Printer Friendly

Robots report: Competition or co-workers? Latest robots projected to revolutionize plastic processing.

The latest forecast from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) projects that by the year 2019 more than 1.4 million new industrial robots will be installed in factories around the world. That would bring the total number to about 2.6 million units--or some 1 million units more than in 2015.

By the end of 2016, the number of newly installed industrial robots will have increased by 14%, to 290,000 units, during the year. And for 2017 to 2019, IFR forecasts continued growth will average at least 13% per year. Robots, in other words, are booming business.

Plastics processors are catching on

Some 70% of industrial robots are at work in the automotive, electrical/electronics and metal and machinery industry segments, the federation noted in its 2016 World Robotics Report. Elsewhere, however, their use is also on the rise.

"Automation is a central competitive factor for traditional manufacturing groups, but is also becoming increasingly important for small and medium-sized enterprises around the world," said IFR President Joe Gemma.

That statement certainly is true of the plastics processing industry. While automation in the plastics industry has been around for decades, in most cases, this was mainly confined to relatively simple part-removal operations. The sight of pneumatically driven Cartesian pick-and-place robots, tirelessly zipping back and forth and up and down at the press in an unending, repeatable cycle, is familiar to anyone who has ever visited a plastics processing facility. In recent years, however, market conditions and other factors have combined to create a situation where more and more processors are turning to increasingly advanced robotics and downstream automation in their production processes.

The trend toward high-mix, low-volume production presents new challenges for manufacturers to stay competitive. Computing power and performance have improved and continue to improve at an unimaginable pace. Pius, because of the extraordinary advances in robotic technology of just the past few years, today, automation can handle the most demanding-tasks in the plastics industry from part insertion, via all possible machining steps to packaging and labeling and plastics manufacturers everywhere are paying attention.

"The degree of automation in this industry is clearly increasing," said Philipp Kremer, market segment manager for plastic automation at KUKA Roboter GmbH.

"In the last 12 years, the proportion of automation in the plastics processing industry has risen continuously to match the increasing complexity of the products. This rise is about 20% annually. The potential here remains enormous."

Costs, productivity and quality

There are several reasons for the rising interest in industrial robots. One is price: industrial robot prices have come down, making them accessible to plastic manufacturers who, in the past shied away from the expense of SCARA, 5or 6-axis robots.

"For many manufacturers, the biggest reasons for not replacing workers with robots have been pure economics and technical limitations," said Michael Zinser, one of the authors of the Boston Consulting Group's study Industries and Economies Leading the Robotics Revolution. "But the price and performance of automation are improving rapidly," Zinser notes. "Within five to 10 years, the business case for robots in most industries will be compelling, even for many small and midsized manufacturers."

Moreover, today's robots are far more user friendly than those of the past. The technology has advanced to the extent that, whereas setting up and programming robotic devices used to demand skills beyond what many plant workers possessed, today's robots often require no special programming knowledge at all. Robot manufacturers are working to develop simplified controls that make programming more intuitive. And the new cobots--collaborative robots designed to work "outside of the cage" together with humans--take this a step further with "learning from demonstration" and lead-through programming, or kinesthetic teaching, as this is also known. These robots literally work hand-in-hand with human workers, who train them by means of physical demonstration. Importantly, too, robots boost productivity. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that, as a "direct result of installing advanced robots, and depending on the location, output per worker in manufacturing industries will be 10 to 30% higher in 2025 than it is today." Working with robots enables processors to cut costs--thus improving competitiveness --and to shorten cycle times, while also improving part quality, as the possibility of human error is eliminated from the equation. Robots can perform the more monotonous, boring tasks safely, consistently and uncomplainingly, freeing up workers to do other jobs elsewhere.

Last but not least, is the persistent shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing. As hiring becomes an increasing problem, plastic manufacturers have turned to automation to fill the gaps. According to the 'The Skills Gap in US Manufacturing: 2015 and Beyond" study carried out by Deloitte, the United States alone faces a need for nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs over the next decade--and 2 million of those jobs are likely to go unfilled due to the skills gap.

Manufacturing still suffers from perception issues--regarded as "dirty, dumb, dangerous and disappearing," meaning that many labor market entrants today have little interest in a manufacturing career. Yet, at the same time, robots are being blamed for taking jobs away from workers--which they do. In manufacturing, however, these jobs tend to be the ones no one wants to do anyway.

