Modular system for safe robots
Today's robots are being used in production areas in which they have previously not been used. In each case, safety aspects must always be considered on an individual basis and the appropriate safety solution implemented for each application. Safe sensor technology has a key role to play: a modular approach to sensors is required in order to satisfy all applications with regard to safety.
Human-robot collaboration is a whole new field. In an ideal scenario, human and robot will share the same workspace. These new application fields create synergies and therefore productivity benefits by combining the strengths and benefits of the machine, such as reliability, durability and repetition accuracy, with human strengths such as dexterity and flexibility. With this type of human-robot collaboration, the workspaces of the human and robot overlap in both space and time.
Human-robot collaborations, particularly in the service robot sector, are a good example - robots with low payloads are generally used here, for pick and place applications for example. Every effort is made to implement the safety of the application through safety components and safety functions in or on the robot. For example, safe motion functions in the robot are combined with close-range sensors, with integrated torque monitoring in the robot or with tactile sensor technology around the robot.
With this type of robot application, the movements are generally much slower than in fully automated applications. Today, such safety philosophies are implemented in the service robot sector in conjunction with man-robot collaborations; applications can also be implemented when other safety requirements are considered.
When human-robot collaborations are used with robots with larger payloads, the safety concepts detailed above are pushed to their limits - other concepts are called for. A more clearly graduated view of events is required. For example, it must be possible to distinguish whether a person is within the potential action radius of a hazardous movement (warning zone) or has already accessed a zone with an increased safety requirement (detection zone). Ideally it must be possible to adjust these zones dynamically and to track the safely monitored movements of the machine or robot, for example. In this environment it is possible to implement human-robot collaborations in which static safeguards are pushed to their limits.
New camera-based processes, such as those provided by the SafetyEYE 3D camera system from Pilz for safe zone monitoring, are capable of monitoring protected fields and detection zones safely in several dimensions. Thanks to their 3D operating principle, such sensor systems open up new possibilities for the design of applications. What's more, detection zone arrangements can be re-adjusted at each step of the process.
Further developments in this field are dependent on the requirements of future applications: by combining a safe robot with a safe 3D camera system with better communication, a variety of strictly separate process steps can be merged and optimised. The safe robot knows its safe position, its safe speed and its safe direction of movement; the safe camera system knows the position of objects (people) around the robot's operating range. Instead of a rigid shutdown, in future the whole system can react much more flexibly, avoid unnecessary downtimes and so increase plant productivity.
The proportion of human-robot collaborations will definitely rise, but growth will depend heavily on innovations in the sensor technology and robotics environment. Even in the future there will probably not be one safe robot or one safe sensor technology to cover all potential application cases with regard to safety. That's why a modular system is needed that comprises a variety of technologies, from which users can choose the appropriate tool.
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