Y-Blog / There’s a Robot for That!

There’s a Robot for That!

Posted: 8/8/2019 1:00:00 PM by Josh Leath
Topics: 3D Printing, Additive Manufacturing, Consumer Products, Food & Beverage, Handling, Laboratory Automation, Manufacturing

When you think about industrial robots, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a welding robot on an automobile assembly line, but high-performance industrial robots are uniquely designed for so much more. From the aerospace industry to the clinical laboratory, and everything in between, robotic automation can take factory production processes, task-targeted automation and other applications to the next level. Here are just a few interesting and impressive uses that may inspire you to implement robotic automation in the near future.

Laser Ablation

Application/Industry
Automotive, Aerospace

Robot Model
Typically, a long arm robot with a lower payload (i.e., Yaskawa AR3120). One or more robots may be used, depending on the size of the part and desired cycle time.

Description
In applications where a surface has a coating (such as paint, grease, glaze, etc.) that needs to be removed, chemicals are typically used. Unfortunately, this creates a lot of waste, which is usually considered hazardous material. The subsequent environmental impact, and thus regulation, makes it difficult to use chemical solvents for this process. Moreover, the number of manual labor hours needed for wiping or scraping the coating to leave a clean substrate is time consuming.

Enter laser ablation, which burns away this coating layer to leave a clean, pure substrate. A filter or other containment device then easily collects the carbonized coating. As thermal laser processes require a light-tight workcell, a robot is required for proper safety. The robot can also be programmed to follow the complicated surface curvature, rather than the use of other hard automation.

Complex Surface Inkjet Printing

Application/Industry
Aerospace, potential for others

Robot Model
Long arm for aerospace, smaller depending on scale.

Description
In the past, when applying graphics to an aircraft or other large surface it has been difficult to accurately create detail when working with curved and complex surfaces. However, a 2017 project by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has made this complicated task a reality, utilizing a specialty inkjet printing head attached to the arm of a robot. This intricate process uses digital printing for superior performance and replaces the traditional labor-intensive task of painting graphics or applying decals in varied orientations over large areas. Like laser ablation, the robot is engineered to easily maneuver, expertly accommodating changes in surface angles very well and maintaining a consistent print repeatability and quality.

Since this technology’s inception, companies like Dutch robot manufacturer, XYREC, in cooperation with SwRI, Airbus and Marabu, have successfully demonstrated this revolutionary application on aircraft, claiming to reduce time in the paint shop from 16 to 5 days. Potentially compatible with any surface substrate, this technology could also be used to apply one-off or custom graphics to smaller surfaces, like textiles and billboards, or even complex graphics to wider surface areas.

Additive Manufacturing

Application/Industry
Prototyping, Custom Parts

Robot Model
Varies – usually a highly repeatable, 6-axis robot with six degrees of freedom (i.e., Yaskawa AR1440).

Description
Thanks to the adoption of motion control technology, robotics and power conversion, 3D printing has reached a level of finesse and precision in recent years that is good enough to create usable parts without any (or much) finishing. Ideal for attaching unique tooling that enables a wide area 3D printer, the use of industrial robots in additive manufacturing is helping to create a diverse mix of products, including machine tooling fixtures.

Once limited to plastics, today’s technology can accommodate substances such as ceramics, composites, metals, hybrid materials and more. Most recently, advancements in slicer software within offline robot programming software has made it possible to print metal pieces using filler metal techniques such as MIG, TIG, or laser welding. These parts can then be used directly or machined as needed, saving a great deal of waste from other milling or machine techniques on a block of metal.

High-Precision Milling

Application/Industry
Machining, Custom Components

Robot Model
Versatile and powerful handling robot with a mid-range payload. (i.e., Yaskawa GP-series robots).