And, while some jobs do go extinct, the evidence is increasingly strong that robots create more jobs than they take. Studies in the U.S. and the European Union consistently show that robots' positive effects on productivity and total sales are a leverage to stimulate employment growth. Simply put, lower production costs lead to better market prices. And as demand rises more jobs are created.

Earlier this year, Universal Robots, the Danish manufacturer of collaborative robots blogged:

"The biggest threat to jobs today is companies' inability to remain competitive, and automation offers companies competitive advantages through higher and more consistent product quality, greater output, and lower overall costs." And what about jobs? This UR author is optimistic about the future, writing: "As automation improves competitiveness, companies are able to grow their own businesses and support other jobs in the community, including suppliers, stores, hospitals, schools, and other services that support local workers."

Trends and developments

Taken together, these factors have led to the plastics industry developing into one of the more important markets for almost all robot manufacturers over the past few years. To meet the fast increasing demand from this sector, they have expanded capacity and developed new products--from new, linear, 3-axis sprue pickers with servo drives and added wrist action, to fully automated manufacturing cells--specifically targeted at this market. Speed, dexterity, agility and programmability, all combined with flexibility and ready-to-use convenience for fast and easy integration into their existing processing systems--these are what processors are looking for.

"There is a fundamental question as to whether in the future, linear gantry systems, industrial robots or a combination of both technologies will offer more solutions for sustainable value creation in their production," said Kuka's Kremer. "Synergies between linear systems and multi-axis robots can be efficiently utilized if the process involves large batches of technically demanding and complex parts."

Many processers are seeking to manufacture complex parts economically, complete with secondary operations directly at the press, which is giving rise to a trend for more beside-the-press automation. Said Kremer: "Customers in the plastics processing industry want more and more assemblies and not individual products. This requires a re-think in terms of automation."

Enter, too, the new, easily trained collaborative robots that are just starting to make their appearance on the shop floor. The higher return on investment and low price of these robots are attracting small and medium-sized enterprises including a few in the plastics industry. As yet, they are being supplied by manufacturers of general robots, rather than by the traditional robot producers for the plastics industry, who are first waiting to see which way the wind blows.

However, a number of these "robots" were introduced to the plastics industry at K 2016, where they were showing off their tricks to general acclaim. The flexibility, combined with the ease with which they can be "trained" and the attractive prices of these robots--the Universal Robots UR5, for example, costs around $35,000--mean that they are starting to look convincing, even to the relatively conservative plastics processors' market.

Jerome Laplace, CEO of HumaRobotics, gave a presentation in which he likened industrial robots to mainframe computers --although robust and efficient, they need expert programmers and are difficult to change and update. By contrast, personal computers, like collaborative robots, are tools for end users, easy to use and to move.

"Will collaborative robots be the personal computer of robotics?," he asked. He emphasized that collaborative robots are not the competitors of classic industrial robots. "Collaborative robotics is a new kind of robotics that is complementary to industrial robots," Laplace said.

In addition, with the advent of Industry 4.0, the concept of intelligent connectivity has become the vision of the future, with robots playing a key role. The options are many, but as Philipp Kremer said: "Intelligent automation always considers the selection of the robot from various different criteria, ranging from speed and precision to maintenance requirements, operator control, costs and service life. But intelligent automation using industrial robots brings added value to plastics processors through value creation for each part."

Who are the cobots?

Human-robot collaboration is a relatively new development in robotics, but it is one that is gaining traction fast. So who are the new cobots?

* YuMi is Switzerland-based ABB Robotics' compact, dual-arm collaborative robot specifically designed for use in the consumer electronics industry. However, said ABB, with its flexible hands, universal parts feeding system, camera-based part location, lead-through programming, and state-of-the-art precise motion control, the table-mounted robot will feel right at home in the plastics industry. Featuring padded arms for worker safety, it can work side-by-side with humans. YuMi has a payload of 0.5 kg per arm. Its light weight and integrated controller makes installation and change of location easy. YuMi offers a wide range of communications options and a simple user interface.

* Baxter and Sawyer are two cobots made by ReThink Robotics of Boston, Mass., and designed to help smaller manufacturers remain competitive. Baxter consists of two 7-degree-of-freedom arms with Series Elastic Actuators at each joint, incorporating full position and force sensing--key to making Baxter safe. Equipped with three integrated cameras, along with sonar, accelerometers and range-finding sensors, Baxter learns from demonstration enabling collaborative human-robot co-work and advanced Human Robot Interaction.

