The next step in collaborative robots

15 March 2016

Suzanne Gill reports on the UK launch of YuMi, a new dual-arm, seven-axis robot which is able to work alongside humans, without the need for safety guarding.

The UK is currently the 11th largest manufacturing nation in the world. It accounts for 11% of UK GDP and employing around 2.6 million people. “Today there are many challenges facing UK manufacturers, regarding competitiveness,” said Mike Wilson, sales & marketing manager for ABB Robotics UK and Ireland. “Employment is up which has resulted in productivity shrinking, compared to that of other countries. UK manufacturing productivity has grown by just 0.6% in the last few years. 

“We are also facing an engineering skills shortage. There will be an increasing number of engineering vacancies within the next few years, so we need to find ways to address this and to apply resources more effectively,” he continued. “Making better use of skilled staff to add value to the product is one way to achieve this and robots and automation are important tools to achieve this.”

A study looking at potential growth in productivity and employment, undertaken by the Copenhagen Business School, found that UK productivity would increase by 22.3% if it was as automated as the world’s most automated country. A recent report from Barclays – Future Proofing UK Manufacturing – further reinforces the benefits of automation.  It suggested that an increase in investment in automation of £1.25 billion could add £60 bn to the UK economy. It also identified a lack of information about the benefits and the role of automation within the manufacturing sector, as being one of the biggest barriers to greater implementation. 

More cost-effective
“Today robots are able to offer greater cost-effectiveness than they have in the past,” said Wilson. “Labour costs continue to rise while the cost and complexity of robots is reducing. This makes robot technologies available to smaller manufacturers and this is where our new collaborative robot, YuMi, is targeted.”

A collaborative robot can be defined as a robot designed for interaction with a human within a specific workspace - an area that is safeguarded in some way to ensure that the robot and humans can work together. “There are already a number of tasks undertaken collaboratively, for example, during robot set up periods. There is also collaboration during operation, when, for example, humans need to load parts into the robot systems.  All of these tasks will require safety systems to be put in place. 

“YuMi takes the idea of collaborative working one step further towards co-working where robots and people can share the same space, both working to their full potential at the same time – co-operating on the same task without the need for traditional safety guarding.”

Aimed initially at the computer, communication and consumer electronics industry sectors, YuMi is a compact dual-arm a collaborative dual-arm robot with seven axes of movement. It requires no safety barriers, cages or zones. 

The robot also features an integrated control system, internal cabling for input and output commands including air and digital control, and is able to work from a standard electricity supply. 

It consists of a lightweight, rigid magnesium skeleton covered with a floating plastic casing wrapped in soft padding. Integrated hands comprise of two-finger grippers, dual suction cups and embedded cameras. The robot has a velocity of 1500mm per second and the ability to return to the same point within 0.02mm of accuracy.

In the past the cost and complexity of robots limited their use to larger manufacturers. Many companies instead outsourced production to lower cost regions. However, as the cost of manufacturing overseas rises,  is becoming less attractive resulting in a trend toward re-shoring - bringing the manufacturing function back in house. “This offers opportunities for collaborative robots, such as YuMi,” said Wilson.  “It is simple to use and has lower implementation costs when compared with traditional robots, moving the use of robots towards manual assembly processes, working alongside humans.”

The robot can be programmed using a simple lead- through technique which allows it to learn through demonstration in a short space of time. However, access to ABB’s RAPID programming language is also available for programming particularly complicated tasks. 

First UK user
The first user of the new robot in the UK will be Sony UK Technology, a manufacturer of broadcast and professional cameras and camera systems who will be using the dual arm robot solution to pick and place circuit board parts. Primarily it will be used for research and development projects, to help the company to better understand the benefits of collaborative robotics in its high volume circuit board application and to help improve assembly techniques, specifically the manufacture of circuit boards. 

Commenting on the robot, Kevin Edwards, general manager and head of engineering at Sony UK Technology Centre said: “YuMi creates value-added opportunities for our employees to utilise their skill sets. We look forward to discovering the further benefits that this collaborative robot will bring and appreciate how the local engineering support provided by ABB will allow us to remain competitive.” 

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