Let’s Get This Party Started

NRW_studentsThe fifth annual National Robotics Week (NRW) is almost here! Scheduled for April 5-14, NRW is a ten day celebration of all things robotic, whether it is a rover on Mars, the latest LEGO® MINDSTORMS®, a da Vinci® surgical system or a Motoman® MA1440 arc welding robot.

Yaskawa Motoman was one of the earliest supporters of NRW, hosting tour groups and holding “Meet the Engineers” events at our headquarters since 2010. This year, in addition to opening our doors to students in Ohio, we will be hosting events at our regional facilities in Rochester Hills, MI and Irvine, CA. *Attendance is limited, so contact us early if you wish to schedule a group tour.

The spirit of NRW is to inspire students to pursue careers in robotics and to study hard in their STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects. We can all agree that the future of our industry is dependent upon students prepared with a strong foundation in these disciplines.

We encourage you to participate in NRW. If you use robots, you are in the best position to show our younger generation how robots make a real difference in factories. Hosting an event is a great way for you to give back to your local community, have fun and maybe even meet your future robot technicians. See www.nationalroboticsweek.org for info on how to host your own event!

*High school and college students highly interested in robotics and automation technology are welcome to attend.

By Erik Nieves, Technology Director

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2014: A Year for Change

ChangeI’ve decided that 2014 is my year to change. Years ago, I met a guy that told me he was “an agent of change” and looking back on that now, I’d like new business cards with that as a job title. Or, maybe I just want something, anything that is tangible, to help me believe that I’m really committed to change in 2014.

If I ran a manufacturing business, I would evaluate my company’s market competitiveness. Over the past several years, many companies have sourced products from countries with low cost labor, and they experienced the downside of that low cost labor – lack of intellectual property protection, slow response to engineering changes, high inventory levels or shortages, lack of responsiveness to market needs, communication issues, quality issues and labor savings that always seemed to be less than what was expected.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to figure out why robotics, to some degree, have a negative image. There doesn’t appear to be the same outcry about copy machines, CNC (computer numerical control) machines, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software, 3D printers or hundreds of other hardware and software “advances” that have improved productivity.

I remember in the 90’s when companies implemented personal computers. While the change was difficult, it was embraced. Companies offered classes on how to use word processors, spreadsheets and email programs. Many companies had dedicated personnel to provide training and assist with problems. Can change, similar to the adoption of personal computers, truly be embraced and encouraged? Can the feeling of discontent and fear be overcome by excitement and new possibilities? Don’t get me wrong, I certainly understand and respect the viewpoint of some, that if the workplace changes too much, they wonder if they’ll have the skills for the new workplace. But if you’re willing to take the training and grow with the technology, you become a part of the change rather than an idle bystander.

Today, we can all recognize that computers provide significant value and improve productivity. Looking back, could one person or a group of people have stopped the implementation of computers? They may have delayed the implementation, but the change was inevitable. In society and across the world, change is the only constant. We are always looking for ways to improve upon the past and strive for a better future.  At no time in history is this more true than today as we compete in a global economy.

Robotics, like computing, is a productivity tool whose time has come. Industrial robots and automation solutions are more capable than ever with robot vision technology, sensing capabilities, gripping tools and robot software that are now available.

The question is, are you ready to change in 2014? Are you willing to invest in this technology? On a personal level, are you willing to embrace this technology? Are you committed to learning how to use it? Are you ready to grow into your next job?

Change is inevitable. How you respond to it is up to you. Let’s work together to make 2014 the year of change, opportunity and to be more competitive.

P.S. I installed Windows® 8.1 on Sunday. It’s not as bad as everyone says ;-)

By Tom Sipple, Material Handling Product Marketing Manager

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Global Influences on Power Source Technology

Dual_ArcWelding_RobotsI’ve heard from several users that are curious about the global arc welding market. Globalization of manufacturing is here to stay, but does it affect robotic arc welding which is all about Amps, volts and travel speed?

There are regional differences between continents that affect the development of welding power source technology:

Japan – Low Spatter

Japan uses straight CO2 shielding gas for most of its GMAW welding. This forces short circuit transfer, and Japanese power source technology has been concentrated on reducing spatter with CO2. Argon is approximately 7x the cost of CO2 in Japan and only 3x the cost in the USA. Japan pioneered the “controlled short circuit” technology which is marketed by most companies today (RMD, STT, etc.). When the Japanese do use pulse, it is normally with an 80/20 Ar/CO2 gas mix which is not commonly used in other regions. The fast pace of changing technology means it is often practical to replace power sources when they are less than 10 years old, due to improved performance vs. cost of repair (similar to computers).

