What Powers Industrial Automation and the Use of Robots
Robots get a lot of attention in the world of automation. There are many myths surrounding what so many have come to regard as mechanical people. Get a better understanding of how robots operate and understand what automation means for your company.
Different engineering disciplines come together to make automation possible. Electronics, control systems, mechanical design and software tools are combined to create an automated system.
When these are integrated well then you have a system that lets you make higher quality products, reduce the risk of liability from injuries, and generate greater profits. Let's see how a few of the components impact automated operations.
Programmed for Flexibility
Today's industrial automation is flexible thanks to advanced software. Even small manufacturers can invest in systems that can be programmed and used for making different types of products. The right system can allow a company to diversify the products it makes without re-tooling.
Just like a personal computer can be loaded with different software applications, automated systems can be programmed to serve different functions. This allows robots to respond to the process and changes in environment taking place, rather than the process having to fit the robot's capabilities.
Touch and Go
In some cases, completely different uses like a palletizing system and spot welding application will use the same software. It's the graphical user interfaces that are different and they'll have distinct appearances.
Advances have been made with the Human Machine Interface (HMI) such as the GOT2000 Series from Mitsubishi which is described in an article here.
An operator touches specific points on a screen with an interface similar to a tablet or smartphone. The system kicks into action. The GOT2000 Series monitors and controls machine components with a graphical touchscreen using "intuitive gestures."
Today's Research is Tomorrow's Commercial Use
Software is usually proprietary, designed for the specific make of a robot. There is a move toward open source software. Robot Operating System-Industrial (ROS-I) is being used at the university level and the research is paving the way for future commercial uses.
ROS-I is allowing code to be written for new technologies and industrial robot makers that do not adopt an open source-friendly approach may not be able to use these new technologies in the near future. More information is available in the article Robot Design, Integrated Controls and Software Architectures of Industrial Robots.
Programmable Logic Controllers
A programmable logic controller (PLC) lets an operator control a robot. These controllers eliminate the need for rewiring and adding additional hardware for each new configuration of logic.
PLCs add a convenience factor to industrial automation. Yaskawa Motoman has introduced the MLX200 Robot Gateway and the single gateway controls multiple robots. With MLX200, robots are maintenance staff-friendly as troubleshooting of the entire system happens in one place, in one language. Multiple programming languages are no longer required as noted in MLX200 Robot Gateway: Control and Program Multiple Robots through PLC.
Robots are machines that mimic human movement and capabilities. We have brains and nervous systems and we learn safety measures like not touching a hot stove. Robots have sensors that tell them to stop if a person gets in their way or helps them recognize items they need to pick up.
Many robots no longer have only one function, like grabbing one part and attaching it in a specific spot. In warehouses, robots can help create custom orders. One robot might handle items as unique as boxes, tennis balls, and chairs as noted in the article After 50 Years Robots have New Horizons.
Software and sensors work together to create a three-dimensional "puzzle of different size items" and vision sensors help the robot recognize different shapes.
Sensors play an important in all types of automated systems even when robots aren't present.
A bakery in San Antonio, Texas needed to monitor temperatures and keep them within a narrow range to ensure product quality and safety. Wireless temperature sensors used in a central control and monitoring system were key to meet the goals for Hill Country Bakery.
Patti Engineering of Auburn Hills, MI developed an application for the bakery using a software platform that monitors the temperature zones, sends alarms via email, can be monitored via mobile devices, and can produce reports on demand for a specified periods of time.
Vision Guided Robots
Watching a robot dip into a bin and pick up a bottle cap looks like an effortless and simple task. It's a complex engineering achievement and this is where machine vision engineers show their skills.
The robot has to align three separate coordinate systems: the robots, the machine vision system, and the real-world coordinate systems. It's a challenge for the machine vision industry as noted in Machine Vision Moves Industrial, Collaborative Robot Applications Forward.
For the bin picking, light stripes are projected down into the bin or tote and 16 pictures are taken very quickly to guide the robot to the part. There are tools that guide the robot so no contact is made with the bin, which becomes a bigger challenge as the robot goes deeper.
Creating automated systems require people with various skill sets to work together from the beginning of a concept to completion. Making a robot and installing one requires communication and collaboration through each step of the process.
Industrial automation is an exciting field that can boost America's manufacturing capabilities. Visit A3 often to get the information you need on the latest topics and trends that impact your operations.
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