Sawyer offers the same 7 degrees of freedom; has a 4-kg payload; 1,260 mm reach; high-resolution, embedded vision, and sub-millimeter precision, while weighing only 19 kg. The safety features, flexibility and ease of training are the same, but one-armed Sawyer is faster, lighter, stronger and more precise than Baxter. Sawyer's a new embedded vision system--with a head camera for wide view applications and a Cognex camera in its wrist--can support many complex vision tasks.

* The LBR "Intelligent Industrial Work Assistant" or IIWA, developed by KUKA in Germany is a lightweight aluminium, 7-axis robot with integrated, sensitive torque sensors on all 7 axes, giving the robot contact detection and programmable compliance to avoid collisions--as well as eliminating the need for expensive safety fencing. The LBR IIWA from KUKA is available in two payloads: 7 kg and 14 kg, with coordinating reaches of 800 and 820 mm. The integrated sensor system is supplied fully functional and ready to use. The robot can be freely guided throughout its work envelope by hand. Programming is intuitive and efficient, saving time and cost, especially for applications with great component diversity.

* The Motoman HC10, where HC stands for "Human Collaborative," is the first collaborative robot that Yasakawa has introduced outsidejapan. The prototype offers a range of 1.2 m and handling weight of 10 kg. The HC10 ensures the required safety in direct contact with the operator by means of a sophisticated force/torque sensor in every axis, enabling flexible interaction between the robot arm and its environment. Besides the safety aspects, the main focus in the design of the new HC10 was on particularly user-friendly operation. Programming can be performed as "easy teaching," with the "Smart HUB" manual function. And should the robot be stopped upon contact, it can be reactivated directly on the manipulator. The robot arm was designed to avoid crushing zones.

* Denmark's Universal Robots, which was acquired in 2015 by Massachusetts-based Teradyne Inc., introduced its first product, the UR5, an 18-kg six-jointed articulated robot arm with a working radius of 850 mm, in 2008. Four years later, the firm launched its UR10, with a payload of 10 kg and a reach of 1,300 mm. In 2014 it rolled out a brand new generation of UR5 and UR10 units, enabling the UR robots to adapt advanced safety settings to each specific application.

The new generation featured true absolute encoders, eight adjustable safety-rated functions, 32 built-in I/O's and an improved workflow for connecting equipment to the control boxes. In 2015 the company launched UR3, a new compact, table-top robot weighing only 11 kilos (24.3 lbs), but with a payload of 3 kilos (5.5 lbs), 360-degree rotation on all wrist joints and infinite rotation on the end joint. The robot arms are simple and intuitive to use, require no robotics or programming experience, and can be operated by all employees in the production facility. The UR robots do not need monitoring by staff and can work independently in 24/7 lights-out production environments.

*Japan's Fanuc Corp., which introduced its first cobot, the CR-35IA, in 2015 has now added three new collaborative robots to its lineup--CR-7IA, CR-7IA/L, and CR-4IA. The CR-7IA offers a 717 mm reach and 7-kg payload; the CR-7IA/L offers the same payload with a longer 911 mm reach; and the CR4iA has a 550 mm reach and 4-kg payload. Fanuc based its design for the new compact collaborative robot series on the widely popular LR Mate-series of mini material handling robots. The new robots are ideal for small part sorting and assembly, inspection, machine tending and part delivery. All of Fanuc's collaborative robots are green to distinguish them from the standard yellow Fanuc robots.

--by Karen Laird

Robots rule at K2016

Last October's K 2016 trade fair in Dusseldorf, Germany, saw the introduction of a raft of new robots and controllers, often integrated into automation cells, and specifically designed for the plastics industry. A few highlights:

* Star Automation introduced its new XW-VI family of servo-driven, 3-axis robots designed for handling operations. This series is managed by a color touch-screen pendant either with operative modes or with free programming, which gives the user total freedom.

* Engel Austria extended its easix 6-axis, articulated robot line with a more affordable, four-axis SCARA robot for faster pick-and-place, conveyor tracking, stacking and palletizing operations. Like the six-axis easix models, the SCARA robots are based on Staubli technology and can be fully integrated into the CC300 machine control unit. The robots also can be connected with each other, as demonstrated at Engel's K booth, where an easix 4-axis robot and an easix 6-axis robot were integrated into a stand-alone solution. The company also presented a new servo sprue picker equipped with a swivel arm but without a Z-axis: instead, it can rotate up to 110[degrees] on its pedestal, requiring very little space.

