The far reach of robotics

Posted on 1 Sep 2014 by Callum Bentley

Robot specialist Barry Weller of Mitsubishi Electric explains how the latest generation of manufacturing equipment is helping to reset performance expectations.

For manufacturers to be profitable and sustainable they must to be able to switch from one product run to the next quickly and efficiently.

Previously, the way this was achieved was not to automate but have an army of assembly workers on call. People were brought in to meet the demand of the moment. The system worked but it was far from perfect. Product quality could not be guaranteed.

More recently a far better solution has been found – using robots. Robots allow assembly processes to be automated, ensuring quality and productivity.

A new age

A new generation of robots is beginning to emerge, which are better in many ways than their predecessors. Mitsubishi Electric is a forerunner in this drive for productivity. Its new MELFA F-series robot range, which is designed to provide substantial improvements in the degree of flexibility, operational speed and functionality, is its latest robotic addition.

Based on a new mechanical design, F-Series robots are able to reach a far greater working area than other robots. They can even reach round and behind their own base. The compact design allows the robot to work in confined spaces and can be floor, wall or ceiling-mounted, allowing the whole working area to be utilised for production operations, rather than having the central area taken up with the robot’s base, so are particularly suited for high speed pick and place operations.

The robots come with their cabling fully enclosed for total protection and safety which can include electric cables, pneumatic tubing, I/O for hand control and CAT5 Ethernet cabling.

A powerful new controller has also been developed for the F-series. This can be used in a standalone mode or embedded into the Mitsubishi Electric iQ PLC rack. Supporting up to three robots on one rack allows the system to share data, thus enabling features such as automatic collision avoidance and cooperative control so that complex operations are carried out in a single action.

Joining forces

The F-Series robots can also support up to eight additional servo axes. This gives them useful additional abilities. For instance they can be mounted onto a linear slide so that one robot can tend two or more work stations.

The robots have been designed with food and other hygienic applications in mind.   They meet IP67; allowing easy cleaning of the arm, while food safe HG1 food grade grease is used for lubrication. A clean room version is also available for ultra-hygienic requirements

The maintenance interval for the F series robot is 24,000 hours which is up to four times longer than our competitors, reducing maintenance costs and disruption to production.

Typically, robots cost £5/hr to operate, half that of employing people and because they can run continuously they are highly productive.