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Efficiency and sustainability the key topics at Automatica

Efficiency and sustainability the key topics at Automatica

The automation industry is working intensively on its own energy transition. Assembly systems, processes, robots and components are being tweaked consistently to be more energy efficient. Automatica, in Munich 3-6 June, 2014, is presenting pioneering technologies and the most recent developments for economical and sustainable production.

Manufacturers in robotics are targeting numerous, different measures to optimise the consumption of their machines - and this on top of the fact that the electric connected load of robots has been at a very low level for years. Today robot suppliers are pulling out all the stops in the struggle to achieve maximum efficiency, focusing on areas such as lightweight construction as well as drive and control engineering.

"Only the consistent further development in all three areas can result in a completely energy efficient system," comments Manfred Gundel, managing director of KUKA Roboter, pointing out the improvements achieved in the current robot generation KR Quantec. Energy costs can be reduced by up to 36 percent with these six-axis robots compared to the previous model. The decisive facts for this were weight reduction, pioneering control engineering with a newly defined standby mode and intelligent drive engineering. "And we are going to present further improvements in details, thanks to which additional savings potential can be achieved," Gundel promises.

Manufacturers are keen to examine any possibilities for saving energy in this context. While Stäubli Robotics has its own gear production department to be able to adapt drive engineering optimally to its respective robot series, Fanuc uses a method of energy recovery and believes it is the first robot manufacturer worldwide to do so. "The energy generated in the individual braking axles is fed back into the overall system," says Ralf Winkelmann, sales manager at Fanuc Robotics.

In the meantime, other suppliers are also betting on energy recovery or working on it. The current state of development of this technology will be shown on the stands of the respective manufacturers at Automatica 2014. But there are other approaches, too, that will deliver energy efficiency. For its part, Yaskawa has proven that innovative kinematics can result in energy savings with the introduction of the seven-axis welding robot. The additional axis gives the robot outstanding flexibility, which enables increasing robot density in cramped space. This results, for example, in reducing the area required in vehicle body production and consequently in decisive energy savings.

Grippers and end effectors

Potential for efficient robot operation, to which little attention was previously paid, is in the selection of add-on units. Regardless of whether you're looking at gripper or welding tongs, lightweight construction can deliver real benefits, for example when the required carrying load of the robot can be reduced thanks to lightweight power welding tongs so that a smaller series can be selected. A robot with a lower carrying load represents lower procurement costs, less required space, less energy consumption and consequently sustainability and productivity. Automatica 2014 will provide the opportunity to compare the weight of end-of-arm tools offered by different manufacturers.

The energy costs for robots is of particular interest with large six-axis robots that are employed in large numbers, for example in vehicle body assembly lines. On lines where up to 1,000 machines work, the savings potential of using energy efficient robotics can easily run into six figures. But even in other areas of industry where only a few robots are used, there is great potential for cost savings through overall consideration of systems, as Dr Michael Wenzel, managing director of Reis Group Holding, explains: "The total energy balance of automation systems is what pays, and system integrators who can think comprehensively and examine each individual process are in great demand. For example, significant improvements can be achieved thanks to new production processes and technologies as well as intralogistic solutions with reduced transport and handling expenses."

The use of machine vision alone at the right spot in a process can contribute decisively to reduced use of resources in production. For example, this is the case when faulty parts are detected during camera inspection and removed immediately without them running through the production process to the end. Industrial Machine Vision (IMV) is one of the most innovative technologies in the automation industry, and increasing performance of hardware and software, faster cameras, higher computing power, new interfaces and the like in automation are opening up new application fields. Automatica is presenting the newest components and complete solutions with specific reference to industrial applications.

Key topics in the camera field include dual 2D machine vision versus 3D machine vision, CMOS versus CCD sensors as well as smart cameras versus PC-supported systems. While some people are already considering 3D sensors and 3D applications areas such as quality assurance and part feeding, such considerations are still a long way off for others.

One of the advocates of 3D technology is Ira Effenberger, who works as group leader at the Fraunhofer Institute IPA with her staff on solutions for demanding applications. "The trend here both in automated part feeding as well as in quality assurance is increasingly from process-integrated 2D solutions to 3D machine vision systems," she says. "We have developed interesting 3D solutions based on light-section sensor technology for both tasks, and we are going to present the results at Automatica." What is beyond doubt is that, thanks to 3D vision systems, completely new applications are being opened up, which will provide further growth in the area of machine vision.

The complexity of the topic shows how important knowledge about the latest components, processes and technologies is for sustainable production. Automatica 2014 provides trade fair visitors with a wide range of energy efficiency topics with the presence of leading manufacturers as well as the VDMA sustainability initiative Blue Competence.
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