* Sepro Group went to extremes with the launch of two of its biggest 3-axis and 6-axis robots ever, and one of their smallest. The 7X-100XL, a 5-axis Cartesian beam robot featuring a 5m horizontal beam and a telescopic vertical stroke of 3.2m, offers a maximum payload is 100 kg. The 6X-400 6-axis, articulated-arm robot, the product of a recent manufacturing partnership with Yaskawa Motoman, has a 4m reach and can carry a maximum 120-kg payload. Sepro also introduced its S5 Picker servo-driven 3-axis linear sprue picker with servo drives on all axes. It comes standard with a simple sprue gripper, but is also available with an R1 wrist rotation and simple end-of-arm tooling. The fast-cycling picker operates entirely inside the injection molding machine footprint and includes an unloading chute and guarding.

* KraussMaffei demonstrated its TwinZ solution: two LRX linear robots from mechanically coupled on a Z axis. TwinZ is designed for use with stack molds or for transferring components (handshake) during fast component demolding and stacking. This configuration also provides significant space and time savings for automation processes with overlapping motion ranges. Both LRX robots and the injection molding machine can be programmed and controlled via the Krauss-Maffei MC6 control system. Configurations of up to four robots, each with six axes, are possible.

* Arburg, like Engel, also demonstrated the possibilities of connected robots and assembly at the machine in a production cell that was molding ready-to-use, designer folding step stools weighing just over a kilo in a cycle time of about 60 seconds. Arburg's new Multilift V 40 robot removed the eight individual pieces from the family mold, preassembled the two halves and transferred them to a 6-axis robot, where the stoppers were added, after which the finished product was placed on a conveyor belt. The 6-axis robot communicated directly with the Multilift V 40, which in turn was connected to the Gestica machine control system.

* Wittmann Battenfeld presented its new R9 TeachBox robot control with improved accessibility, customization, and axial movement. The TeachBox is equipped with membrane keys, enabling visual and tactile feedback and offering an input procedure that is comfortable and intuitive. It will be supplied with all new robots from 2017 onwards.

* KUKA Roboter displayed its new high-performance robots in the low payload category, called the KR Cybertech nano series. The robots are available with 6-, 8- and 10-kg payloads and a reach of 1,820,1,620 and 1,420 mm.

* Yushin, one of the top three suppliers of robots for plastics injection molding machines in the world, showcased a redesigned, slimmed down--it weighs 13% less--version of its high-speed take-out robot introduced at K 2013. The company also launched a new movable kick-driven, take-out robot, equipped with a 2-axis servo wrist and Yushin's Etouch controller. Designed for big molded products with large surface areas, the robot can handle a 40-kg payload.

--by Karen Laird

In its 2016 World Robotics Report, the International Federation of
Robotics projects continued strong adoption and growth in the
sector. Since 2008, the IFR Secretariat has been hosted by the
VDMA, the German plastics and machinery association, in Frankfurt.

Courtesy of the International Federation of Robotics

2019: 2.6 million robots in operation

Worldwide estimated operational stock of industrial robots

1973     3
1983     66
1990     454
1995     605
2000     750
2005     925
2010     1,059
2014     1,472
2015     1,032
2016 *   1,824
2019 *   2,089

* forecast

Source: FR World Robotics 2016

1.4 million industrial robots between 2016 and 2019

Worldwide annual supply of industrial robots
2001-2019 *

2017-2019 +13% per year on average

2005     120
2006     111
2007     114
2008     113
2009     60
2010     121
2011     156
2012     159
2013     178
2014     221
2015     254 +15%
2016 *   290 +14%
2017 *   322
2018 *   363
2019 *   414

* forecast

Source: FR World Robotics 2016

Note: Table made from bar graph.


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.
COPYRIGHT 2017 Society of Plastics Engineers, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2017 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Comment:Robots report: Competition or co-workers? Latest robots projected to revolutionize plastic processing.(ADVANCES IN AUTOMATION)
Author:Laird, Karen
Publication:Plastics Engineering
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2017
Previous Article:Understanding the digital transformation called Industry 4.0: Manufacturing today requires more brain than brawn.
Next Article:Using roundtable plastic design reviews to improve tooling for new-product development: collaborative process shown to yield personnel and product...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters