CrossRobotics Business Manager with Cross Company Motion Solutions. Specialties include all things robotics, machine design, electro-mechanical systems, servos, automation, mechatronics & manufacturing. Follow Andy @AndyCrossCo.
I have had the pleasure of seeing how far things have come in the world of motion control and robotics over the past 20 years. Working for a company that provides Motion, Pneumatic, and Robotic solutions, I have also seen an evolution on how these technologies get presented to our customers.
There was a time when if an Automation Account Manager committed to doing an onsite demo of a robotic or motion solution, that meant showing a canned set of programs and touring the development environment. Every couple of years there would be an improvement in the technology, but nothing changed significantly in the presentation process. For instance, we went from having to worry about letting the ‘magic’ smoke out the drives or our customer ‘hot plugging’ a motor to being able to show set up wizards and point table style programming environments.
But, regardless of how much better the tech got, something you would never see is an Account Manager (not an Applications Engineer) dragging a demo out of the back of his trunk, having it set up within minutes, and develop the customer’s application on the fly in front of a crowd of people.
Since we became a Universal Robots distributor 3 years ago, that has all changed.
Here are a few examples of what's changed that come to mind (including video quality!):
The game has changed in a significant way and we do this on a regular basis now, including improved videography!
So why should this matter to anyone other than the Automation Account Manager? The same reasons that make doing a custom demo on the fly possible are the same key selling points for anyone looking to implement new automation.
One the most frustrating experiences for someone who is given a new motion or robotic solution to master is how long it can take just to get from setup and configuration to being able to see motion, much less have the application running. UR’s polyscope interface makes it so virtually anyone can program a precision pick and place application within minutes (with logic and I/O interaction). Although we encourage our customers to get official training on the solution, it isn’t unusual for many with basic applications to have their solution up and running within hours of unpacking the robot without any more than brief introduction to the technology.
Yes, you absolutely have to do a risk assessment with Universal Robots, just like any other Force Limited Robot, and the new ISO/TX15066 presents some very good guidelines that should be followed. However, for the right application, you can use a Force Limited Robot cage free and that is truly a beautiful thing (for an engineer at least). The implications of this for many manufacturers is huge. Imagine being able to add robotic automation to an existing process without moving or changing the production line. Or not taking up additional floor space with empty Safety Cages! Or allowing operators to interact with industrial automation, so it can improve their productivity and value. All of these scenarios are freedoms rarely experienced before now.
True automation flexibility is being able to retask a robot on fly. Not only is this a game changer for adding new automation to a production line, but making modifications to the process as needed - as many times as needed - without having to have an Automation Engineer on call...certainly wasn’t possible in the past.
It has almost become a cliche in the automation world how often a robotic solution is mothballed due to small changes in product being produced (ever noticed how many times the packaging changes on your favorite snack?). Walk through 10 manufacturing facilities that have used traditional industrial robots and I bet that if you look close enough, you will find at least five of those facilities have a robot stuck in a corner because the production requirement went away or the cost to maintain the solution became too much of burden.
With Universal Robots' solution, changing a waypoint or logic statement can be done in minutes - many times seconds - and even if the production goes away, or you find yourself in a low volume/high mix situation, you can easily split the robots use between a number of locations. Just pick it up and move it, as detailed in this customer case study. Imagine leveraging your automation assets exactly where it will give you the highest return on investment at any given time, not just based on where it is bolted to the floor. That’s powerful.
So yes, technology like Universal Robots Six Axis robot solutions have made the life of an Automation Account manager easier, but the real benefit is for the user of this technology. It benefits the SME who has simple machine tending applications, where they can let the robot run parts at night vs the owner staying after hours. Or it can benefit a major automotive manufacturer that has numerous places where a robot can be used to perform ergonomically challenging applications, while the operator focuses on quality control and throughput.
The true benefit of ease of programming, safe operation, and flexibility of a collaborative robotic (cobot) solution is to our customers who use them.