Cobot innovation resolves redeployment challenge

23 March 2021

OMRON has created a fast redeployment solution for machine tending collaborative robots. Its Mobile Cobot Workstation is said to address the issue of under-utilisation that can render automation unviable for high product mix manufacturers and SMEs.

By enabling cobots to be redeployed on different tasks with minimal reconfiguration, this automation solution aims to accelerate return on investment (ROI). 

Many machine shops and manufacturers still rely on workers to manually load and unload machines; it’s an area where automation has been slow to take off because conventional fenced robots occupy too much space and restrict layouts. In recent years, cobots have galvanised higher volume operations to improve productivity with safe machine tending, as they can work alongside people without fencing on a very small footprint. However, these units are usually dedicated to a single task, as redeploying them is time-consuming and complex. As a result, cobot investments tend to be cost-prohibitive for low and medium volume operations. 

“Cobots are no longer a rarity on the production floor, but they are limited in that they can’t be recalibrated for different tasks without considerable human intervention. This usually means a cobot is purchased to complete one task and is under-utilised – especially by SMEs who do not have the throughput. It is not uncommon for a cobot to be used for as little as 20% of the time, making it a costly investment,” explains Dan Rossek, regional marketing manager at OMRON UK.

Recognising this limitation, OMRON’s engineers developed a mobile cobot workstation that can switch between multiple tasks with minimal reconfiguration. The user can simply move the cobot from station to station, plug-in and ‘play’. 

Using an in-built camera, the intelligent Mobile Cobot Workstation reads the barcode or RFID tag that identifies its workstation location. A sensor enables the cobot to self-position with sub-millimetre accuracy. The cobot then calls up the relevant recipe for the task at that station. 

“Ordinarily, the big challenge when moving a robot is that it loses its orientation and has to be repositioned to sub-millimetre accuracy. With our solution, accuracy is compensated by landmark detection so that the cobot retains its repeatability. You simply move it to its new location and the camera references it and recalibrates all of its coordinates,” continued Rossek.

Mobile machine tending without fencing is particularly relevant today, as it can give much-needed flexibility to COVID-compliant factories, where workforce social distancing is required on cramped production lines.

Omron’s new virtual exhibition facility can be viewed at https://industrial.omron.eu/en/news-events/events/virtual-exhibition


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