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IMTS 2014: Additive and Collaborative

 Patrick Waurzyniak







By Patrick Waurzyniak
Senior Editor

From additive manufacturing to collaborative robots, software advances and STEM student programs, IMTS 2014 had something for just about everyone. This year’s show boasted registered attendance of more than 112,000, easily eclipsing the 100,200 attendees at IMTS 2012.

One of the star attractions at this year’s show was the Local Motors’ (Chandler, AZ) effort to build a 3D-printed electric car, which as of this writing was scheduled to be completed by late Friday. The Local Motors crew putting together the Strati, the winning design of the 3D Printed Car Challenge, was targeting an early Saturday morning drive-off of the completed car.

Pulling in visitors from around the globe, IMTS 2014 soared past the 2012 show’s attendance with more than 112,000 attendees this year.

The most difficult task, said Patrick Morgan, Local Motors director, anchor product sales, was the assembly and installation of the Strati’s electric drivetrain. According to the company, the build of the large single-piece body took about 44 hours using the large-scale additive system, dubbed BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing). The project involved Local Motors working with machine builder Cincinnati Inc. (Cincinnati) and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL; Oak Ridge, TN).  

While the 3D printed car drew a crowd, especially among youngsters visiting IMTS, more innovations in easy-to-use “collaborative” robots were displayed at the show, from companies like Universal Robots and Rethink Robotics, to the robotics establishment, with a new prototype collaborative robot from Fanuc America.  

The attraction with collaborative bots is their ease of use and programmability, along with their ability to function in very close proximity to workers on the factory floor. At Universal Robots’ booth, I not only got nudged in the back from a bot during an interview but I also had the chance to try my hand at minor programming tasks, which are fairly simple using the wireless graphical UR robot programming screen.

The Local Motors team worked with Cincinnati Inc. and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to build an additive-manufactured electric vehicle in the 3D Printed Car Challenge.

“The US manufacturing industry really understands the technology. It can change the way you view manufacturing,” said Esben Ostergaard, founder and chief technical officer of Universal Robots (Odense, Denmark), noting the company has about 3000 robots installed worldwide. Founded about 10 years ago, Universal Robots first introduced its robots to North America at IMTS two years ago. Showing its third-generation robots, Universal’s new UR5 and UR10 models, with 5- and 10-kg payloads, feature new true absolute encoders for much better accuracy and fast startup times. Rethink Robotics (Boston) also showed its Baxter line of collaborative robots with revamped software said to vastly increase the type of applications for Baxter robots.

At FANUC America’s booth, the range of industrial robots spans units from the small to the very large, with large yellow robots hoisting an entire car At the Universal Robots booth, an operator shows how easy it is to program the 5- and 10-kg payload collaborative robots. It’s so easy to program, even a reporter could do it.body. This year FANUC featured its new collaborative prototype robot, clad in a lime-green soft neoprene casing aimed at reducing potential harm to any human worker bumped in the line of duty.

The FANUC collaborative bot prototype, which will be available sometime in the first quarter of 2015, takes a different tack than previous user-friendly robots. “It’s different than what anyone else has had,” said John Roemisch, FANUC Robotics general manager, Eastern Region. This prototype features FANUC’s own sensors in the base of the robot, he noted, enabling the robot to sense force and nearby objects. “It’s actually a standard FANUC industrial robot,” Roemisch said. “We’re able to sense forces in any direction, with our line of force sensors.”

This robot is scalable and the 35-kg (about 70 lbs) payload of FANUC’s prototype will be the capacity of the production model set to debut early next year, he added.

The attraction of robots is universal, as evidenced by the many students who were agog at the robotics competitions held at IMTS’ Smartforce Student Summit (see our story “Everybody Wants to Drive the Robot”). Some 17,000 students attended the summit, featuring a wealth of interactive displays and demos to help attract STEM students to the manufacturing realm.


Published Date : 9/12/2014

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