Robotic and linear motions revolutionize industrial automation

Robotic and linear motions revolutionize industrial automation

By John Koon, Editor-in-chief, RTC Magazine | Feb 2016


At a recent ATX show in Anaheim, California (February 2016), one demo that caught my attention was the new ActiveMover. I saw a few shiny metal blocks spinning in circle much like race cars running on the race tracks with great precision. This unit, shown for the first time in North America, was manufactured by Rexroth (Bosch Group). As seen in the photo 1 and 2, each of these metal blocks which were referred to as workpiece pallets were held by strong magnets greater than 1000 Newtons (the force is equivalent to approximately 225 pounds). The workpiece pallets can move with a speed up to 500 feet per minute carrying weights up to 22 pounds.

Editorial_photo 1

Photo 1: Bosch Rexroth ActiveMover is capable of high repeatability of +/- 0.01 mm and reversible operation. Image courtesy of Bosch Rexroth.

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Photo 2: Workpiece pallet (an ActiveMover component) has width of 165 mm for holding fixture <500 mm and embedded magnets of 1000 Newtons. Image courtesy of Bosch Rexroth.


This demo gave us a glimpse of what future robotic motion looks like. Whether a factory is building cars or electronic assembly boards, the production processes require 2D and 3D motions to put the parts together. In the case of automotive plants, you may see a major robot arm moves around to picking up heavy parts and assemble them to the frame of an automotive.  For electronic assembly boards, it can be a pick-and-place machine. Watching “board stuffing” in action placing components on the circuit assembly boards can be quite fascinating. Compare with human workers, robots can work tirelessly, improves productivity and reduce errors. While Industrial Internet-of-Things are touted as the solution to future manufacturing productivity, it goes beyond just connecting millions of sensors together. Data management and use are a big part of it. “Just having connected devices producing data points is of little use, unless those data points can be acted upon in a meaningful way. Only then will real change occur,” explained John Bender, senior vice president of product management at ABB. In this issue of the RTC Magazine, we will explore the various aspects of industrial automation including the future outlook. Experts from GE, Bosch Rextroth, ABB, Rethink Robotics, Dell and Robotic Industries Association (RIA) will share their experiences and ideas.

How human beings interact with machines

Contrary to some sci-fi movies that smart machines become so smart that they program themselves and take over the world, almost all robotics and industrial automation systems need programming by human beings. Depends on the sophistication of the systems, some require high level programming, others C++ and the like. The interaction between human and machine is a topic commonly known as the Human-Machine-Interaction or Human-Machine-Interface (HMI). The common HMI is touch-screen display allowing a user to interact with the machine (usually the behind-the-scene programming is already done at this point). HMI has great potential. The most popular HMI are verbal and touch input. Other methods such as brain wave, hand and eye movements are still in the research stage. One area of interest making a lot of progress is motion sensing. In the medical field, a wearable device can detect the motion of a person falling and send for help. This will provide peace of mind to those who have aging parents living by themselves.

Where embedded technologies are heading?

The Embedded Tech Trends conference (January 2016) invited a group of embedded manufacturers to Houston to share the latest development. At this event, we saw more optical products including controllers and connectors are being deployed. Other technologies such as PCI, Mini PCIe, Firewire and VPX remained strong. New VPX standard was being established with many supporters. Other technologies including FPGA and System-on-chip will continue to gain momentum.  In this issue, w invited some of these manufacturers to share their experiences.