We at Yaskawa are spending much of our development efforts in making robots more mobile. Today, the robots are parked in place, and the work moves to the robot. This is not the way labor works. In efficient, productive factories, labor moves to where the work is. Robots need to do the same.
Mobile robots will help plants be more flexible with their layouts. They will allow a plant to scale production without increasing robot motion costs. For instance, machine tending lines are regularly deployed with a robot mounted on a servo track to service several machines. These tracks greatly limit the flexibility of a plant layout, but even worse, they don't allow the plant to increase production by adding another machine. There simply isn't any track left for the robot to reach the additional machine. Mobile robots can solve this problem. The plant engineer can choose a layout based on material flow requirements, and if machines need to be added, the robot can be reprogrammed to account for them.
Another area of technology development is grasping. Today's grippers are either very simple (like parallel grippers or rotary actuators) or are exceedingly complex (with several actuators or cylinders and many sensors). No one has yet developed a cost-effective gripper that is flexible enough to handle many different part types, but simple enough to be easily programmed. In short, we need a more human-like hand on the robot wrist. There are many exciting developments in grasping technology, and we are at the forefront of applying them to industrial automation problems. Over the next 5-10 years, robots will be able to pick up an individual screw with one hand, a screwdriver with the other and assemble a component. The robot will then use the same hands to pick up the final assembly, inspect it with its "eyes" and package it in a box.
The future of industrial robotics has never been brighter. The pace of innovation is at an all-time high, and there will be more new products in the next five years than we have seen in the past twenty. Yaskawa has a defined technology roadmap for bringing automation to many new areas and to grow our business along with yours.
Stick with us. The fun is just beginning.
By Erik Nieves, Technology Director