Amanda Koppel | Via: I4MS
As we have heard numerous times, the robots are coming — and they’re coming in larger numbers than ever before. Especially in manufacturing, robots have made their mark on industry and today 44 % of all Danish SME manufacturing companies use robots to some extent (Danish Technological Institute 2018). Three years ago, only 31 % of the same group reported that they are using robots.
There’s no indication that this development will slow down in the coming years. In fact, new technological solutions are constantly popping up across the manufacturing landscape making it possible for SMEs and other companies to use robots for new tasks in new industries. MADE is involved in multiple collaborations surrounding the use of robotics in manufacturing. In this article, I will present a few of the trends we are seeing around industry and academia in the area of automation and robotics.
1. Closer collaboration between robots and humans
Collaborative robots — or “cobots” — will be hard to miss in the coming years and are currently an important focal point for many actors in the manufacturing industry. By getting humans and robots to work together more closely, companies will experience an array of new options for automation of tasks that are currently not feasible with existing technologies. The core function of the cobot will be as a tool to deal with simple, repetitive part-tasks, while the human can focus on problem solving and more complex tasks. But ensuring a smooth cooperation between robot and human operator still requires a lot more R&D, especially when the most important job is to ensure the safety of the humans that will be working side by side with robots.
2. Smarter and more intuitive robots
In 2019, we’ll also be focusing on making robots more intuitive to use and adding higher levels of intelligence to them. In order to make robots more accessible for companies and specific tasks, manufacturers must focus on increasing the user friendliness and flexibility of the robots, and the supporting equipment such as part feeders and grippers, which is why they’re working on making the programming and the set-up process of a robot more intuitive. For example, by using robotic modules, businesses can pick and choose between standard modules designed to enable a robot to be adapted to a specific task or enable the production of a specific product. We’ll also be seeing more robots having integrated AI and machine learning which will make them faster learners and able to optimize their own performance and adapt to component and process variation which would typically cause a production stop.
3. The robot’s surroundings — especially feeding mechanisms
While the robotic arm itself is one thing, another thing is all the components attached to it or surrounding the robot as a whole. We expect to see robotic add-ons and accessories becoming even more coveted in 2019. These add-ons could be anything from tools and grippers to software, vision systems or feeding systems that help the robots with their grip and vision challenges and much more depending on the add-on. In Denmark within this area of robotic accessories, we’re seeing a lot of interesting potential for growth, especially for companies specializing in this aspect of robotic technologies.
Of these we find feeding mechanisms especially interesting. Feeding mechanisms help present the right object to the robot arm in order for the robot to grab the object and transfer it to where it needs to go. Developing smart feeding solutions is important for robots in the manufacturing industry since the industry is becoming more and more interested in producing smaller series of products and the handling of these small series requires new solutions. The traditional solutions based on vision systems and vibratory bowl feeders are usually both expensive and difficult to reprogram for new objects to be picked up restricting their application to large production volume and limiting the application of automation in SME’s. MADE among other actors are very interested in gaining insights about up-and-coming solutions and hopefully 2019 will be a big year in robotics research.
What are you excited about for 2019 in the robotics realm? An event, a company, a project or technology? Join I4MS Community and let us know in the comments.