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ALEXANDER WALZER | DIGITAL FABRICATION & ROBOTICS

Alex (Alexander) Nikolas Walzer
Research Fellow, Design Robotics

Favourite quote “The process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionises the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”  Austrian Economist Joseph Schumpeter.
Favourite Podcast ConTechCrew focuses on digital construction technologies
Why robots? Robots are versatile machines enabling the execution of a variety of tasks, which makes them ideal for prototyping and beyond. They are precise, strong, and can be fast or very patient and outfitted with almost any tool to suit most processes.
What is your background? How did you end up in Design Robotics?
I am trained as an architect in Europe and Australia and stumbled into Digital Fabrication several years ago. I was mostly inspired by the idea of being able to learn about and make (almost!) anything. For that reason, I spent some time in Milan and Barcelona and was an exchange student at RMIT, where I was part of the team designing the new mace which was 3D-printed from Titanium. 
[youtube-video id=”eRjgB73QqKg”]RMIT’s 3D printed mace[/youtube-video]
Subsequently, I took on a few roles bridging computational design and digital fabrication at ETH Zurich and the NCCR Digital Fabrication. At ETH, I supervised Nizar Taha and Jetana Ruangjun’ Master thesis Robotic Aerocrete which was a really interesting and fulfilling experience. It involved the use of mobile robotic set-up for creating geometrically complex thin-shell textile-reinforced concrete structures. 
[video-embed id=”292811603″]Robotic AeroCrete[/video-embed]
At NCCR Digital Fabrication, we developed a digitized construction system called Mesh Mould. 
[youtube-video id=”ZeLEeY8yK2Y”]In situ Fabricator & Mesh Mould: Complete construction[/youtube-video]
The daily work included design thinking, agile project management and delivering experimental results on time, I worked within larger industry collaborations and always in interdisciplinary teams. Besides that, I continued to engage in Makerspaces / FabLabs and have consulted Start-Ups and companies of various scales on identifying and exploiting potentials of Digitalization / Industry 4.0 within the AEC, Design and manufacturing sector in Europe and the US. As of 2020, I am very happy to be back at RMIT in Melbourne and work with partners old and new alike on the robotic application and design implication of novel 3D metal-printing tech! 
Tell us a bit about your role in the Design Robotics project
Design Robotics is a collaboration of Urban Art Projects (UAP), QUT, RMIT and the IMCRC. UAP is manufacturing bespoke public art and architectural pieces worldwide, QUT is teaching industrial robots to perceive their workpiece and environment and we at RMIT provide the bespoke computational design–to–robotic fabrication workflow including industrial welding. Together, this allows us to benchmark the technology against existing workflows or procedures. 
Digital fabrication involves aspects of computational design and coding and applying it into processes of production. And now, we are exploring what robots can do in this process. I’m in between these two worlds of physical materiality with virtual processes and technologies. My workflow involves flexibly fusing novel design technologies to create a product. In my role, this framework spans the entire project pipeline, from idea or first sketch to final, delivered prototype. A crucial part is the integration of fabrication data into the 3D design environment. 
Tell us a little more about the problem you are solving in Design Robotics
3D-printing at scale comes with certain limitations but the use of Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (or WAAM) yields big potential to save time and material in design and construction. The additive build-up of material generally has a better Buy-To-Fly ratio than standard processes such as casting or CNC milling. WAAM can be integrated onto a standard industrial robot which makes it a very competitive alternative to the before-mentioned strategies. Eventually, we will be enabled to investigate structural optimization, near-net shape fabrication and hybrid manufacturing.
What has been your biggest joy with the project so far?
I really enjoy daily work with talented people of so many trades and exchange knowledge pro-actively. I also see that industrial and academic interests can eventually be very supplementary and help to accelerate the application of new technologies.
What is your next big goal with the project?
The Design Robotics team at RMIT at the moment is focussed on 3D printing of large scale objects. As our process becomes more robust and ready for higher throughputs, I am happy to disseminate the work in the months to come: Through mutual prototyping with engineers and co-creation with artists, we can examine this technology from various perspectives and discuss it within the IMCRC and beyond. In line with the Open Innovation Network we can reach out to new partners in Industry and Academia and make a strong, realistic case for WAAM in the Australian AEC and manufacturing sector. 
And finally to end with, how have you and your team been coping with COVID-19?
The outbreak of COVID-19 just shortly after the Australian bushfires has had a big impact on both society and our work. Luckily enough, we have been prepared for remote work and can run most robotics-related experiments in simulation and study them in VR/AR/MR mode. Soon enough, we might be able to run the physical system fully automated from a remote location. Personally, I believe, the current crisis holds a lot of opportunities for those ready to digitize!
To connect with Alex and learn more about his work
Design Robotics | RMIT | LinkedIn | | Google Scholar

