Collaborative and multi-functional robots that increase plant productivity, flexibility, and safety were on show at Drives and Controls 2018.
In the Robotic Demonstration area of Drives & Controls 2018 Mitsubishi Electric showcased its latest developments in robotics and motion engineering. Two highlights were the automated guided vehicle (AGV) with a robotic arm mounted onto it, developed together with AGV manufacturer Mirage, and the innovative new MELFA collaborative robot.
The typical factory of the future will likely include more highly advanced robots working alongside people, providing cooperative support on certain tasks or performing activities side by side, and running without the need for physical safeguards. At Drives & Controls 2018, Mitsubishi Electric were showing how its new collaborative robot and an AGV equipped with a robotic arm can respectively cooperate with humans in industrial plants, and work around them, boosting productivity and enhancing plant flexibility.
The next level of interaction
Mitsubishi Electric defines robot safety and human proximity in four levels, from level 1 where standard industrial robots operate with physical safety guards, through to fully collaborative level 4 robots. Full-time collaborative operation between human and robot requires a different type of robot from the previous three levels, all of which are based on standard industrial robot models. There was also a working demonstration of Mitsubishi Electric’s brand-new level 4 collaborative robot at the D&C show this year.
Working with a collaborative robot can be highly productive in complex assembly tasks where the limitations of human dexterity or a conventional jig mean a robot can manipulate a work piece or part more effectively while a person is able to use both hands for a related task. Due to the constant proximity both speed and torque for the robot are automatically limited. The robot can be stopped by-hand, but also taught what to do next by using a removeable touch-screen operator terminal or a ‘direct control’ mode which allows the operator to move the robot from position to position, by hand and with controlled force.
Robots on the move
Visitors to the Robotic Demonstration area were also able to experience an innovative mobile unit that combines a robotic arm mounted onto an AGV. The vehicle was developed by Mitsubishi Electric with AGV manufacturer Mirage and combines Mitsubishi Electric’s MELFA SafePlus zoned speed control feature with the standard AGV movement protocols. The result is a robot that can deploy itself to be used for checking, packing and loading duties in several different areas of a factory floor depending on various production cycles and batch processes.
The robot safety zone system limits the position, torque and speed of the robot in stages as a human gets closer, so a cell using this configuration can be very small and compact. The robot goes from high-speed to slow-speed and back again quickly, allowing both the robot and the human to work quickly and efficiently without stops. In contrast with other line integration systems, the innovative solution doesn’t need to stop to perform actions at a defined station, but it can orient itself and can even complete tasks between the AGV base and the station while moving. The result is a flexible solution that can potentially improve productivity and increase robot deployment options.