Description
Traditionally an arduous manual task, milling is the process of grinding or cutting superfluous material away from a mold to form a specific structure. In an effort to increase worker safety, accelerate production rates, enhance product quality and better adhere to industry standards, companies in diverse industries are implementing the use of automated milling systems, with easy-to-program robots equipped with flexible tooling. This is often used in conjunction with 3D printing for part finishing.

Pallet Assembly

Application/Industry
Pallet Production

Robot Model
6-axis palletizing robot, ranging in payload from 50 kg to 800 kg.

Description
Difficult and dangerous, the task of manually building pallets is hard work. This, combined with the growing trend for stronger custom-designed pallets, has prompted competitive-minded manufacturers to implement robotic pallet assembly systems that provide the flexibility and consistency needed to build custom, stringer and block pallets from the same system. Likewise, freeing workers from the dull, dirty and dangerous work of pallet production allows decision makers to redeploy skilled workers to higher-value jobs within the company, maximizing return on investment.

Meat Processing

Application/Industry
Meat Packing, Poultry Production, etc.

Robot Model
Fast and powerful handling robot with a medium range payload.

Description
While safer and more sanitary than in the past, meat packing and poultry production plants still present distinct hazards that can impact the physical health of manual workers. To reduce human error and protect employees, meat and poultry processing companies are seeking out robotic technology to drive safety, optimizing efficiency in the process. Furthermore, improvements in vision technology and end-of-arm tooling over the last decade have enabled robots to easily facilitate a variety meat processing tasks, optimizing production.

Speciman Processing

Application/Industry
Clinical Laboratory

Robot Model
Varies on application (i.e, Yaskawa MotoMini for bulk oader, or a high-performance 6-axis robot with a lower payload for centrifuge).

Description
From skilled technician shortages to rigorous accreditation requirements – along with rising specimen volumes combined with inefficient workflows – clinical laboratories are facing many challenges today. Chief among these is the pressure to expand services in creative ways, providing a more value-based care approach while yielding cost savings. In an effort to move forward into the future of Clinical Laboratory 2.0, high throughput clinical diagnostic labs are turning to robotic automation solutions to complete pre- and post-analytic specimen sorting and processing tasks.

Ribbon Tying

Application/Industry
Food and Beverage, Pharmaceuticals, Consumer Products, Tacking and Logistics, Industrial Packaging

Robot Model
Compact and agile material handling robot with a lower payload.

Description
Manual bow tying can be a tedious task, potentially causing physical harm to workers. Due to increased demand for customized packaging, ribbon tying is growing in popularity. First used in 2014 for Esther Price Fine Chocolates Candy Co., this difficult to automate application required the combined use of 3D simulation software for precise programming and a high-performance robot for greater maneuverability and consistency. Likewise, having the proper end-of-arm tooling and a controlled environment for this application was critical to achieving optimal choreographed repetition.

Entertaining / Food Assembling

Application/Industry
Entertainment, Casual Dining, Theme Park, etc.

Robot Model
Varies on application.

Description
Not only do industrial robots help provide consistency for certain tasks in day-to-day operations, but also, they allow restaurant and other business owners to provide a unique experience to patrons. From being used for carnival rides to making egg sandwiches and dispensing ice cream, industrial robots are growing in use throughout the entertainment world. When outfitted with the proper end-of-arm tooling and equipped with the correct safety features, robots can accomplish a wide variety of out-of-the-box tasks such as bartending and more.

Conclusion

While the list for these unique applications could go on, the fact that industrial robots are able to add value to businesses in nearly every industry is impressive to say the least. The truth is, certain applications are extremely unsafe for humans to try, making those tasks perfect for robotic automation. Other applications that are dull or dirty are well-suited for robots, as they can fill a need where a human may not want to do the work. If you can dream it, most likely, our team of experts can make it a reality. And, if you are on the fence about whether a particular task could be automated, chances are, there’s a robot for that!
 


Josh Leath is a Product Manager, Welding – Yaskawa America, Inc., Motoman Robotics Division


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