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Top Trends Shaping Next-Gen Robotics

25 February 2022

Seamless, reliable, durable interconnectivity is a must-have for engineers designing automation solutions to serve the factories of the future.

The advancements in industrial robotics have been astounding, but so too is the potential for even more growth and innovation when you consider the changing landscape for manufacturing and production. 

Foremost on everyone’s mind: the ongoing bottleneck of the supply chain. State-of-the-art automation and analytics will continue to advance, according to the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), which will help companies ease supply chain disruptions using digital, agile supply chain management. Companies that apply the power of predictive and prescriptive analytics, big data, algorithms, and robotics – ASCM predicts – will benefit from greater visibility, data-driven decision-making, execution efficiency, predictability, and profitability. 

Another huge factor affecting manufacturing is the worker shortage. In a recent research report, Operations Workforce Trends and Talent Strategies, from the Manufacturers Alliance, about 60 percent of companies surveyed said it was most difficult to recruit entry-level labor, and those positions had the highest turnover rate, both before and during the pandemic. As manufacturers struggle to attract a skilled workforce, many are exploring the potential of digital tools, robotics, and automation. 

As manufacturing shifts gears, the future of robotics is being shaped by its own set of trends – affordability, accessibility, flexibility, adaptability, miniaturization, easy integration, high-speed data transmission, and real-time communication. The key component that makes them all possible is connection. 

Seamless, reliable, durable interconnectivity will be the must-have for manufacturers designing the factories of the future. 

High-Speed Data Transmission
Increased computing power gives manufacturers access to better intelligence. All the components – from edge sensors to the cloud – need to seamlessly interconnect to draw insights to be more productive and efficient. Tapping into these insights can also make production more responsive, with robots reacting in real-time as the situation demands. However, accessing the benefits of these insights (for things like machine learning) requires a wealth of data, and accessing that data requires high-speed data transmission.

Today, manufacturers have two choices for transmitting data across the industrial network: wireless or wired. While technological advancements in Wi-Fi and 5G have made progress in recent years, there are challenges with implementing wireless technology in industrial robotics, including latency effects, issues with ruggedness and reliability, plus problems with electromagnetic and radio interference. 

The solution? Wired connections, with ethernet delivered through rugged RJ45 industrial connectors or hybrid single pair ethernet (SPE) that allows manufacturers to transmit high-speed data and more power via a single cable and M12 connector (more on this below). 

The drive toward miniaturization has driven incredible innovations and efficiencies in manufacturing. The growth in smaller scale collaborative robots (or cobots) in particular has pushed miniaturization into every element of the robotics package – from relays and sensors to circuit boards and connectors. However, manufacturers still expect big performance from these diminutive parts, requiring all the functionality of “regular size” components in a smaller envelope.

The solution? High-powered miniaturized connectors such as the AMPMODU interconnect system and Dynamic Mini Series connectors from TE Connectivity (TE). A comprehensive family of modular signal interconnects for board-to-board, wire-to-board, and wire-to-wire applications, the AMPMODU 1 mm centerline fine pitch connectors use an ultra-compact 1.00 mm x 1.00 mm centerline, crucial to meeting miniaturization demands. Vibration and shock are vital performance challenges that must be addressed for the durability of the electrical and mechanical connection. Related test requirements are specified in standard LV 214. According to this standard, the Dynamic Mini Series meet severity 1 (around 2 g random vibration and 30 g shock). 

Modular Connectivity
The factory of the future will be built around modular workstations rather than locked-in assembly lines. To prepare, manufacturers are turning to automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to provide the flexibility and adaptability needed for the smart manufacturing environment. 

What makes this modular approach possible? Interconnectivity between devices. With a fleet of autonomous equipment operating on the factory floor, maintaining a reliable stream of real-time communication will become a business requirement. 

The solution? Modular connectors from TE engineered to make secure and reliable input/output connections. Many offer a locking system that significantly reduces both mating errors and accidental unplugging resulting from shock and vibration; and the best offer compact, one-piece construction with preloaded contacts, providing a space-saving, quick-to-install solution that gives engineers increased design flexibility. 

Rugged, Robust Connectivity
Rugged connectivity is about ensuring the reliability of the production line. Manufacturers expect the connections on the factory floor to be stable and dependable. “Rugged” in terms of reliable data connectivity is also critical. With the quantity of data increasing, and the volume of data being transported between devices and sensors and components ramping up, manufacturers require connections robust enough to consistently handle the constant stream of high-speed data transmission. And, of course, customers expect “rugged” connectivity to be mechanically sturdy and tough, able to withstand the uncompromising vibration, shock, electromagnetic interference, and dust of the industrial environment. 

The solution? Heavy duty connectors that are designed to withstand harsh industrial environments. Look for TE’s line of heavy-duty connectors and Intercontec connectors to help provide the solutions you need. 

Single Pair Ethernet
Seamless interconnectivity can be a challenge in the manufacturer's industrial network. The mix of ethernet, industrial ethernet, fieldbus, and analog devices creates a communication infrastructure that is not fully transparent, making it difficult for manufacturers to make data-driven decisions about factory operations in real time, especially at the field level.      

The solution? The newly announced industrial SPE standard – IEC 63171-7 cable using the M12 connector. SPE enables barrier-free communication from the sensor to the cloud, an open ecosystem and movement freedom to applications. Plus, SPE powers miniaturization trends with power over data line (PoDL) and hybrid connector solutions (high-power single wire). What’s more, it can be integrated with existing industrial ethernet solutions, making the network infrastructure to be IP-based and transparent, helping to prevent the need for expensive gateways that reduce transparency and cause communication lag. Look for TE’s hybrid SPE connector to launch this spring. 

Connect with TE
Are you interested in learning more about TE Connectivity’s expertise in industrial robotics connectivity? Connect with us today at https://www.te.com/usa-en/industries/industrial-machinery/applications/robotics.html

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