Robotics Featured Articles -Robotic Industries Association - Robotics Online                                       Page 1 ...
Robotics Featured Articles -Robotic Industries Association - Robotics Online                                         Page ...
Robotics Featured Articles -Robotic Industries Association - Robotics Online                                       Page 3 ...
Robotics Featured Articles -Robotic Industries Association - Robotics Online                                            Pa...
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2011 02 04 Roboticsonline Av&R Feb2011 Surface Inspection


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Unique robotic applications: article discussing visual inspection

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2011 02 04 Roboticsonline Av&R Feb2011 Surface Inspection

  1. 1. Robotics Featured Articles -Robotic Industries Association - Robotics Online Page 1 of 4Unique Robotic Applicationsby Bennett Brumson , Contributing EditorRobotic Industries AssociationPOSTED 02/07/2011When people think of industrial robotics, the automotive and electronics industries often come to mind first. As robots andtheir peripheral equipment improve, robotics are called on to perform tasks in industries such as the food and beveragebusiness, as well as in the aerospace, medical device and pharmaceutical markets, among others.“More specialized robots for the food, pharmaceutical, and medicalindustries are available in the market now. Robots performing some ofthese specialized tasks were very limited five years ago,” says DavidArceneaux, Operations Manager at Stäubli Corporation (Duncan, SouthCarolina). Some of these applications requiring specialized solutionswere not plentiful five years ago but are increasing along with theevolution for specialized robotic automation.”Specialized ApplicationsFood and beverage applications promise to be among the fastestgrowing and most important sector for the robotics industry. Traditionally,jobs in food production facilities were performed manually and wereextremely repetitive with high ergonomic risks in a cold environment.Robotics hold the promise of mitigating the dangers of working in foodprocessing plants. Robots are cleaner and more consistent that humanworkers and offers flexibility to stay current in an ever-changing market.“We see a nice future for robotics in both primary and secondarypackaging applications, More food manufacturers are using robotics forplacing food into trays and for tray manipulation,” asserts Sylvie Algarra,Food Activity Manager, Arceneaux’s colleague at Stäubli.Likewise, “The handling of food products promises to excite increasedinvestment in robotics because the food industry has been under-served,” says, Rush LaSelle, Director of Global Sales and Marketing withAdept Technology Inc. (Pleasanton, California). “As the robotics industry focuses its attention to that market, better means ofaddressing the specific needs of the food industry will continue. Robot manufacturers and integrators will service this marketwith products that satisfy sanitary requirements of regulatory bodies.”Upstream AppsAccording to Dick Motley, Senior Account Manager at FANUC Robotics America Inc. (Rochester Hills, Michigan), “Robotics inthe food industry perform tasks in four categories: processing, picking, case packing and palletizing. Robots doing theprocessing, actively forming food products, is the newest classification. Robots butchering meat is an example of that,”Motley argues.”Until recently, robots in food processing facilities only did palletizing chores towards the end of the line. Motley contendspalletizing is an application that robots do best. “Palletizing has notorious ergonomic issues because of the repetition.” Thefood product was already packaged in its primary wrapper and packed into cases or cartons. The final step before shippinghas robots placing those cases onto pallets. With improved robots and tooling, robotics are steadily making their wayupstream in food processing operations, from palletizing to primary and secondary packaging, towards directly handlingproduct prior to wrapping or packaging.Direct robotic handling foods is also on the mind of Clay Cooper, Applied Robotics Inc.’s (Glenville, New York) CorporateDevelopment manager of Food and Packaging. “I see more robots handling fresh and sliced meats because companies look 2011-03-04
  2. 2. Robotics Featured Articles -Robotic Industries Association - Robotics Online Page 2 of 4 at reducing labor costs on meat slicing lines.” Turning his attention to other foods handled directly by robotics, Cooper says, “Other than donuts, I have not seen many robots handling pastries yet. Donuts with chocolate on them are tricky for a robot to pick without leaving an impression.” Likewise, LaSelle points out “Meat cutting represents a growth area for robotics. Vision and laser technology combine to provide three- dimensional rendering, enabling systems to precisely process products with highly variable geometries.” Grading and portion control are areas ofheavy investment. “Grading meat is subjective and portion control helps producersensure they deliver exact amounts to maintain customer satisfaction,” LaSelle says.Varying InconsistentlyUnlike industrial products, foods are inconsistent in both size and shape. Vision and flexible