The typical person probably doesn’t wake up in the morning with an idea to build a 20-ton robot, standing five stories, wielding a 20 kW laser, and yet we did exactly that with the Laser Coating Removal Robot (LCR). This post, unfortunately, will not discuss the enormous robots you see in sci-fi movies. Instead, it covers large-scale industrial robots intentionally designed for manufacturing, construction, and other large workspace applications.
Taking on the task of deploying a custom robotic workcell can be daunting for the most seasoned robotics engineers, let alone teams that don’t use robots on a daily basis. This is reflected in what we hear from industry peers, customers, integrators, and collaborators.
Universities, startups and R&D organizations are facilitating the rapid evolution of industrial automation and robotics with innovative prototypes and emerging technologies. These new and exciting capabilities are gaining footing in manufacturing and industry, but a gap has emerged in system sustainability, not to mention broader adoption across the industrial domain: workforce development.
SwRI’s robotics and automation group is divided into a few “program areas,” or technology focuses, typically centered around a market segment. One of these program areas is titled “Intelligent Machines.” To the casual observer, Intelligent Machines could mean anything from the computer you are reading this article on to the microwave you reheated your leftovers in for lunch, which are machines that have some level of intelligence.
Many industrial processes, such as sanding or mechanical assembly, require a force applied and/or monitored to execute the process. This can be accomplished either through built-in compliance in the interaction between the tool on the robot and the part being worked on or through a rigid interaction and a controlled force being applied by the robot itself.
When you think about industrial robotics or automation you might imagine a large factory filled with robotic arms assembling automobiles or automated machinery building up electronics. What you might not immediately think of is a robot performing a one-off task that changes with every work-piece presented to it – but that is something we do, and do well, with our Scan-N-Plan technology.
Cable management is the mythical hydra of automation problems. For every edge case that is chopped off and solved, a new one appears to bite you. Dress pack management for collaborative robots, or “cobots,” has been a recurring problem for several years. The dress pack is the bundle of cables and hoses that connect to the robot’s tool flange. The more the robot moves, the more slack is needed to avoid pulling the dress pack so tightly that it gets damaged or stops the robot. If this extra length is left loose, it risks getting tangled.
In the past two decades, composites have increasingly displaced aluminum as the structural material of choice in the aerospace industry. Previously considered an exotic material confined to high performance military aircraft, composites are now widely used in the civilian sector; the composite airframes of the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 being excellent examples. Although the exceptional strength-to-weight characteristics of composites make them ideal for aerospace components, manufacturing and material handling challenges can make implementation of such materials difficult.
Commercializing new technology is always exciting, especially after years of research and development. SwRI and XYREC have been diligently developing a robot-guided laser coating removal solution for stripping paint and other coatings from aircraft and aerospace components. We are pleased to announce that the Laser Coating Removal Robot (LCR) was recognized by R&D World magazine as one of the 100 most significant innovations of 2020. For those of you who are new to the R&D 100 Awards, they are widely known as the “Oscars of Innovation.”
Welcome to the new blog we are calling Innovations in Automation. To kick off our first article, we thought it would be fun to discuss our roots in the field of industrial robotics and automation. When Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) first started working with robots, intelligence meant something very different, and just a successful implementation of a pick-and-place operation was reason for celebration. Simple vision systems required computer racks the size of a refrigerator coupled with cameras the size of a toaster.