Robots Moving Again

  • June 06, 2011
  • Feature
June 2011
By Bill Lydon, Editor
Automate 2011 - Chicago March 22, 2011
Automation 2011, formerly the International Robots, Vision & Motion Control Show, showcased robots and hosted the 2011 International Federation of Robotics (IFR) Executive Round Table.
International Federation of Robotics
I had the privilege of moderating the 2011 International Federation of Robotics (IFR) Executive Round Table on the topic, Being Competitive with Robotics, held at Automate 2011. The International Federation of Robotics was established in 1987 in connection with the 17th International Symposium on Robotics as a non-profit organization by robotics organizations from more than 15 countries. Since 1970, an International Symposium on Robotics has been organized every year in different continents, countries and cities in conjunction with an International Robot Exhibition.
IFR Statistical Report
The Round Table started with a presentation of the preliminary results of the IFR annual statistics for Industrial Robots by Åke Lindqvist, IFR President. 2010 Preliminary figures illustrated the robotic industry is coming back. In 2010, with more than 115,000 industrial robots shipped, the number of units sold worldwide almost doubled those in 2009, which had the lowest number sold per year since the early 90's.
Outside of the automotive industry there is comparatively low robot density based on the estimated number of operating industrial robots.
                >400 to 700 Automotive
                >200 to 400 Rubber and Plastics
                >100 to 200 Electrical/Electronics
                >50 to 100 Metal
                >50 Solar
                <50 Food & Beverage
                < 50 Packaging
                <50 Pharmaceuticals, Cosmetics, Medical
"The prospects for 2011 and beyond are promising," commented Åke Lindqvist, IFR President. "The robotics industry benefits from the increasing demand for automation especially in the Asian growing markets with China on top." In 2011, a further increase of robot sales between 10% and 15% is expected. A new peak level of about 130,000 sold units could be reached. Between 2012 and 2014 a moderate annual growth in average of 5% is more likely.   Lindqvist noted that the possible impact of the recent tsunami in Japan on the worldwide supply chain has not been taken into consideration in preparing the forecasts.
Various regions experienced different rates of recovery in robot sales. Asia was on top with an increase of 127% to about 67,000 units, the second highest level ever recorded. About 17,000 units were shipped to Americas, 87% more than in 2009, reaching almost the level of 2008. About 30,000 units were sold in Europe, 45% more than in 2009, but still about 15% lower than the peak levels of 2007 and 2008.
The most dynamic markets were China, the Republic of Korea and the ASEAN countries. Sales to these markets almost tripled. In 2010, the Republic of Korea was on top with almost 23,000 robots sold. Japan recovered with a lower growth rate of 66% to about 21,000 units. This is followed by North America which recovered by 90% to about 16,000 units and China with almost 15,000 units sold (+170%). Germany ranked 5th with about 13,400 units sold (+57%).   The electronics, automotive, and metal industries were the main drivers of the high increase of robot sales in 2010. Robot sales to India are still at a low rate, but increasing.
Further growth of robot installations in Americas and Europe
The recovery of robot installations will continue also in Europe and in the Americas. The automotive industry is continuing to implement new technologies and use new materials which will require new manufacturing lines. The application of robots in other industries, i.e. food and beverage and pharmaceutical, will further increase. The growing demand in alternative energy sources after the recent nuclear catastrophe in Japan will also push robot installations, e.g. the production of solar cells etc.  Improvements in safety, flexibility, accuracy and ease of use of robots will facilitate access to new markets. Robots will penetrate areas with a still low rate of automation.  Small companies will start using robots in order to stay competitive. 
More information:
Interesting Products
FANUC Robotics America
FANUC Robotics America demonstrated spot welding using the R-1000iA high-speed, compact robot and dual ARC Mate 100iC welding robots with a two-axis positioner.
Two ARC Mate 100iC robots use iRVision to locate welding paths on a toolbox which was mounted to a FANUC two-axis positioner. The dual-arm robots and the positioner simulate welding with coordinated motion. The R-1000iA/80F, with a lightweight spot welding servo gun, performs simulated spot welding on the toolbox. The robots use iRVision Inspection software to verify the welding tips are in good condition, and properly aligned to improve quality and lower scrap/rework costs caused by poor tip conditions.  
More Information:
KUKA Robotics Corporation
KUKA Robotics showed the LWR 4+, a lightweight 7-axis robot, demonstrating demanding assembly tasks that require precision, and a sensitive but powerful touch.  The LWR 4+ has a 7kg payload capacity that weighs in at 16kg in total unit weight.  It comes close to the motion sequences of the human arm. Through force-controlled surface following, the operator can manually guide the robot to different positions in the workspace while controlling and teaching the LWR using the user interface.  
