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Robots speed up production lines

24 September 2008

The revolution in processor power, drive and servomotor performance and miniaturisation means robotic control can be integrated into standard machine control equipment

Cost-effective, high performance automation systems have become key technological requirements for manufacturers. Indeed, with an ever-increasing focus on the flexibility and efficiency of production lines, OEMs and end-users are under constant pressure to stay ahead of the technological game.

Motion control is therefore becoming key as it is only through the replacement of mechanical linkages with servo motors that the production line can automatically configure to run multi-product formats.

Robotics technology has for many years been used in only highly productive environments involving the use of expensive robot controllers. However, the revolution in processor power, drive and servomotor performance and miniaturisation has meant robotic control can now be integrated into standard machine control equipment. This has had an immediate, significant impact by reducing costs and increasing the serviceability of the product.

The food industry, for example, has been quick to recognise that Kinematics (such as Portal, Delta, Articulated, Gantry, Scara etc Fig 2) previously needing specific robot control can now be realised with standard equipment. As a result, specialised Kinematics are being increasingly used to solve an array of product handling issues, and manufacturers are already responding to the development. As well as greater production flexibility the compact nature of these handling solutions will also save valuable floorspace.

Siemens Simotion range, for example, has been developed to include standard function blocks designed specifically to control Kinematics and produce robotic control. ‘‘A high performance multi-axis machine controller is at the centre of the machine architecture, and this allows operators to control multiple machine functions from a single central control point,’’ said Keith Thornhill, packaging development manager at Siemens.

The two machines usually required, for example to place a product into a carton via a robotic top loader, are the carton erector with a smart infeed system and a robotic ‘pick and place’ unit. However, in the Simotion unit, the robotic element is integral to the system – essentially creating a single fully integrated machine out of the two.

‘‘This is going to revolutionise production lines across a broad range of industries,’’ said Thornhill. ‘‘The single network control will allow faster throughput and greater line flexibility while the elimination of specialised robotic control will reduce costs significantly. This is the future of robotics – here and now.’’

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