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Harder, better, faster

Harder, better, faster

Adoption of robotics holds the promise of significantly improved productivity, but does the technology always live up to that promise? The anwer quite often is that robot productivity could often be improved. Users will detail their experiences of unplanned downtime due to out of sync communication between robots or PLCs; they will talk about the significant amount of time needed to reset after a stop in production; they will tell you about maintenance intervals driven by time rather than true condition-based monitoring. They may also talk about the large footprint robotic cells require due to fencing requirements. They may even tell you about material jams and need for human interaction requiring power off on the cell. 

B&R openROBOTICS technology with safeROBOTICS provides the solution for line builders, machine manufacturer or end users of robotics to tackle all of these issues and improve the overall plant productivity. As such, it provides a key component in realising the goal of the ‘Smart Factory’ purported in Industry 4.0 standards.

Advantages for the end user

Conventional system architectures using robotics typically involve a CNC or path generation system for the operator, with a safety PLC or hardwired safety system, and a robot controller as shown in the graphic below. Frequently there are multiple bus systems involved and at the very least the safety system is on a different bus than that of the robot. This means that the functionality of the safety system is split across different programming systems. This results in a highly complex system that can be difficult to fault find and diagnose errors. 

The performance of the overall system is also limited by the multiple controllers and disparate bus systems resulting in reaction times greater than 400ms. Lastly, whom is left responsible for the integrity of the safety system when it is serviced at a later date? The robot manufacturer? The safety system provider? The PLC solution? In the end, the classical solution leaves questions hanging regarding whom is responsible for personal protection. The commissioning effort is considerable and how easy and cost-effective is it to maintain this system over its lifetime?

B&R’s openROBOTICS with safeROBOTICS enables a homogenous architecture with a safety system that includes centralised data storage of the network and device parameters. A single programming tool develops the functional safety of the system as well as the motion, control, and robotic transformations. Along with the single network, the single CPU allows for the lowest reaction times (less than 40ms). Lastly, fault finding and diagnosis is completed via a web browser requiring no special tools or software. The full integrity of the safety system is guaranteed for the life of the installation, even in the case of maintenance or servicing.

Investing in the best safety technology on the market demonstrates to employees that their safety is a priority in the business, and increases social acceptance of robotics and automation on the shop floor. Furthermore, with openROBOTICS, B&R customers have experienced on average a 40% decrease in overall robotic cell footprint along with a significant reduction in cabinet size, addressing the needs of applications where space is at a premium.

Advantages for machine and line builders

There are significant labour and cost savings by working with a single solution provider instead of working across multiple manufacturers. Programming software can be expensive and requires regular training, and experts tend to be required to handle the application successfully in terms of safety programming, robot programming, and PLC programming. 

B&R’s openROBOTICS and safeROBOTICS technology encapsulates all functionality into a single software environment called Automation Studio. The robot kinematics and transformations are taken care of inside the main PLC and are seen as simply as an extension of the core machine. With Comau Robotics, the ease of commissioning is made even easier with simply a drag and drop of the robot by part number from the Automation Studio hardware designer, complete with diagnostics and service functionality dedicated to that particular robot model. This of course saves time and money whilst increasing performance.

No longer will you have to send two or three specialist engineers with different software packages and cables to commission or maintain a system, thus leaving your valuable software engineers more time in the office to work on additional projects or innovation.

High payload collaborative robotics

High payload robots can take advantage of this technology to create the basis for human-robot Collaboration projects as proven by EngRoTec, a German company that works closely with the likes of Volkswagen Audi Group, Daimler and BMW. As an early adopter collaborative robot technology, EngRoTec has worked with end users to improve productivity, reduce “red” working areas, and increase production quality, with installations developed in close cooperation with the relevant health and safety bodies.  

One recent installation involved decreasing the rework of installing a boot lid on the back of a car in automotive assembly. The lid weighs enough that two workers were required to lift it in place while a third bolted it in. However, if the gap was not consistent enough around the perimeter due to tolerance of the components, a second or even third lid had to be lifted in place until the right gap was achieved. This was back-breaking work and definitely a “red” area of the production environment.

EngRoTec developed an automated closure assembly process through “simulative best fit”, and employing a high-payload Comau robot along with B&R’s safeROBOTICS technology and openROBTICS. Zones of safety are established on the plant floor, with the robot slowing as an operator approaches through the use of Safety Limited Speed (SLS) functionality and stopping completely when the operator is within the work zone.

The robot lifts the boot lid to the car tailgate, and performs a best fit operation using position sensing technology. The robot then holds the lid dead still while an operator enters the work zone to fasten the boot lid into place. A video showing the system in action in a demo cell can be seen at A similar system was installed at the car manufacturer’s site, significantly improving on previous collaborative robot attempts at a solution. Overall footprint for the cell could be reduced by over 40%, because the safety response time of the system decreased from 430ms to 320ms.

B&R will be at the Smart Factory Expo and Annual Leaders Conference at the NEC, Birmingham, 2-3 November, where visitors can meet with Joachim Schwab, a partner at EngRoTec as he explains the three principles of HRC: powerful, scalable and integrated control and automation components; deploying of digital engineering tools and methods; and early involvement with all organisational units involved for social acceptance of the solution.

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