Robotiq application kit for finishing. (Image courtesy of Robotiq.)
Flexible automation, including industrial robots and cobots, is a rapidly growing market. Large and small manufacturers in North America and around the world are increasingly turning to automation to solve labor shortages, improve throughput and quality, and improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).
As the market for robots grows, more and more manufacturers are encountering the challenges of designing, integrating and operating a robotic cell. Getting a robot up and running in a reliable and productive cell usually requires in-house personnel with skills and experience with robotics, or extensive support from system integrators and vendors.
For the robots themselves, there is a trend toward simpler and more user-friendly human-machine interfaces (HMI) and programming, such as a graphical programming interface and lead-to-teach. But what about for the end effector?
“Right now, in order to start from a manual task or a manual process and transfer it to an automated process, there is an application complexity gap,” said Jean-Philippe Jobin, CTO at Robotiq. “The big issue is not the robot. The big issue is not the tooling. The big issue is putting everything together, and for the end user or the partners for people who are doing that for the first or the second time, it's still quite complex to understand each and every bit of the puzzle that needs to be put together.”
Robotiq application kit for sanding. (Image courtesy of Robotiq.)
Applications such as finishing, sanding and machine tending require integrating more than just one tool, such as a gripper, with the robot. For example, a machine tending application might involve dual grippers at the wrist of the robot, a vision system for locating parts, an electric or pneumatic fixture in the machine, and possibly an interface with the machine control itself. This is a lot to integrate, especially for a new user of automation.
Historically, this integration is done by a system integrator, who has the skills to bring accessories and components from an array of vendors together into a reliable solution. However, this process can introduce delays and costs to the project. In addition, once the robotic cell is up and operating, a fault may require an expensive and further time-consuming support call to the system integrator.
Robotiq has challenged this old way of putting together a robotic cell with the release of their application kits, which are designed to work seamlessly with Universal Robots. The kits include the end effectors, accessories and URCaps software to enable even a novice user of robotics to create a functional program for robotic sanding, finishing or machine tending.
“I think we're entering a phase with collaborative robots where initially, it was more technology driven and now it's much more solution driven. So, it is really answering more of the mass market and people care less about the technology and the novelty aspect of it, and really just want something that works and is easier,” said CEO Samuel Bouchard.
The application kits are not only intended for beginner users of robotics, but also for users looking to scale production without dealing with capacity challenges, especially in markets where finding labor is difficult. The kits are designed to make designing, integrating and operating a robotic cell faster.
What’s Included in the Application Kits
The application kits bring together Robotiq’s hardware and software solutions, such as the Copilot software suite used in the CNC Machine Tending, External Tool Finishing and Sanding Kit.
Robotiq’s CNC Machine Tending Kit includes a dual Hand-E gripper option, fingertip starter kit including an extender for larger parts, the Machine Tending Copilot software and an option to add vision with Robotiq’s Wrist Camera.
The company’s External Tool Finishing Kit comes complete with Hand-E and Finishing Copilot software, saving hours of programming while compensating for external tool wear.
Robotiq’s Sanding Kit is the only hardware and software sanding solution for Universal Robots. It’s ready-to-use kit includes an orbital tool, mounting bracket, air control accessories and Finishing Copilot.
The application kits are another addition to Robotiq’s product family which are designed to integrate seamlessly with Universal Robots.
In addition to the hardware, software is an essential part of the application kits. Robotiq’s copilot software suite provides a wizard interface for programming force tools, such as a spiral search for locating a hole.
Robotiq application kit for machine tending. (Image courtesy of Robotiq.)
New E-Learning Platform Supports Robotiq Products
In addition to the new kits, the company is also launching a web-based learning platform called Robotiq eLearning.
“We try to close the application complexity gap from both ends,” said Bouchard. “We're going to close the gap between the people who want to automate and all the knowledge that they don't have. We have technology that is easier to use, but we can also have people that are better trained to use it. On the eLearning platform, users will be able to access on-demand training on the applications and Robotiq products they are working with.”
According to Annie Giguère, Director of Product Management and Marketing at Robotiq and the Robotiq eLearning platform, training content on the platform will focus on collaborative applications such as CNC machine tending, pick and place and sanding, including for the application kits. Currently, product training is available for Robotiq’s Adaptive and Vacuum Grippers, Wrist Camera, Force Copilot and Insights. As the platform evolves, training will include all of Robotiq’s current end effectors and accessories, and URCaps tools.
Robotiq eLearning will also familiarize users with the Lean Robotics methodology, an innovative approach to practical and efficient setup and operation of robotic cells championed by Bouchard and the company. Lean Robotics focuses on eliminating the waste time which extends the design and integration phases of a robotic automation project such as technical support and programming, in order to start production faster.
As robotics, especially collaborative robotics, continues to grow in factories, machine shops and other production facilities, a greater number of new users are looking for solutions which are easy to integrate and operate. As a growing number of new users are working with robots for the first time, the industry is likely to see an increase in availability of learning resources like the new Robotiq eLearning platform.
To learn more about Robotiq eLearning and Robotiq’s application kits, visit the Robotiq website.
Robotiq has sponsored this post. All opinions are mine. --Isaac Maw