Driving Closer Human/Robot Collaboration
Jane Alexander | October 9, 2017
Next-gen certified safety technology is helping sites turn their robots into finely tuned revenue machines.
Robots have, arguably, become the workhorses of manufacturing, but they don’t work alone. Smart human/robot-collaboration solutions that create efficient, integrated ecosystems on plant floors are a growing trend—one wherein certified safety technology continues to play a key role. So big of a role, according to a white paper from ABB (abb.com/robotics, Auburn Hills, MI) that advances in the technology have basically revolutionized the industrial landscape.
Then and now
Historically, fences and cages separated humans from machines. For the most part, robots were physically restricted and forced to move at slow speeds to keep hazards low for humans working in their vicinity.
The introduction (and subsequent widespread adoption) of certified safety technology that restricts robot motion through software and electronics has been a game changer for factories. Over the past decade, these advancements have eliminated the need for mechanical stops while fostering ever-closer human/robot collaboration. They’ve also generated other far-reaching benefits. Among them is the fact that these solutions are easier to implement than past generations of certified safety technology—and more economical as well.
Titled “How Closer Human/Robot Collaboration Can Dramatically Increase Your Revenue,” ABB’s white paper went on to highlight a range of additional benefits that advancements in certified safety technology offer.
Benefits beyond safety
To be efficient, robots must be capable of moving at suitable speeds for their respective applications. Fast-moving robots, however, are dangerous. Historic safety solutions disqualify collaboration between humans and robots by separating people from machines and using mechanical stops to physically restrict robot motion. What’s worse, with regard to operational efficiency, production is interrupted when fast-moving robots break barriers.
The previous decade’s wave of safety technology had lessened physical bonds while maintaining production. For example, if an operator needed to interact with the robot system, safety sensors could be incorporated into the robot cell to detect the person’s presence. Upon that detection, the robot’s speed would be either supervised or monitored while it was standing still. Once the person cleared the zone, the robot could resume operation.
More recent developments in certified safety technology, though, have led to more efficient scenarios. They’ve also resulted in benefits that go well beyond those aimed at ensuring safer operations, including:
Improved production with closer collaboration. The tools to facilitate collaboration between man and machine are a reality, and the end result is less downtime and increased productivity. Advanced software offers enhanced freedom and flexibility. Other improved functions that help amplify the benefits of closer collaboration include improved precision and less sensitivity, zones-inside-zones functionality, support for combining safety functions, and improved support for track-based applications.
Maximized floor-space utilization. Restricting robot motion to precisely what is needed for a specific application allows users to maximize their floor space. Sophisticated software can provide 3D environment mapping to facilitate intuitive setup and validation, thus allowing cell-size optimization. Flexible tools for supervising robot motion and orientation let users optimize floor-space utilization by enabling the digital design and testing of production scenarios.
Enhanced commissioning and programming. Workflow is increased by ease-of-use improvements in safety-rated speed and position monitoring. With advanced simulation software, users can easily visualize and program safe, efficient, optimized production scenarios that can reach the factory floor within seconds. By installing a visualizer on the robot, a physical screen is provided in front of the operator for quick, straightforward programming. Offline programming (which the white paper said is the best way to maximize return on investment) allows risk reduction, faster start-up, shorter changeover, and fully optimized productivity. EP
To learn more about certified safety technology and solutions, click here.