Recently, Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies (ITAMCO), which performs machining, assembly, and finishing jobs, brought in a small robot to help with those jobs, said Joel Neidig, ITAMCO engineer.
The company was able to get its Universal Robot, which is actually a robotic arm, up and running quickly due to the arm’s small footprint and also because it runs off electricity and can be plugged in anywhere, Neidig said.
A plant employee quickly programmed the arm to perform a relatively simple, repetitive task, he added.
And the robot hasn’t replaced anyone’s job. In fact, because it can sometimes be hard to attract machinists and others with the right experience to ITAMCO’s location near South Bend, Ind., the robot performs mindless, repetitive work leaving employees the more challenging tasks, he added.
Neidig spoke at Autodesk University 2015, which was held in early December in Las Vegas.
David Thomasson, principal research engineer at Autodesk, said robots like these and other small robots—called collaborative robots–will have a significant impact on the manufacturing and construction industries in the years to come.
The robots won’t take jobs, he insisted. Rather, they can free people to perform other, needed jobs that only humans can carry out. The robots will allow manufacturers will be able to hire more labor, push production numbers upward, and become more profitable as a result, he said.
Collaborative robots belong to a new breed of robots that can work flexibly directly alongside humans due to the built-in safety system that automatically stops the robot arm’s operation if it encounters objects or people while moving, Thomasson added.
In contrast to traditional industrial robots, the Universal Robots stay hardwired inside safety enclosures. As they run on electricity, they can be moved from site to site within a factory and can be reprogrammed—often by the person who had been doing the job the robot is set to take over—within minutes, said Scott Mabie, general manager of Universal Robots’ Americas Division.
Autodesk highlighted the robotic arms from Universal Robot, of Denmark, by calling upon it to help build the Hive Pavilion. Attendees stopped by several stations to fabricate nodes from fiber and bamboo. They then helped the robot load three random pieces of bamboo, fasten specialized tips to each end, and measured the length and configuration of the pieces.
The robot then generated the necessary movement sequence to hook the fiber on the tips, creating a tensegrity structure.
Buckminster Fuller coined the term tensegrity to mean tensional integrity. A structure built using the structural principle uses isolated components that are compressed within a net of continuous tension so the components (in this case the bamboo) don’t touch each other and the tensioned members (here, fiber) define the system spatially.
At the Hive Pavilion, a design algorithm accounted for each new piece as it is fabricated and found the best placement. LEDs embedded in connecting hardware indicated the correct orientation of each new addition.
The pavilion was built from the top-down, with each row lifted following its completion, so the assembly always happened at standing height.
The goal was for users to experience a seamless integration between robotic manufacturing, wearables, RFID tracking, and intelligence embedded in the building pieces, Thomasson said
“Each unique building block in the Pavilion was created in a process neither robot or human could have produced alone,” he added. “A synergetic scenario we now see replicated in the manufacturing industries that have started to embrace collaborative robots.”