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Universal Robots Expands Welding Applications and More

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media

The booth at Universal Robot’s booth at FABTECH 2021 was buzzing like a beehive on the afternoon of Monday, September 13 when Joe Campbell Senior Manager of Applications Development and Strategic Marketing at Universal Robots discussed how much the reach of his company’s collaborative robots has grown since FABTECH 2019. The company believes that in 2021 UR cobot-powered systems are becoming mainstream with numerous OEMs and UR+ partners actively selling MIG, TIG and plasma welding and cutting solutions, making it one of the fastest growing markets for UR cobots, according to Campbell.

Since introducing a commercially viable cobot in 2008, UR has developed a product portfolio including the UR3e,UR5e, UR10e, and UR16e, reflecting a range of reaches and payloads. Each model is supported by a host of Plug & Produce end effectors, software, and accessories in the UR+ certification program, allowing for flexible redeployment of one robot into diverse applications. Universal Robots has installed over 50,000 cobots worldwide, according to the company. The UR+ program now has 325 partners, according to Campbell.

Cobot Arc Welding Helps with Skilled Labor Shortage

“For 40 years, robotic arc welding evolved incrementally”, said Campbell. “Collaborative arc welding is the first disruptive technology to hit the robotic arc welding market since the introduction of DC servo powered robots,” he added, attributing the rapid market traction in part to the fact that cobot welders are easy to deploy, quickly producing parts with improved quality and consistency.

The Vectis Cobot Welding Tool is a ready-to-weld UR+ Application Kit that is plug-and-play with cobots from Universal Robots. (Provided by Vectis Automation)

Vectis Automation, a UR+ partner introduced its cobot welding solution at FABTECH 2019, the first in the UR+ program. Today, multiple suppliers such as Hirebotics, have fitted welding solutions to a UR cobot, while Vectis has improved its application. What is the attraction of a cobot welder? The ongoing labor shortage for skilled welders is a major driver, along with an increase in high mix/low volume production. “According to the AWS there is a shortage of something like 85,000 welders,” said Campbell.

Cobots are especially helpful to a shop for simple, repetitive welds. “Brackets are a good example, especially if you need to deliver hundreds of them,” Campbell said. A skilled welder can quickly teach a cobot welder the program for such simple parts. “A skilled welder will become bored doing hundreds of brackets. They like doing large and complex welds” which happen to be better performed by a human in any case.

Emphasizing the need for simplicity, Hirebotics’ new Cobot Welder is a complete, user-friendly cobot welding system that enables automated MIG welding deployments. Using a simple Cobot Welder cellphone application that runs on Hirebotics’ cloud-based Beacon software platform, it uses an interface that most users today are familiar with.

Universal Robots Widens its Reach

The UR booth at FABTECH also hosted new solutions for automated machine tending, featuring the new VersaBuilt CNC Mill Application Kit for manufacturers seeking a plug-and-play approach to CNC milling automation. Versabuilt’s UR+ Application Kit comes with all components pre-assembled and designed to successfully get the CNC mill and a UR10e cobot working together, automating the loading and unloading of parts into a mill. The VersaBuilt Kit requires no programming experience with easy-to-use automation software that allows the machinist to simply enter part dimensions and CNC milling program numbers to get the application up and running, according to the company. “Machine tending is 50% of our market,” said Campbell, illustrating the impetus behind developing new and even easier to use solutions.

Unlike conventional alternatives which require lengthy and complex integration and programming efforts, ActiNav simplifies the application with end to end autonomous motion, according to Universal Robots, making the random bin picking accessible to small and large production facilities alike.

There is also a solution for flexible, intelligent machine loading solutions for unstructured parts in bins—the Universal Robots’ ActiNav system. According to the company, it combines an intelligent vision and real-time autonomous motion control with Universal Robots’ e-Series cobots. Before ActiNav, solutions for unstructured picking and placing of parts into machines were solely focused on the vision aspect, often requiring complex programming to bridge the gap from “pick” to “place” – especially if the “place” is not just dropping into a box but accurately inserting parts into fixtures for further processing.

ActiNav combines real-time autonomous motion control, UR cobots, vision and sensor systems in one seamless Application Kit that solves the bin picking challenge in machine tending applications. At FABTECH, ActiNav was demonstrated by picking metal parts randomly jumbled in bins and inserting them into a machine. Powering ActiNav is the new enhanced version of UR’s best-selling UR10e cobot now featuring 25% more payload capacity with the ability to lift 12.5kg providing customers with exciting new deployment capabilities, according to Universal Robots.

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