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Expanding robot envelopes across the plant floor

Expanding robot envelopes across the plant floor

Placing a robot on a track greatly expands its operating envelope, potentially allowing it to tend multiple machines or to transfer materials across much greater distances. Will Bourn of Gudel explains how linear tracks can be used in many innovative ways to expand robot work envelopes in three dimensions.

We are all used to seeing robots operating in a fixed location across many different industry sectors and applications. However, it is becoming increasingly common that you will also see a 6-axis robot moving on a linear track between machines or workstations. For example, instead of three robots each tending a machine at separate locations, a single robot on a track could potentially tend all three, saving money and increasing efficiency. Or, a single material-handling robot on a track could replace multiple robots with intermediate transfer locations.

The general perception however, is that these tracks are always floor mounted and being used to enhance a robot’s work envelope in just one plane. But as robot integrators turn to Güdel when they need to enhance the working range of their systems, they are finding that the flexibility of the Güdel TrackMotion range is opening up potential for some truly innovative concepts.

Depending upon the application, it may be that the robot needs to be situated overhead as opposed to floor level. Mount a 6-axis robot to a Güdel TMO (Track Motion Overhead) series linear track and its available work envelope increases significantly, opening up a host of opportunities for greater utilisation and providing automation specialists and system builders with a more flexible approach to cell design and concepts.

This overhead track configuration lends itself to many applications. For example, machine tending on CNC machine tools or injection moulding machines, where the gantry mounted robot can access the machines from above, opening up operator and maintenance access and easing guarding issues. Further benefits from this approach are potential savings in valuable floor space and the opportunity to use a single robot to serve multiple machines, thus delivering a highly flexible yet cost effective solution. Güdel’s overhead linear tracks can have the robot mounted in a ceiling or wall attitude to provide maximum flexibility, or they can simply lift the robot up in the air in a conventional position.

Another novel approach is to mount the Track-Motion unit vertically, and once again the robot can be mounted in whichever attitude best suits the application. Commonly, this vertical axis will be combined with a horizontal floor-mounted slide to give a huge, flexible working envelope, often to quite a small robot. It is quite normal to see a very large robot being used to carry a small payload because of reach problems. This idea of a multiple axis robot mover means that you can often use quite a small robot over a very large working area whilst maintaining high levels of repeatability.

A futuristic example, which demonstrates the ultimate flexibility available from Güdel linear track systems, can be seen at the ETH University in Zurich, where a new building, the ‘Arch-Tec-Lab’ has been opened, to explore the impact of digitisation and automation on the construction sector. The Robotic Fabrication Laboratory, or RFL, is a globally unique robotics laboratory, in which four 6-axis robots hang from a ceiling-mounted Güdel surface gantry. Together, the installation is based on 36 system axes that can be used to place objects with a precision of half a millimetre at any location in the 45x17x6m work envelope. The purpose of this laboratory is to develop the usage of complex wooden structures which require accuracy and repeatability to produce reliable load-bearing beams.

As manufacturers in all sectors seek to introduce automation to fill a skills gap, improve quality and productivity, or reduce manufacturing costs, it is certain that Güdel’s range of linear track systems will become an increasingly important part of many manufacturing automation systems.

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