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Safer and more productive interaction between humans and robots enabled by MELFA SafePlus and safety sensor technology

30 November 2015

At SPS IPC Drives 2015, Mitsubishi Electric, together with its system partner MH Elektro-Steuerungstechnik, presented an industrial robot that enables humans and robots to work together more safely and effectively during large batch production within closely confined work cells.

In order to do that, an industrial robot from the MELFA F series of Mitsubishi Electric was equipped with its MELFA SafePlus safety technology along with a special safety scanner in the robot base by system partner MH Elektro-Steuerungstechnik. The scanner technology detects movements in two predefined zones within the operating environment of the industrial robot and transmits the information to the MELFA SafePlus safety system. A predefined reduced operating speed or a movement stop is then assigned to the robot in real time, thus enabling operators to work in close proximity to the moving industrial robot without a safety cage. As a result, humans and robots are able to work “hand in hand” within an environment where the risk of danger is significantly reduced.

As a first step, Mitsubishi Electric and MH Elektro-Steuerungstechnik demonstrated the combination of the MELFA F series with safety scanner and MELFA SafePlus in a work cell solution that monitors the operator's front action radius first of all. "The objective of further development is to adapt to the robot's application environment in accordance with safety requirements in such a way that no protection zones are required within the robot's range of movement and operating environment," explains Peter Grigori, Sales and Project Manager at MH Elektro-Steuerungstechnik. 

Oliver Giertz, Product Manager Servo/Motion/ Robots, Factory Automation - European Business Group Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V., says: "Together with MH Elektro-Steuerungstechnik, we are delighted to be able to offer our customers an intelligent automation solution that sets new standards for occupational safety. Man and machine can now work together even more safely and productively wherever simple, manual movement sequences need to be automated for the purpose of handling large batches. Based on their idea of an integrated safety scanner, the designers from MH Elektro-Steuerungstechnik logically developed the benefits of our MELFA SafePlus safety solution. The result: greatly improved collaboration between man and machine and significantly reduced robot downtimes. Besides the effective utilisation of space and cost efficiency along with increased productivity, the scanner means that we are now also able to offer our customers greatly improved safety in the workplace." 

If the scanner registers a person within either of the two predefined safety zones, the robot's F series controller switches to safety mode automatically. The zones as well as the intended speed are stored in the MELFA SafePlus safety system beforehand. Speed reduction limits the maximum speed of the robot, allowing the device to carry on working at a moderate speed, or stops all movement if required. 

Besides speed reduction, the MELFA SafePlus system has two further safety mechanisms. Limited range control prevents the robot from entering the part of the work cell accessed by the operator. To do that, the system monitors the position of four reference points on the robot arm and ensures that none of them go beyond a predefined area. Torque monitoring controls the speed and movement of the robot, at the same time permanently monitoring the torque in the robot’s joints. If certain limit values are exceeded, the robot stops automatically in order to avoid potential collisions with operators, robots or other parts of the equipment. 


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