industry pertains to training for technical education. Robots will be important instruments in helping the industry improve potential skills gaps by providing portable training options. KUKA, of Shelby Township, Michigan is one of the first robotics companies to produce a Robotic Education Cart that provides this method of technical education.
Photo 1: KUKA KORE Robotic Education Cart provides portable training for technical education programs. Image courtesy of KUKA Robotics Corporation.
Robotics for Medical Purposes
ReWalk Robotics, of Marlborough, Massachusetts has produced a robotic exoskeleton called the ReWalk Personal, which is the only powered exoskeleton with U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance to date.
This robotic “skeleton” helps individuals with spinal cord injuries to walk. Inventions for medical purposes such as the robotic exoskeleton are expected to populate factory floors and warehouses, blurring the distinctions between industrial, collaborative and service robots. Indeed the robotic industry is touching many areas of our lives.
Photo 2: Robotic exoskeleton helps individuals with spinal cord injuries to walk. Image courtesy of ReWalk Robotics, Inc.