end-effectors manage thesevariations. “Tooling for picking food products is a challenge. Providing end of arm tooling to allow robots to achieve targetedrates, properly handle the product without damage and that can be cleaned, are key. Tooling that provides for variations infood products must be considered in a joint effort with the end-user,” professes John Schwan, Director of Sales andMarketing with QComp Technologies Inc. (Greenville, Wisconsin). “Vision is more flexible and can be set to reject productsoutside of limits.”Consumers’ fickle taste drives end-users towards robotics to remain competitive and flexible, observes Tim DeRosett,Director of Marketing with Motoman Robotics, a division of Yaskawa America, Inc. (West Carrollton, Ohio). “Food companiesuse robots because of product variation and to easily differentiate their products from competitors. The variety of choices isgreater now than any time in history, particularly how food is packaged,” notes DeRosett. A Cold, Damp Place Robots in the food industry must function in an environment rife with moisture and cold. That setting poses challenges to integrators and end-users not found in other industries, notes Terry Zarnowski Sales and Marketing Director at Schneider Equipment Co. of Brewerton, New York. “The biggest challenge is that food products are often cold, wet, slippery, might have frost on them or be statically charged. Some products coming from food processors are dramatically different than when on store shelves.” To illustrate his last point, Zarnowski speaks of packaging for blocked cheese. “The plastic looks like it was shrink-wrapped but when the cheese is initially packaged the plastic resembles a football. The packaging is filled with an inert gas that is absorbed into the product by the time it gets to store shelves.” End- effectors must deal with those shapes. “Designing around an application’s variations is challenging. We provide standardizeddesigns customized for a particular application that takes into account all aspects of what end-users see in their real worldoperations.”CleanlinessRobotics play an increasingly important role in maintaining a safe food supply. People are most often the threat to safe foodprocessing practices rather than the process itself. “Robots do not gather contaminants, do not get colds and are consistent,unlike people. Recalls of food products and the following litigation are on the forefront of managers’ investment decisions,” 2011-03-04
  3. 3. Robotics Featured Articles -Robotic Industries Association - Robotics Online Page 3 of 4posits Schwan.LaSelle echos Schwan’s sentiments. “The Center for Disease and Control (CDC) says 70 percent of food borne disease aredue to viruses spread by infected individuals. With 40,000 cases of salmonella reported in the United States each year,companies that do not adhere to sanitation requirements are saddled with tremendous financial burdens.”In most robotic applications, integrators design work cells to protect the robot from the environment. In food applications,protecting the environment and the product from the robot are paramount. To sustain cleanliness, food industry robots areconstructed of easily cleaned materials.Robots are one way to comply with the newly signed Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011. The statute empowers the Foodand Drug Administration (FDA) to inspect food production facilities and order recalls of contaminated foods. To ensure thesafety of the food supply, the law requires larger food processors to formulate and adhere to safety procedures. Food-graderobotics will help producers to consistently abide by FDA requirements in ways that people cannot.“Robots for the food industry are made with stainless steel to be easily cleaned with high-pH chemicals. Using robots withoutcovers is the goals,” declares Algarra. “Food industry robots are enhanced to operate in wet, harsh environments whilesubjected to aggressive sanitizing chemicals.”To withstand a rigorous cleaning regimen, robots and their end-effectors must comply with sanitation requirements. “Foodindustry robots and end-effectors must be food-grade and capable of being washed. They need to meet IP69K ratings, towithstand high pressure wash-down and harsh solvents,” reports Robert Pitera, Global Innovation Manager at DE-STA-CO(Auburn Hills, Michigan). “The environment and regulations for wash-down and bacteria control are a challenge.” IP69requires food handling equipment to resist hot water sprayed at high pressure for a specified of time.The design of food robots is important, stresses Motley. “Robotics in the food industry are constructed so as not to causecontamination and so they can be easily cleaned and inspected, because draining and pooling of contaminates is an issue.The design ensures that contaminates are not drawn into gaps and crevices that cannot be cleaned.”Exotic Apps: Food, Pharmacy, Space and BeyondRobots are called on to perform unusual applications, such as harvesting, says Algarra. “Picking mushrooms is an exoticapplication. Milking cows is possible but managing the environment in agriculture is not as easy as in industrial plants.”