Europe – Perfect Pulse

Pulse welding was developed to provide a spray transfer arc at a lower average current. European pulse technology is focused on creating the ideal “one drop per pulse” arc. They use 90%+ mixes of Argon shielding gas and feedback from the arc to pulse current and spray a molten droplet across the arc, while reducing down to a lower background current. The weld parameters are normally set in the power source, and the robot selects schedules or jobs from the power source and then turns the arc on/off during motion. This means the power source has closed loop control of the process, while the robot is just performing motion control. In Asia and the Americas, it is common for the weld parameters to be stored in the robot program itself, and the robot controls the sequence of the weld power.

North America – Faster

Pulse welding and a spray arc do not have spatter; however, the wider spray arc can result in undercut if the travel speed is too fast. The controlled short circuit arc also reduces spatter, but it relies on interaction with the weld pool, and faster speeds create arc instability and generate spatter. US brand welders have multiple pulse modes (with cool names) that operate with shorter arc lengths. They pulse the current and then operate in short circuit mode with recommended gas mixtures around 90/10 Ar/CO2. They will generate spatter, but the pulse modes try to minimize the size and amount of droplets. It results in a balance between faster travels and trying to keep the spatter at a reasonable level.

Summary

The power sources from around the world do have some common traits, such as process libraries for algorithms to control the arc based on wire type, size, gas and pulse type. These algorithms are generally developed in a lab for specific conditions. Using an algorithm designed for 1.2 mm dia. wire with a 0.045” wire will normally work, but it may not produce the optimum arc. Regional differences in wire alloys and shielding gas may also contribute to slightly less than ideal conditions.

Does that mean you shouldn’t use power sources from other continents in your plant? Not necessarily. Power source manufacturers can tailor their equipment to regions by including algorithms for local wire and gas mixtures in their process libraries. Manufacturers setting up operations in other parts of the world should be aware of a foreign weld distributor’s ability to support welding standards designed in a different region. In the end, some flexibility in equipment and settings may go a long way toward achieving a quality weld with power source “X” in country “Y”. After all, it’s all about Amps, volts and travel speed.

By Chris Anderson, Welding Product Marketing Manager

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The Importance of Proper Tool Data

The current versions of software available in the DX100 controller have an important reminder about the need for correct Tool Data. When no Tool Data has been entered into the controller, this message will scroll near the bottom of the Teach Pendant screen:

Input correct tool information. Using robot with wrong tool information may result in premature failure of the robot.

The tool information is entered into a Tool Data file. The controller allows users to enter the actual end of arm tool mass (weight), center of gravity (where that weight would balance) and moment of inertia (how hard it is to get the tool moving based on its size and shape). When all this information is entered correctly, the controller will adapt the way it accelerates to perform tool motion as quickly as possible, while not overstressing internal components of the robot beyond their design limits. When the tool information is not entered, the robot will use some default data that is intended to represent a typical tool. These values will likely never be 100% correct for a real tool and could even be very far off. The greater the difference between the entered Tool Data and the actual tool used, the greater potential for premature failure of the robot.

Information must be entered into the fields outlined in red.

Tool information must be entered into the fields outlined in red.

Using the Tool Data to improve the robot motion was named Advanced Robot Motion control, or ARM control for short. ARM control is not new with the DX100 controller; it actually started with the XRC controller. It is important to understand that correct Tool Data will also improve the motions and life expectancy of the XRC and NX100 robots.

Sometimes, we see a Tool Data file that has the mass and center of gravity values entered, but not the moment of inertia. This is probably because finding the correct values for moment of inertia can require some math that not everyone is familiar with. Also, the robot can automatically estimate the mass and center of gravity for you fairly well, but cannot estimate the moment of inertia*. It may seem that entering two of the three properties correctly is better than nothing, but that is not always correct. Sometimes, entering only part of the correct Tool Data can cause earlier failure than if there was none at all. The solution for correct motion and long robot life is always achieved by entering the complete and correct Tool Data each and every time.

* To correctly calculate moment of inertia, we suggest customers review their Controller instruction manual (section on ARM control) or contact their Regional Sales Manager (RSM) or Regional Technical Manager (RTM).