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REVIEW | ARCHITECTURAL ROBOTICS

Over the past 15 years, researchers in architecture and construction have been exploring the possibilities of employing industrial robotic arms (IRA) to help create new kinds of architectural forms. There is now a wealth of research in this area that manufacturers can draw upon to inform advanced manufacturing processes, due to the power that they entail in the direct path from digital design to fabrication. For architects, designers and construction managers, this research also points the way to new design possibilities.
In the scope of this training material, examples from current architectural and design research are explored. Recent publications from ROBArchCuminCAD and prominent universities were analysed to identify key design methodologies. The key findings of the literature review show that there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way fabrication is thought, as the design methods used in the early exploratory stages directly correlates with the way the industrial robots function and manufacture.
Carving and 3D Printing IRA's, image courtesy of UAP.
With the use of IRAs in architecture, designers have the possibility to fabricate their designs directly from the parametric digital design tools that they use. This direct connection between design and fabrication creates a fundamental shift in the way we perceive design, as architects. Suddenly, we are in control of the whole process of making; from material behaviour to structural rigidity, from material optimization to cost effectiveness, from sustainability to innovative techniques. Similar to the idea of sketching, the making process becomes more iterative, fluid and directly connected to our minds. It is also more playful and unique to our personal experiences (erlebnis).
Some of the design methodologies that arise from the exploration of IRA’s usage in architectural fabrications can be named as drawing, folding, 3D printing, deforming, stacking, weaving and carving. One might understand that each one of these methodologies are related to words of action, as they entail making in their existence. Most of the examples that are discussed in this section are pioneering exemplars that open up novel ways of making. Still at their early stages of exploration, these exemplars will change the way of architectural fabrication.

3D Printing

3D Printing technologies have been available to architects since the early 90’s, however, they are confined with the dimensions, the limitations and the available materials of the 3D Printers. With the use of IRAs, the possibilities of printing bigger and customised solutions became possible. Depending on the material used for printing, the outcomes could be real-time constructed structures without curing / assembling times. Also explorations into customised materials with sustainability considerations can be tested. Materials like recycled plastics, acrylic, nylon, resin, wood metal, rubber, salt, cement, sand, etc… can be used for 3D printing possibilities.
In the work of “Aggregation” by ICD, the concept of 3D printing is explored through a different kind of material compared to current 3D printing material. Instead of using a filament, this project uses a 3D elemental piece to be poured by an IRA. Through gravitational force, the material entangles to one another through a natural flow and compresses naturally. This process creates new ways of constructing through an aggregation process. There are no binders, no curing times. Allowing structure to emerge instantaneously through the process of pouring.
In the work of “Robotic Welding the Bridge” by MX3D, IRAs demonstrate the ability to 3D print in stainless steel. 3D printing is achieved by welding IREs. Welded forms have a lot of flexibility in relation to creating complex geometries and force distribution. More explorations with fluid materials that are more similar to 3D printers as we know it are the works of Roland SnooksEmerging Objects and AI Build.