“One of the early breakthroughs has been accomplished by Green Source Automation using sophisticated vision technologyto enable industrial robots to interact reliably with dairy cattle in a rotary milking parlor,” said Motley.Erik Nieves, Technology Director at Motoman Robotics, recalls a unique application where a robot performs masking onprinted circuit boards (PCBs). “Before etching printed circuit boards, areas you do not want etched need masking, anintensive process if done manually.”With so many different types of PCBs, programing robots to handle each is time-consuming, Nieves says and a moreautomated means to teach robots to etch the boards was necessary. “The goal was to import the PCBs drawings, detail-inwhere the masking parameters are. These parameters are downloaded into the robot.”The PCB masking application uses a dual arm robot. Nieves says, "The robot does its own material handling, picking a PCBfrom the rack, does the processing and puts it onto the out-going rack. In typical automation, the process and handling areseparate devices, so having one robot handle both was an advantage."Nieves also describes a unique application where robotics simulate repair of orbiting satellites. “The National Aeronautics andSpace Administration’s (NASA) satellite servicing initiative wants the ability to change batteries, refuel or repair satellites.Otherwise, a satellite becomes space junk and is a lost investment.” Robots tele-operated from earth or the internationalspace station will repair satellites when the system is fully implemented.While robotics are commonly used in the manufacture of medical devices, Nieves sketches a prosthesis fabricationapplication. "One of our system integrators provided a robot for waterjet cutting of composites for prosthetic lower extremities.The system was integrated several years ago, but the programming was cumbersome." Prosthetics are customized bydefinition and programing the robot meant printing out a template superimposed on the composite. "Someone had tomanually teach points with a pendant, which took all day and was fraught with error. If a mistake was made, the process hadto start over."Nieves gives an account of the improved robotic system. “We found a means to import the computer-aided design (CAD)data directly and generate a robot program through software without manual intervention. This process was very successfuland increased throughput.” The system uses Jabez Technologies Inc.’s (St. Laurent, Quebec, Canada) Robotmastersoftware. “The application revolutionized how prosthetics are made, going from teach-intensive to teach-less with noprograming required.”Arceneaux says robotics can be used in numerous hazardous environments now such as in automated pharmacies. “Mixingcancer drugs is not friendly to people. Automated pharmacy applications is one example of specialized robotics on the rise 2011-03-04
  4. 4. Robotics Featured Articles -Robotic Industries Association - Robotics Online Page 4 of 4because operators do not have to worry about contaminating the product or the human.” Arceneaux anticipates morespecialized robot applications for various industries in the future.Arceneaux anticipates more robot-based surgery. “Using robots to perform surgery requires following Food and DrugAdministration requirements by providing the necessary capabilities of the robot and its vision system to perform its tasks.”An example is Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot, now approved for use by the FDA.Aerospace applications offer unique challenges and uniquerobotic solutions, says, Michael Muldoon, BusinessDevelopment Manager of AV&R Vision & Robotics. (Montreal,Quebec, Canada). “We can do precise and complex applicationssuch as profiling trailing edges of propeller blades. The systeminspects the surface, analyzing critical components of aircraftengines and ensures they have no nicks, dents or scratches. If adefect is found, the system automatically tells the robot how toremove it.”Muldoon says the random nature of defects in aerospaceapplications is challenging. “The defect could be anywhere onthe airfoil. Depending on where the defect is, the system hasdifferent ways to repair it.”James Kravec, Senior Sales Engineer with Girard Engineering Inc. (Strongsville, Ohio) agrees. “Grinding and polishing ofaerospace and other high precision parts have progressed, providing tighter tolerances.”Automate 2011End-users and integrators will have chance to check out the latest and greatest robotic technology at Automate 2011, NorthAmerica’s premier automation showcase. Taking place March 21-24 in Chicago, Automate 2011 will combine cutting-edgemanufacturing solutions in robotics, machine vision and motion control technologies. Co-located with ProMat and theInternational Symposium on Robotics, Automate 2011 will also include a comprehensive educational conference featuring aseries of tutorials, workshops and the opportunity to upgrade skills through certification exams on machine vision.Adept, DE-STA-CO, FANUC, Jabez, Motoman Robotics, Schneider and Stäubli, among others, will showcase theircapabilities at the Automate 2011 show. Complete details on the show, agenda for the companion conference, registrationand hotel information and more can be found at or call RIA at 734/994-6088.Copyright © 2008-2010 Robotic Industries Association. Website Design and Development by AIMG | Accurate Imaging, Inc.900 Victors Way, Suite 140, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108 - T: 734.994.6088 - F: 734.994.3338 2011-03-04