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At Automate, an Emphasis on Flexibility

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media
An ABB robot resets a chess board following a match. (SME Media photo)

This week’s Automate trade show in Detroit demonstrated the drive for flexibility on the factory floor.

There were robots of all sizes, with various lifting capacities and purposes. But there were also displays of devices that could be attached to robots as well as software used to deploy robots and other machines.

At the Siemens stand, for example, there was a display of the company’s technology that can be used to control machine tools and robots at the same time.

The company says its Sinumerik One CNC contributes to the integration of hardware and software. Siemens also offers software it says can reduce product development time.

“We can get all the real-time information on one controller,” said Tiansu Jing, production manager, motion control, for Siemens. “You can do monitoring, you can analyze information from the machine. We have robots integrated into the same network as the machine.”

Robot makers such as FANUC and ABB demonstrated the increased capabilities of their models.

FANUC has been making collaborative robots, or cobots, for years. The company now has 11 cobot models. At Automate, FANUC had one model that could lift a car as well as another with a lifting capacity of 1,000 kg plus smaller, nimbler cobots.

A FANUC robot demonstrates its lifting capacity. (SME Media photo)

The company also showed its new DR-3iB/6 Stainless, its first stainless steel food-grade delta robot for picking and packing primary food products. FANUC had the robot use a gripper to pick food products from the middle of a demonstration area and place them in specified zones.

ABB demonstrated various cobot models, including one intended for use with additive manufacturing plus another smaller model for educational use. The latter can play chess and reset pieces after a game. ABB also displayed software improvements that reduce complexity. ABB, which also acquired ASTI Mobile Robotics, had ASTI models used to haul parts around a factory floor or warehouse.

Automate also had displays of other examples of automation products.

SMAC Moving Coil Actuators demonstrated newer electric models. The company says the new models are faster, more durable, and quieter than older hydraulic devices.

Visual Components, a company that makes software for factory planning, deals with automation of all types.

“Our software is very flexible in relation to the equipment,” said Mikko Salminen, the company’s head of global sales. “It gives the user the ability to test out the solution.”

For example, he said, Visual Components software lets the user test virtually whether a cobot or a regular robot would work best.

Users of the software “have different kinds of needs,” Salminen said. “They can use our tool to test our different systems and layouts.”

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