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4/23/2018 | 2 MINUTE READ

Robots at NPE: Faster, Stronger, Smarter

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Robots performing their acrobatics at NPE2018 will be faster, smarter, more connected, and, in some cases, more “collaborative” than previous generations. Interviews with leading robot suppliers show remarkable unanimity about the overall points of emphasis...

NPE2018 Exhibitor

Wittmann Battenfeld, Inc.

Booth: W3742

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Robots performing their acrobatics at NPE2018 are faster, smarter, more connected, and, in some cases, more “collaborative” than previous generations. Interviews with leading robot suppliers show remarkable unanimity about the overall points of emphasis: new control features to speed cycles, facilitate maintenance, and ease programming; increasing integration of robot and machine controls; and growing industry reliance on automated cells with multiple downstream operations integrated beside the press. This last emphasis is bringing a wider range of robot types in show booths—SCARA types, delta or “spider” types, and a growing variety of “collaborative” concepts. Six-axis jointed-arm robots are also more plentiful than ever at this NPE, but they are facing competition from five-, six-, or seven-axis linear robots sporting servo wrists.

More sophisticated robot programming is shaving every possible fraction of a second off of cycle time by executing multi-axis movements simultaneously, anticipating the movements of the clamp and ejectors, and establishing optimum standby positions. Smarter robot controls can learn and adjust timing and positions for such automatic cycle optimization. On the other side of the coin, some controls actually slow down the robot when the cycle permits, saving wear and tear by ensuring the robot doesn’t move any faster than necessary to get where it is going on time.

The speed, precision, and programmability of servomotors have largely replaced pneumatics on takeout robots—both on the main axes and on wrist rotation. As you’ll see on the show floor, servo sprue pickers are also having their day while becoming, in fact, mini robots. One supplier notes that servo pickers offer benefits for controlling orientation of demolded parts. However, there’s general agreement among robot vendors that pneumatics will have a place in simple pick-and-drop applications for some time to come.

The constant pressure to squeeze out higher productivity also means less patience with “flutter” of the robot’s vertical axis due to acceleration, deceleration, and machine shock and vibration. Robot suppliers have worked steadily to reduce mass and increase stiffness of robot arms to minimize inherent vibration tendency. They also use software for active vibration suppression—controlling acceleration/deceleration and using small robot counter-motions to dampen vibration (analogous to noise-canceling headphones).

Ease of programming has been a steady trend. Some vendors have approached this, in part, by ensuring a consistent interface among all models in their line; another strategy has been to apply a similar look and approach to programming six-axis, jointed-arm robots and linear or Cartesian models. And the newest category of robotics—collaborative robots, or “cobots,” eliminate the need for specialized programming expertise by employing “lead-through” teach programming, which allows the robot to “learn” even complex tasks quickly. Some cobots at the show are equipped with a built-in camera that can scan a QR code at a processing station, which instantly calls up a previously learned program for use at that station.

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