When machines and ­robots work as one

When machines and ­robots work as one

B&R, a division of the ABB Group and a global leader in industrial automation, has developed Machine-Centric Robotics – a solution that allows machines on the factory floor to communicate with associated robots in real time.

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Sebastian Brandstetter B&R Industrial ­Automation, Eggelsberg, Austria, Sebastian.Brandstetter@br-automation.com

Machine-Centric Robotics will make it easier to operate machines as there will be only one user interface for machine and robot. As a result, for the first time ever, ABB will be able to offer its customers machine controls, including drives, safety systems, HMI, vision, and robots, as a package from a single source – something no other company matches.

Robots are evolving. Increasingly, they are working alongside humans, learning from experience, becoming networked, mobile, and even autonomous. These characteristics are in high demand for many reasons: aging societies, a shortage of skilled workers, and pressure for locally produced and individualized products that are nevertheless affordable and of the highest quality [1].

As manufacturers scramble to satisfy these requirements in a world of work transformed by Covid-19-related health and safety considerations, B&R has jointly developed in collaboration with other ABB departments a solution that allows machines on the factory floor to communicate with associated robots in real time →01.

01 Machine-Centric Robotics allows machines on the factory floor to communicate with associated robots in real time.
01 Machine-Centric Robotics allows machines on the factory floor to communicate with associated robots in real time.

Instant removal
A practical example of what has been achieved to date is the detection of an imperfection by a B&R vision camera. Here, in less than a millisecond, data regarding the imperfection is converted into a control command for an associated ABB robot, and the defective workpiece is removed from a production line without any manual intervention and without affecting the speed of the manufacturing process.

Behind the solution, which integrates ABB robots into the B&R control system, is a single architecture that melds the information needed by these two previously separate systems. This eliminates the need for a dedicated robotics controller, a separate control cabinet and specialized personnel for specific robotics languages.

The integration of ABB robots into machine automation solutions is supported by B&R’s pre-configured software modules. The modules are designed to make robotics applications extremely easy for machine builders to create. For instance, B&R’s mapp →02 Robotics software includes standard functions for control and commissioning as well as advanced functions such as feed-forward control, and compressor and workspace monitoring. This allows the user to implement complex and highly dynamic applications without having to write new code, thus dramatically reducing development times.

02 Modular preprogrammed (mapp) software components are as easy to use as a smartphone app.
02 Modular preprogrammed (mapp) software components are as easy to use as a smartphone app.

Single source
For B&R’s customers – primarily those who mass produce machines – these developments are exactly what is needed. The main reason for this is clear: Normally, the task of integrating and programming a robot is resource-intensive, especially for small and midsized OEMs, because many machines depend on extremely fast, precisely timed processes. Coordinating these processes in hard real-time with an external device is a daunting if not impossible challenge.

A second reason is that the average PLC programmer is not familiar with the tools and programming languages used to develop robotics applications. And third, dealing with an additional supplier consumes time and resources.

What is more, although this new solution will give OEMs a single source they can turn to for both robotics and machine control, ABB’s classic robotics offering will remain the same. That means that robot-centric applications such as automotive welding will remain in the domain of ABB’s other robotics divisions.

The distinction between the two areas is straightforward. If an entire process centers around a robot – as is the case with welding – then it is clearly a robotics application. But if a robot plays only a supporting role – like sorting out defects at full production speed – that is what B&R’s machine-centric robotics is all about.

Boot camp for robots
Obviously, the associated customers are as different as these applications. Machine-centric robotics is aimed at B&R’s traditional audience: machine builders. Robot-centric solutions, on the other hand, are typically used by systems integrators and end users – in short, classic ABB customers. Add it all up and it is clear that the B&R and ABB teams are now able to address the unique demands of each group’s customers.

03 B&R customers can choose from an array of articulated arm, SCARA, delta, and palletizer robots in various sizes and payloads.
03 B&R customers can choose from an array of articulated arm, SCARA, delta, and palletizer robots in various sizes and payloads.

Both groups will benefit from synergies. Machine builders will be able to choose from a wide range of ABB robots →03, including articulated arm, SCARA¹, delta and palletizer robots in various sizes and with various payloads – characteristics that are particularly important for machine applications where a high degree of synchronization with other components is required, as is the case with picking solutions. They will also benefit from direct, comprehensive robotics and machine control system consultation and support. B&R on the other hand, will become the sales channel of choice for machine builders looking for robotics solutions.

In a nutshell, what the B&R and ABB engineering teams have accomplished is to optimize communication between B&R servo drives and the motors in ABB’s robots →04. As this process nears completion, the teams are entering an intensive testing phase.

04 Robots are fully integrated in the B&R system.
04 Robots are fully integrated in the B&R system.

Each robot will undergo six months of fatigue testing boot camp. This phase is designed to guarantee that customers’ robots, controllers, and drive system will all work together flawlessly. A pilot operation is now in progress, and the first round of robots will be available in mid-2021. •

References
[1] T. Okuma, “Editorial,” 2018. Available: https://ifr.org/downloads/press2018/Editorial_WR_2019_Industrial_Robots.pdf

Footnote
1) SCARA (Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm) is a type of robot that is rigid in the third dimension.

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