The rise of robots and the enabling sensing technology

The increase in robotic integration may be due to affordability and easier programming, but sensors collect the information they need to be productive.

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor

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Robots have their hands—er, arms—in more manufacturing and assembly processes than ever. Affordability and ease of integration has helped to increase their popularity, but none of that would be practical without the use of sensors to let the robot’s control system know what to do, based on the environment.

As these two technologies converge, several questions arise, so we posed them to a panel of industry veterans. They include Chris Elston, senior controls engineer, Yamaha Robotics; Scott Mabie, general manager of Americas region, Universal Robots; Helge Hornis, manager intelligent systems group, Pepperl+Fuchs; Victor Caneff, business development manager, assembly and robotics, Banner Engineering; and Balluff marketing managers Wolfgang Kratzenberg, industrial identification, Henry Menke, position sensing, and Shishir Rege, networking.


resizedimage100100 Chris 4








Chris Elston

Scott Mabie 3








Scott Mabie

 Helge Hornis 2







Helge Hornis

Victor Caneff 3








Victor Caneff 


Wolfgang Kratzenberg2








Wolfgang Kratzenberg


 Henry Menke2    







Henry Menke


Shishir Rege2  







Shishir Rege




Presence sensors run the gamut—from capacitive and inductive proximity sensors to ultrasonic and photoelectric sensors, not to mention safety devices. Explain the importance of sensing devices to robotic integration in machines and equipment.

Elston: There are three types of sensor categories that come to my mind that are added in conjunction to an off-the-shelf robot, not including the sensors that are already pre-designed into a robot such as encoder feedback or, in the case of Yamaha Robotics, resolver feedback devices. Basic tooling sensing is end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) sensing. Preventive sensing is for things you don't want to see happen to a robot, like a crash. Safety sensing is to sense humans when they’re close to a robot in motion.

Each of these categories is important to ensure problem-free, maintenance-free and injury-free operation of industrial robots.

EOAT sensing is important in regards that not everything is manufactured perfectly. EOAT, or gripper, sensors are typically proximity or photoelectric type that sense when an object is gripped into the robot tooling, which is wired into the robot's logic process. If the gripper sensor is not active, for example, program structure will instruct the robot to take a different path or maybe stop operations to alert an operator nearby to look and see what the problem is and why the robot does not sense a part in the gripper. This type of sensing is typically twofold, where it's important to sense part presence with a robot to ensure trouble-free operations and it also instills a quality standard when a part entering a work cell is verified and detected by the robot EOAT before the robot attempts to advance the process on the given part. All robots should at a minimum have EOAT sensors as a standard when integrated into a work cell.

WEBCAST: Explore the fundamentals of collaborative robot safety

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