Deforming

Deforming a rigid material using material’s physical properties creates novel uses of that material. In architecture, deforming through vacuum forming has been used for creating repetitive elements through metal and plastic sheets moulds in many design projects. However, the idea of mass-customisation through parametric design suggests novel techniques for fabrication with this technique. As, custom designed panels require custom moulds, cost and precision becomes the main concerns for manufacturers. In order for custom moulds to be sustainable and economically feasible, manufacturing speed, recycling and accuracy should be taken into consideration. With their speed and precision, IRAs can apply adequate force to create exact deformations in metal sheets to achieve high quality results. [Kalo, A. & Newsum, M. J. (2014)]

Folding

The folding techniques used in architecture are mainly influenced by the folding techniques from Japanese Origami art. In the Origami technique, a planar paper surface is folded into 3dimensional geometries without losing material. The folds create rigidity in the material in a way that it is possible to resist gravitational forces as well as lateral forces. Similar ideas of Origami are tested and prototyped in the manufacturing process of Robofold. In the explorations of Robofold, laser cut aluminium plates that have scores of folding as well as joint holes, which are folded by three IREs applying equal forces.

Stacking

Stacking materials is a repetitive and tiring process that requires optimisation, attention, precision and equal force distribution. The significance in the process of stacking is in the overall algorithm that defines the rules of stacking in relation to each piece with one another, that requires real-time feedback loops, using vision sensors. In architectural fabrication, stacking materials by using pick and place functions in IRAs is commonly used. Pioneering research group, Gramazio Kohler explore the potential of such technologies through onsite robotic construction.

Mobile Robotic Brickwork from robotsinarchitecture on Vimeo
Weaving

Inherent in our nomadic existence, weaving has been an integral part of architectural fabrication. Roof structures, partition elements have been woven using various materials since centuries. However, today with the use of IRAs in digital design to fabrication, architects realized a new potential in this way of fabrication. In the works of ICD, New materials such as carbon fibre have initiated unforeseen potentials in the making of spaces, using biomimetic approaches to design. Parasitic structures as well as self-standing
lightweight structures enable fast and clean on-site fabrication of lightweight structures. Either constructed as elemental units, or parasitical structures that are weaved into localities, weaved elements create their own structural integrity, allowing adequate weight distribution and optimised material use. Some weaved structures allow human-robot collaboration by humans assembling infrastructures for robots to weave, or humans assembling robotically weaved elements into whole structures.

 ICD ITKE Research Pavilion 2013-14 from itke on Vimeo
Carving

Carving has entered the world of architectural fabrication with 3 axis CNC’s. The flexibility of having a 6 axis IRA, allows multiple directional carving into materials. With the use of IRAs, using different end effectors, architects carve into materials with hotwire cutters as well as various milling tools. Using a hotwire cutter, QUT Design Robotics team has collaborated with UQ School of Architecture to create ROBOBLOX; a web to fabrication design process to cut custom designed patterns into sculptural friezes. Manufacturing company UAP uses robotic milling in creating custom mould patterns for bronze casting of bespoke artworks.

ROBOBLOX, Design Robotics & UQ School of Architecture
The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding.

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BTW | WHAT IS WAAM?

For the past few decades, research has been assessing the implications of Additive Manufacturing (AM, or 3D-printing) across many industries. AM is a technology that promises to reduce part cost by reducing material wastage and time to market. Furthermore, AM can also enable an increase in design freedom, which potentially results in weight-saving as well as facilitating the manufacture of complex assemblies formerly made of many subcomponents.
Especially, the potential of printing metals is of high interest to researchers and scientists around the globe. More recently, we have seen the successful application of a technology coined Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing – or WAAM in short. It allows for high volume output, great scalability, and very good mechanical performance. For prototypes and small-batch production runs, in particular, WAAM is a more cost-effective solution than other additive or subtractive manufacturing processes for metal.

RAMLab producing a Propeller using WAAM
The WAAM process starts with a 3D CAD file, which is processed by software running algorithms in which the 3D model is sliced in many layers. Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) uses arc welding technology to build up a component in layers, this means a metal wire is melted at the right place using a MIG welding torch to form the desired blank. WAAM hardware currently uses standard, off the shelf and low-cost welding equipment: welding power source, torches, and wire feeding systems. Motion can be provided either by robotic systems or computer numerical controlled gantries, for which the path is automatically generated at the click of a button.

