An integrated approach to robotics and automation

Posted on 14 Mar 2014 by Tim Brown

With a growing background debate concerning growth in our manufacturing sector, and the wider topic of whether the UK adopts automation and robotics in line with our global competitors, it seems a good time to address some of the issues that might be making machine builders nervous about using robotics.

Recent figures from the IFR world robotics report 2012 shows Britain significantly lagging behind not just other European countries, but also growing economies, in terms of robot density per 10,000 employees. Furthermore, recent reports from the British Automation and Robot Association [BARA] show adoption levels of robots to be centred heavily in the automotive sector leaving food, drink, plastics and pharmaceutical lagging behind.

So why should this be? Is it a lack of understanding of the technology or the potential gains to be derived, a fear to invest in capital equipment, or a mixture of them all? A properly researched and engineered solution can bring significant benefits to the user in terms of performance, quality, efficiency, safety and flexibility.

Omron's FQM vision sensor identifies part positioning with direct input from the conveyor encoder to deliver a truly integrated solution.
Omron’s FQM vision sensor identifies part positioning with direct input from the conveyor encoder to deliver a truly integrated solution.

Let’s take a look at the technology available today for pick and place using a Delta or parallel style robot system as the example. A basic robot cell will need to incorporate the robot itself, a controller, safety, vision, and potentially some other associated I/O and additional axes of motion, for example, infeed and outfeed conveyors etc. If a machine builder has to take them from various vendors, using numerous and separately developed technologies and communication protocols, a user could potentially see a lot of risk in this scenario. But with the Omron Sysmac platform, all key components required to create a successful robotic pick and place application including logic, motion, robotics and vision, plus safety and I/O, reside on one integrated platform.

Sysmac uses two distinct networks in every controller. First, EtherNet/IP, designed for transmitting larger amounts of data between controllers and to enterprise systems, as well as a link to local HMI stations.

Secondly, every Sysmac controller also has an EtherCAT port as standard, and this is used as the machine network because of its fast and deterministic technology which is ideal for motion and robotic applications. The Sysmac controller range includes numerous models to allow the user to choose the most suitable product – the largest controlling up to 64 axes of servo, as well as the aforementioned I/O, inverters, vision and servo.

A crucial aspect of any pick and place application is the vision system used. Omron can help in specifying various vision solutions, dependent on user requirements. For a system that is required to simply identify the position of a part to be picked on a conveyor, the FQM vision sensor is ideal, as it not only sits directly on the EtherCAT network, but also has a direct input from the conveyor encoder to deliver a truly integrated solution. If a more advanced vision system is required, the FH high speed, precise and easy to use vision system is capable of controlling multiple camera inputs – all of which are integrated on the EtherCAT network.

As productivity improvements continually challenge us all, machine designers often need to integrate more than one robot into a project. A huge advantage with Sysmac, is that it can handle multiple Delta robots easily, capable of incorporating up-to eight systems on a single controller. And depending upon the model used, throughputs in excess of 150 picks per minute can be achieved per robot.

Furthermore, as well as an integrated hardware platform, Omron’s Sysmac Studio software offers the user a single programming environment, integrated configuration, programming, monitoring and simulation of all project tasks, all of which dramatically reduces time and user risk.