by Vojislav D. Kalanovic, President of Flexible Robotic Environment, Div. of Biocommerce
Robotic systems being used today, for the most part, lack modular flexibility and other elements that allow easy integration, which often prevent an integrator from bringing them to market quickly. These deficiencies also prevent them from being able to tackle non-serial jobs in a timely and cost-effective manner.
In order to improve robotic system development efficiencies, Bicommerce has created a modular software solution that deploys a user-friendly set of tools that open robotic integration to a broader spectrum of users and markets—from a “bread maker” up to the level of a professional system integrator.
The Flexible Robotic Environment (FRE) is a new, patented technology used in robotics that builds a robot around an application instead of trying to “squeeze” an application within the working volumes that are defined by the physical constraints of a spatial kinematic chain.
In this article, we’re going to look at the FRE application being used with Aerotech’s motion components to form a unique, six degree-of-freedom (6DOF) VDK 6000 Robotic Cell for metal 3D printing and metal part refurbishing. The VDK 6000’s advanced metal printing and metal removal capabilities reparation processes are widely used in industry today.
The Flexible Robotic Environment (FRE)
FRE is robotic software that combines mechanical and motor/drive components with proprietary inverse kinematics software and controls. This configurable and interchangeable, multi-degree-of-freedom robotic package allows the user to “shape” the workspace using standard motion elements. Users can also create a distributed 3D mechanism according to a specific need. Such a mechanism then employs all of its DOF simultaneously in order to provide a desired spatial relationship between a tool and a part at any given instant in time.
The flexibility of the FRE solution permits various systems to be built with virtually the same parts. Examples of this are Bicommerce products, such as the VDK 1000 6DOF material removal system, the VDK 3000 6DOF laser deposition system, the VDK 4000 6DOF direct-write system, the VDK 5000 4DOF ultrasound inspection system, and the VDK 6000 6DOF cold spray system. FRE systems can be expanded at any time and individual components can be replaced and/or exchanged with ease.
The FRE software was used to create the VDK 6000 robotic metal 3D printing and repair work cell that automates refurbishing, rebuilding, and/or creation of metal components using subtractive and additive technology. The VDK 6000 provides a unique, modular motion solution and is designed to execute multiple operations on a single station, enabling production of “first time right” parts—as well as their repair. The VDK 6000 helps deploy the most advanced metal printing and metal removal capabilities for well-established reparation processes widely used in industry today, bringing about faster re-deployment at a lower overall cost.
VDK 6000 offers an auto-connect robotic tool-changer for integration with a variety of conventional and non-conventional processes, such as cold spray, milling, laser scanning, ultrasonic inspection, thermal spray, polishing, laser deposition/drilling and plasma-welding. This flexibility allows various combinations of subtractive and additive manufacturing for 3D printing and repair with a single-system solution.
FRE inverse kinematics capabilities mean that axes are broken into a spatial placement having the best error minimization configuration for a given application. With the FRE approach, VDK 6000 can be scaled up or down depending on customer needs.
The VDK 6000 was built using Aerotech motion components for all six axes. Aerotech components include direct-drive linear motor and ball-screw-driven linear stages, worm-gear-driven rotary stages, drives, and Aerotech’s A3200 machine controller. The accuracy and durability of Aerotech motion components are essential to the precision performance of the VDK 6000 system.
Plotting a path via the SolidWorks API
One of the main features of the VDK 6000 is the path-planning program based on an Application Programming Interface (API) developed for SOLIDWORKS. This capability allows the user to path plan in a user-friendly setting, while exporting motion files that are specific to the hardware configuration, composed in a variety of ways in space and where path-planning is not always intuitive.
The SOLIDWORKS-based API allows the user to:
• create a simple path on a given solid
• create multiple paths that are necessary to perform cladding on a given solid/part
• create slicing models and subsequent paths necessary to create a part provided as a solid model
Creating 3D paths
Users can create a 3D direct-write deposition path on a specific part by using the API that is appended to a CAD package.
Sometimes an application requires a cladding operation, which is the bonding together of two dissimilar metals. When this is required, the user selects surfaces on a given part that are intended for cladding using a mouse selection.
Once the surfaces are selected and cladding parameters are assigned within the API environment, a cladding path is created with only a “click.”
Users can also use the API to select and assign specific tool orientations that are to be used during the cladding process, as well as process parameters including peripheral power, I/O control, speed assignment, cladding direction and tool orientation.
Creating 3D slicing paths
The API also allows the user to build a part using a slicing application. Once the part is selected within the API environment and the parameters are assigned, a click of a mouse produces a slicing diagram.
Once the fast and user-friendly path-planning process is complete, you can export the motion path directly into the operating environment of the VDK 6000 for immediate execution. Every FRE system comes with a custom MMI making them even more intuitive for the end-user.
The robotics industry today lacks the degree of modular flexibility that allows quick and easy integration. The Flexible Robotic Environment (FRE) software solution combines mechanical, motor, and drive components with proprietary inverse kinematics software and controls, resulting in a modular, cost-effective, highly innovative, configurable, and interchangeable multi-degree-of-freedom robotic package that can be applied in many low- to high-level applications.
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