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Motoman demonstrated the SDA-series robots – quick, agile, with “human-like” flexibility of movement. These robots feature 15 axes of motion (7 axes per arm, plus a single axis for base rotation).  Internally routed cables and hoses reduce interference and maintenance, and also make programming easier.
Both robot arms can work together on one task to double the payload or handle heavy, unwieldy parts, trays or pallets. The ability to use dual independent arms to process parts reduces the need for expensive custom fixturing and allows end-of-arm tooling to be simple and less costly. SDA-series dual-arm robots can hold a part with one arm while performing operations on the part with the other arm. The unit can also transfer a part from one arm to the other with no need to set the part down. 
More information:
ABB Robotics
ABB demonstrated the IRB 2600 medium capacity range of multipurpose robots. The IRB 2600 features an optimized compact design, an ultra-wide working range and a payload capacity up to 20 kg.
The IRB 2600 can be floor, wall, inverted or shelf-mounted, helping to reduce floor space requirements and increasing access. The IRB 2600 has a total arm weight of less than 300 kg and occupies less floor space than any other robot in its class. The IRB 2600 family contains three versions: two short arm variants (1.65m) for 12 or 20 kg payloads, and a long arm variant (1.85m) with a 12 kg payload.   With the wrist vertical, up to a 27 kg payload is achievable for pick and place packaging applications.   ABB also offers the most comprehensive protection program for industrial robots on the market.   The IRB 2600 has a standard Ingress Protection (IP) 67 rating for the entire robot, and “Foundry Plus 2”, a further protection level, is available as an option. 
More information:
Adept Technology, Inc.
Adept demonstrated the MT400, an intelligent mobile robotic platform that combines the high payload capable mobile base station with an onboard Motivity controller and software for automatic map generation and guidance.  The mobile platform, with its communication interfaces and accessories, can be used to deploy industrial applications that need flexible mobile automation.
The MT400 navigates autonomously and safely through any accessible space within the defined workspace, and knows where it is in reference to its workspace (location-aware technology).   At the show, versions of the robot with touch screen, camera, and wireless communications roamed the exhibit areas.
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In the expo area featuring new innovations, the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard (E.M.I.L.Y.) was shown. This is kind of product that when you see it, you are amazed that no one thought of it sooner. E.M.I.L.Y. is a remote-controlled buoy that Lifeguards toss it into the water from a beach, aircraft, or ship, and it zooms toward its target (with an electric impeller) at speeds up to 28 mph.  Once it has made contact, it can tote swimmers back to shore (traveling up to 80 miles on a single battery charge) or give them something to hold onto until help arrives.  The device measures 54 inches long by 16 inches wide by 8 inches tall, and weighs 25 pounds.   E.M.I.L.Y. can also have a camera and a speaker, so that onshore lifeguards can talk to the person in distress to calm them down and give them instructions. 
More information:
Video: Meet the remote control lifeguard:
Thoughts & Observations
Demand from the automotive industry has been the main driver for growth in the robotic industry. However, robot companies have been discovering other markets during the business downturn. I think this is healthy for the robot companies and industries.
The Asian countries, which have been considered low wage rate areas, are aggressively adopting robots. This should make manufacturers in other parts of the world think about the reliability and quality advantages of using robots in their operations.
Discussion at the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) Executive Round Table included the need to improve software to make robots easier to apply, the integration of vision, and the need for more agile robots. Åke Lindqvist, IFR President, commented that there may be a better perspective when thinking about making robots easier to program. He suggested that we get stuck in a mindset of how to program the robot and we should look at if from the perspective of “how do we get the robot to do what we want it to do.” On the tradeshow floor there were a number of companies that demonstrated design and simulation software for manufacturing that automatically programs robots. This is analogous to solid modeling design software that now directly creates machine tool programs.
E.M.I.L.Y. is a great example of using robotics in other ways to solve other problems.
Robotics is going to be part of the future and the FIRST Robotics competitions are a great stimulus to inspire young people to get into a technology career.  The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) vision statement is:
"To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders." 
FIRST was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen - inventor, entrepreneur, and tireless advocate for science and technology - to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology.  The annual robotic competition is an exciting event and FIRST programs provide an opportunity for automation professionals to be mentors.  
Youtube Video about FIRST

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