By Mike Ondrasek, Senior Project Engineer

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Robots: A Glimpse Into the Future (Part 2 of 2)

Mobile_RobotWe at Yaskawa are spending much of our development efforts in making robots more mobile. Today, the robots are parked in place, and the work moves to the robot. This is not the way labor works. In efficient, productive factories, labor moves to where the work is. Robots need to do the same.

Mobile robots will help plants be more flexible with their layouts. They will allow a plant to scale production without increasing robot motion costs. For instance, machine tending lines are regularly deployed with a robot mounted on a servo track to service several machines. These tracks greatly limit the flexibility of a plant layout, but even worse, they don’t allow the plant to increase production by adding another machine. There simply isn’t any track left for the robot to reach the additional machine. Mobile robots can solve this problem. The plant engineer can choose a layout based on material flow requirements, and if machines need to be added, the robot can be reprogrammed to account for them.

Another area of technology development is grasping. Today’s grippers are either very simple (like parallel grippers or rotary actuators) or are exceedingly complex (with several actuators or cylinders and many sensors). No one has yet developed a cost-effective gripper that is flexible enough to handle many different part types, but simple enough to be easily programmed. In short, we need a more human-like hand on the robot wrist. There are many exciting developments in grasping technology, and we are at the forefront of applying them to industrial automation problems. Over the next 5-10 years, robots will be able to pick up an individual screw with one hand, a screwdriver with the other and assemble a component. The robot will then use the same hands to pick up the final assembly, inspect it with its “eyes” and package it in a box.

The future of industrial robotics has never been brighter. The pace of innovation is at an all-time high, and there will be more new products in the next five years than we have seen in the past twenty. Yaskawa has a defined technology roadmap for bringing automation to many new areas and to grow our business along with yours.

Stick with us. The fun is just beginning.

By Erik Nieves, Technology Director

Posted in Mobile Robotics, New Technologies | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Why blog? The top 5 reasons for launching Yaskawa Motoman’s new blog.

  1. As a global leader in robotics and automation, we’ve received feedback from customers and partners that are interested in the latest trends in robotics, automation, unified controls technology, new applications and more. We feel a blog is a great way to share this information with you.
  2. Several Yaskawa Motoman team members are actively engaged in robotics associations and present their perspectives throughout the year at tradeshows and conferences. A blog is an additional outlet for our team members to have a voice and share their thoughts with you.
  3. We understand you may have certain challenges or concerns about robotics, automation or technology. Our experts love to share their experience and expertise, and hopefully, their insight will provide value to you.
  4. We all have preferences in how we consume content, learn and connect with brands or products. Some people prefer Facebook, Twitter or a traditional website. A Yaskawa Motoman blog has been requested by customers several times, and now we’re ready.
  5. We value our relationship and want to ensure you get the information you want, at the right time and with minimal effort. Welcome to Yaskawa Motoman’s new communication channel…Y-blog.

By Jason Farmer, Marketing Director

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Robots: A Glimpse Into the Future (Part 1 of 2)

Collaborative_DemoAs we consider the future of industrial robotics, it’s helpful to remember how our technology has become successful over the past thirty years. The success of industrial robots has been marked by their ability to ease the burden of labor. Wherever robots can perform tasks at the same level of quality as their human counterparts, those applications quickly become automated. This allows the factory to focus human labor on tasks requiring more skill, dexterity or intelligence than robots offer. It’s this fluidity of human labor that leads to greater productivity and improved business outcomes.

Moving forward, the same rules apply. The robot industry will grow only insofar as it can further ease labor and allow personnel to apply their higher-level skills elsewhere in the production value chain. The challenge however, is that the tasks that traditional robots can be applied to are already saturated. For robots to help further, they must evolve further.

Our focus at Yaskawa is to make robots smarter and more skillful. The growth in vision-guided robotics is evidence that if you make the robot more perceptive, there will be more applications. This is the reason we have partnered with several leading vision companies – because vision technology is evolving rapidly and this allows us to leverage the best technology. As an example, it is likely that conveyor tracking will be replaced by direct vision guidance within five years. The robot will no longer be calculating the position of a part based on a trigger and a previous image. Instead, the robot will perform visual servoing, meaning it will simply see the next part and pick it on the fly.

Next time, we will discuss mobile robots and grasping technology.

By Erik Nieves, Technology Director

Posted in New Technologies, Vision | Tagged , | 1 Comment