Why use robots?

Welding robotsRobots provide constant good qualityRobots are mainly able to perform a task, which they have been instructed to do. They are very capable of performing monotonous work, and they are very precise when doing repetitive tasks. At the same time, robots can perform tasks which are not suitable, or even dangerous, for humans. In many cases, robots can work faster and with higher precision than humans can achieve. All this provides higher productivity and a constant good quality.

If the return of investment is adequately short, this is already enough to justify an investment in a robot installation. However, other important advantages by using robots do exist. Employing robots often implies the need of adapting and optimizing other areas in the production. The logistic might need a change to avoid the robot wasting its time by waiting. The production flow might need a change to make better use of the robot, and the product design might also need to be changed.

All together, these modifications can create a more flexible production which in turn will make the enterprise more competitive. The possibility of taking new orders, due better competitiveness, may not be underestimated. At best, this can help the company survive and grow. In countries with relatively high wage levels this can even prevent companies from moving their production to countries where production costs, but also qualification levels, are lower.

Is it difficult to use robots?

Yes and no! It is important to distinguish between installation (and commissioning) and the daily execution of the working task. Mainly the installation is critical. Many robot installations have failed to be successful wholly or in part because of a lacking understanding of the challenge to transform a task, which is relatively simple for humans, into a complete robot installation capable of executing the same task. Once a robot installation has been installed and commissioned correctly, it will usually execute the task with efficiency and stability.

In particular, robots do not have the same possibilities to sense and adapt to changed conditions as easily as the humans can, since robots usually only has a few and very specific sensors to rely on. For example, the robots usually expect items and surrounding obstacles to be placed at specific locations, with only slight tolerances being acceptable. Otherwise, a robot might not be able to locate the item, and might even collide with it.

Another issue with robot installations is that they are mainly prepared for serial production. That is, execution of few or maybe even only one specific task. The trend in production enterprises, however, is that there is an increasing demand for adaptation to individual customer needs, which in turn requires quick redirection of the production. In which case it is crucial that the robot can be reprogrammed quickly and efficiently for executing new tasks, such that long standstill in production is avoided. Off-line programming solutions with built-in simulation provide means to cut down the redirection of production.

Vision and robots

Robot equipped with laser sensor Vision systems are becoming a powerful extension of the sensing equipment for robots. In simpler cases laser vision is used to measure distances or recognize contours of items. In more advanced cases Vision based on camera technology is used to recognize items and evaluate their shape and calculate their exact position and orientation in three dimensions (3D). If the traditional sensors are giving some "finger sensitivity" to robots, then Vision can provide the robots with eyes.

The challenge in using Vision together with robots is partly the task of transforming image information into robot control commands, and partly to make a dynamic robot program which can act based on the information it receives. As an example, once the Vision system has detected the (random) location of an item, then the robot need to be "re-programmed" before it can correctly handle this item. The task of re-generating the robot program is made difficult by the limitations of robot movement capabilities (kinematics) as well as the potential risk of colliding with obstacles being within the reach of the robot.

The great strength of Vision is that it allows much higher flexibility in "presenting" the items for the robot, but also that the process of detecting the item can be significantly faster than with traditional sensor Technologies.