Cobots for the modern factory

SMC Australia | New Zealand

Thursday, 18 February, 2021

Cobots for the modern factory

Collaborative robots (cobots) are on everyone’s minds as they continue to grow in popularity. SMC Corporation has embraced the trend, producing components to complement these applications.

The market for collaborative robots is expected to experience robust and exponential growth in the coming years. A report from Interact Analysis predicts the collaborative robot market will be worth $7.5 billion by 2027. This would equate to roughly 29% of the global industrial robot market.

The economic benefits of cobots are particularly appealing. By some estimates, payback time for a typical cobot is between one and two years and can be as short as six months.

Mikael Sandell, OEM & Key Account Manager for SMC Corporation Australia New Zealand (ANZ) in Sydney, firmly believes in the power of collaboration.

“Today it is all about efficient, quality manufacturing with no room for error. At the same time, manufacturers are thinking of new ways to ensure social distancing and to deal with challenges around shortened supply chains, lights out manufacturing and reshoring,” Sandell said.

End effectors — a matter of symbiosis

End effectors, primarily in the form of grippers, enable the business end of the cobot to handle and manipulate parts with a wide variety of shapes, sizes and materials.

The flexibility of adapting a cobot to many different applications is of major benefit. For instance, a cobot used to do screwdriving on an assembly line can be easily refitted with a different end effector and used in a pick-and-place application.

It is advised that machine builders or integrators communicate closely with their customers to ensure the success of the union. Choosing the correct end tool is critical to the success of the application. Here, one needs to consider size and weight optimisation too as the weight of the end effector affects the overall payload.

Choosing the correct end effector

Start by defining the task, including the piece or pieces to handle (shape, weight, material).

The following questions should be considered:

  • Are all them the same, or is there a mix?
  • What is the required cycle time?
  • Is precision needed?
  • What about force?
  • Does it need to be customised?

SMC has the following solutions:

  • Pneumatic grippers are well suited to general pick-and-place applications. Air-operated solutions, by definition, provide a higher force, speed and operating frequency. If none of those parameters need to be controlled or precise, a pneumatic gripper is the best solution.
  • Vacuum grippers are generally in the form of suction pads. Suction holding is normally recommended for moving and transferring delicate or flimsy workpieces. They are available to fit many unusual shapes and are constructed from a variety of premium materials such as silicone, NBR, urethane and fluorine, or those compliant with FDA standards.
  • Electric grippers are used when it is necessary to control the position, force or speed. They allow partial closing and opening, for example. This is helpful in some processes, as it does not compromise the cycle time. Controlling the grip force and speed makes them suitable for handling delicate pieces or when the process requires handling of different pieces.
  • Magnetic grippers are suitable for those applications where suction pads and grippers will not perform optimally due to uneven or porous surfaces. With a holding force of up to 120 N, they provide a versatile solution with a variety of applications for handling ferrous metals.

SMC also can provide all these gripping technologies and develops plug-and-play grippers and gripper systems for all cobot and robot suppliers. They are based on energy efficiency and performance, with special focus on size and weight optimisation. The consideration of weight, overall dimensions and ergonomics assist machine wrist movements and avoid limiting its performance.

The company also combines a 360° approach to automation necessities such as electric solutions that assist cobot mobility with the technical support to customise automation solutions that adapt perfectly to production processes and ensure optimum flexibility.

And claimed to be a game-changing technology for the cobot market is the application of wireless technology (EX600-W from SMC) to drive pneumatic, digital and analog signals. This is designed to reduce or eliminate cabling, especially for applications involving mobile devices, which experience such issues as breakage due to cable frictions. This can produce major machine faults and lead to downtime or lost production.

The alliance between cobot and end effector actualises the flexibility that industry and end user demand nowadays. The new World Robotics 2020 Industrial Robots report, released in September 2020, states that collaborative robots have shown a rise of 11%. Of course, the cobot market is in its early stages of adoption, but SMC is eagerly looking forward to being a part of this exciting industry.

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