A variety of materials, such as common mild steel, stainless steel, aluminium, titanium, and nickel-based metals are perfectly suitable for this AM process. As of today, countless components have already been produced using WAAM technology in a variety of sectors: impellers for machines, airplane parts for the aviation industry, car-body prototypes for automotive, and even an entire bridge for the Arts and AEC sector. Apart from building components purely additively, post-production steps such as polishing and/or machining are possible to fabricate hybrid components that feature both rapid manufacturing and very high precision. It is even possible to repair components using WAAM technology.
WAAM print-only (left) and additionally CNC machined (right)

The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding. The remaining question is, what would you manufacture today, tomorrow, and in the future using WAAM?

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ADVANCED MANUFACTURING | TRANSFORMING WORKPLACE COMPETENCY

The full benefit of integrating advanced Industry 4.0 technologies into manufacturing processes requires the right human skills and a motivated workforce. While the new manufacturing paradigm is projected to create a whole new range of possibilities, it depends upon a workforce transformation that is one of the main challenges of Industry 4.0.
Increasing automation will force a shift in the employee skill-set. Initially some low-skill jobs will be lost, particularly those with repetitive tasks, others however, will be reconfigured. In the long-term, employment is projected to rise; and people with skills overlapping the domains of engineering, IT and software development will benefit most. Leaders need to consider the changing nature of work, and organisations need to provide environments that expand the skill-set and capabilities of existing employees through continuous, on-the-job education and training. An ongoing investment in upskilling the workforce will help address challenges and fears about job losses through automation.

Key Recommendations
  • Identify a Project Champion Develop an employee-led transformation culture and support those with the energy and enthusiasm to drive projects forward
  • Collaborate with Your Workforce Identify opportunities and reconfigure processes in partnership with your employees
  • Develop and Support a Culture of Life-long Learning Provide workplace education, training, and opportunities to experiment
  • Acknowledge and Document Failures Create the space to fail and learn
There’s no winning and losing, only winning and learning

 
Activity: Mapping advanced manufacturing opportunities over existing organisational workflow.

Activity map advanced manufacturing opportunities over existing workflows

A foundation for successful adoption and application of advanced technology can be achieved through early engagement with employees. Collaborative activities can investigate current organisational workflows to identify opportunities for the use of advanced manufacturing equipment. For example, points in the workflow that are resource intensive, time consuming, hazardous, or difficult to achieve with existing methods. They could also be processes where advanced manufacturing equipment would expand the capabilities of the organisation. These approaches allow organisations to identify what technology should be adopted and how. It is important to consider if there is enough work [for the technology] in the process and what resources would be required for implementation to be successful. Having employees as key participants in this transformation is critical as their expert, and often tacit knowledge informs what advanced manufacturing technologies would be appropriate and useful uptake into their processes.
By adopting a collaborative approach, organisations provide their employees with opportunities to learn more about the capabilities of advanced manufacturing technologies and how they can allow for transformative approaches within their workflow. This kind of engagement and communication increases valuable cross-department awareness and opens up the opportunity for employee-led transformation – a key driver of successful industrial transformation.
As the transformation continues, this internal value should be supported and built upon with long-term strategies that include ongoing training and education. To accommodate different generations, skill-levels and learning styles, a variety of training approaches should be considered – formal versus informal, onsite versus offsite, for example. Collaborative activities such as the workflow mapping discussed above, are approachable methods that can be organised in-house or supported through partnerships with research institutions or government vocational education training. If opportunity allows, it is recommended that organisations consider both practice and applied use; ‘time on the tool’, for exploration and experimentation with the technology, understanding its limitations and learning from failures, will increase employee self-efficacy; actually applying the technology to projects will demonstrate confidence in the workforce.

The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding.

