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Enhanced vision systems and EOAT will expand robotic capabilities

Feb. 28, 2023
Increased bandwidth for robot deployment and support resulting from expanded remote monitoring will make robots more accessible for manufacturers

Juan Aparicio is vice president of product at Rapid Robotics, which introduced the robotics-as-a-service model to Behrens Metalware.

How has robotics technology benefited from remote monitoring and connectivity?

Juan Aparicio, vice president of product, Rapid Robotics: For traditional robotics integrators, not much has changed because of remote monitoring and connectivity, as their programming still only lives on the robots themselves. And I haven’t seen a motivation or urgency from them to exploit these capabilities. This lack of urgency, traditionally, stems from the reluctancy of some end users to connect the equipment to the cloud. However, that reluctancy is waning as people increasingly come to realize the many benefits this approach offers.

For newer robotics providers in the market who follow the robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model, remote monitoring and connectivity are critical. These capabilities allow RaaS vendors to provide higher levels of customer support in the form of service and innovation: support tickets can be resolved remotely, sometimes before the customer is even aware of an issue; data streams and playbacks provide transparency into why exactly a robot emergency-stopped, whether it be a bug or an employee bumping into the work cell; and over-the-air software updates increase robot value and versatility over time, without impacting the performance or downtime of the cell. Another key benefit of connectivity is scalability; this ability to service the robots remotely makes it possible to efficiently support thousands of robots, removing the need to physically go on-site to address each support call. I think the increased bandwidth for robot deployment and support resulting from expanded remote monitoring will make robotic automation more accessible for many manufacturers.

How do robotics technologies figure into digital-twin platform models being used by manufacturers?

Juan Aparicio, vice president of product, Rapid Robotics: The digital twin really impacts the entire lifecycle of the production cell. At the beginning of the automation journey with customers, digital-twin platforms help produce concept designs faster and with the right level of fidelity, so reachability and cycle time studies can be quickly generated to ensure the solution meets customer expectations. When programming robots and automation components, digital-twin technology allows you to simulate the task you want to automate, rather than having to build a robot and physically program it in the real world, taking significant time and human labor. In the support phase, vendors can have the digital twin in the lab to monitor the robots remotely, making it easier to address a bug or error in the field by reviewing playbacks of that simulation. Digital-twin models are only just beginning to make their mark in manufacturing automation, but the opportunity is massive.

When will robotics technology become IT-friendly enough that engineers are no longer required for installation and operation?

Juan Aparicio, vice president of product, Rapid Robotics: Robotic deployments will always require engineers, though as the Industry-4.0 shift continues, the role of IT in training and managing robots will increase as more is handled through software. But there is an unavoidable engineering aspect to robotics, like orchestrating all of the processes, designing and building end effectors and understanding how to make automation reliable, repeatable and consistent. And with every business, the factors at play are going to be different and you’re going to have to be flexible and creative. Because of this, engineers will always be needed for the installation and operation of robots in some way.

So, rather than contemplating when robot engineers will no longer be required for installation and operations, it would be more beneficial to look at whether facilities will need them as part of their own workforce. With the rise of businesses following the robotics-as-a-service model, manufacturers can partner with RaaS vendors who offer a centralized pool of engineers to deliver solutions. Rather than hiring robotic engineers, who are expensive, hard to find and in some cases difficult to keep, manufacturers could instead be focusing resources on finding what to automate next and collaborating with a RaaS partner to make it happen. In the long run, this will free up operational and capital resources to put toward other important things like upskilling valuable human capital and expanding the business.

What future innovations will impact the use of robotics technology in discrete-manufacturing operations?

Juan Aparicio, vice president of product, Rapid Robotics: There are two primary innovations I see impacting robotics in discrete-manufacturing applications: computer-vision-system capabilities and end-of-arm tooling. Vision systems have improved greatly in recent years, but they still have significant room to grow. The immediate application of advanced computer-vision technology is in creating structure in a task via software instead of via hardware artifacts like fixtures. It can also potentially add robustness to an automation task by identifying when abnormalities in the robot cell occur, like a missing part. In addition, advanced computer-vision technologies can impact the way we capture reality. Right now, digital-twin modeling is expensive and not very precise; as camera technology becomes more accessible and affordable, we can refine these simulations. As these simulations become more reflective of reality, we’ll be able to deploy robots faster, more easily and more accurately, which will likely expand the use of flexible robots in discrete manufacturing.

As robotic vision gets close to the level of what humans can do, getting to that same level with sense of touch would expand the application of robotics technology both in terms of tasks and industries. More dexterous end-of-arm tooling and sensing would give robots the ability to manipulate deformable parts and materials, like cables or fabrics. This will allow manufacturers in industries like textiles and shoes, who traditionally have many un-automatable tasks, to grow their robotic workforce.

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About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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