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REVIEW | ROBOT CALIBRATION

UR10 Robot with burnishing tool

Robotic arms are a series of joints linked together in a kinematic chain

Calibration is critical in the field of robotics as it allows for enhancement of a robot’s accuracy through software rather than changing mechanical components. This article will go over some basic concepts involved in end effector calibration otherwise known as adding a new tool centre point on a robotic arm. Most industrial manipulators have six degrees of freedom or six joints (see Figures 1 & 2). The starting link always begins where the robot is physically mounted. These joints can be described as having a parent-child relationship. The hierarchy of these joints is important as the child joint is always defined in reference to, and therefore dependent on, the parent joint. The last link on the kinematic chain is typically referred to as the end effector which has a tool centre point (TCP). It is this TCP point that the user will manipulate in 3D-space, if in cartesian control. To make robotic arms useful, various end effectors (i.e. grippers, 3D sensors, rotating tools) can be attached in order to complete various operations. As a result, defining a new TCP is necessary to utilise the mounted tools.

Figure1: Simple drawing of a robotic arm and joints
Figure 1: Simple drawing of a robotic arm and joints

Figure 2: Example of joints on an industrial robotic arm

Figure 2: Example of joints on an industrial robotic arm

There are several ways to add a new TCP point on a robotic arm and most robotic arm manufacturers will provide their own methodology. Ultimately, all these methods involve measuring the pose of your new end effector in 3D-space, with respect to the last joint of the manipulator. The key feature to make note of when adding a new TCP, is the parent joint’s coordinate frame (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Example of TCP point being defined from the last flange joint on a KUKA

Figure 3: Example of TCP point being defined from the last flange joint on a KUKA

To define a new TCP, the position and orientation is required to make up the pose. The position aspect can be gathered from physically measuring it out. It’s important to know the coordinate frame as this determines whether elements are positive or negative, and which axis to measure along. Depending on the complexity of the end effector, it can be quite difficult to measure the TCP point. If there is an accurate 3D model, the position information can be gathered from this, but ultimately the accuracy in robotic arm control is dependent on how close the most is representative in real life.
The orientation is crucial for cartesian control. The controller is given target poses and it is ultimately trying to match the robot’s end-effector coordinate frame to the target’s. If the orientation of the TCP is ill-defined, it can cause large sweeping motions. There are four key things to remember when defining a new orientation:

  1. Orientations are simply defining a new XYZ coordinate frame (see Figure 4A)
  2. All XYZ coordinate frames have to abide by a right-hand rule to be valid (see Figure 4B – this rule defines the order XYZ axes can exist, thumb is X, pointer is Y and middle is Z axis) and follow conventions to determine positive rotation (figure 4C)
  3. The order of rotations also impacts the ending result of a coordinate frame.
  4. All orientations, while maybe named or ordered differently, will be defined using either euler angles (x,y,z) or quaternions (x, y, z, w) with the units being either in degrees or radian.

Figure 4: (A) A 3D coordinate frame in cartesian space. (B) The right hand rule all frames will abide by. (C) The thumb represents the axis, and the curled fingers represent convention for positive rotation.

Figure 4A: (A) A 3D coordinate frame in cartesian space. (B) The right-hand rule all frames will abide by. (C) The thumb represents the axis, and the curled fingers represent convention for positive rotation.
Figure 4: Example of orientations defined in KUKA manipulators. ABC angles represent ZYX coordinate frames (note, reversed and named differently from conventional frames).
Figure 4B: Example of orientations defined in KUKA manipulators. ABC angles represent ZYX coordinate frames (note, reversed and named differently from conventional frames).

Figure 5: Coordinate frame showing the separated axis rotations

Figure 5: Coordinate frame showing the separated axis rotations

This article touched on the basic concepts involved in calibrating a new end effector on any kind of robotic arm. It is important to have an understanding of the underlying theory that underpins how robotic arms are structured, but the best resource to understand your robotic arm will be the manufacturer’s manual.

The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding.

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REVIEW | OPEN INNOVATION

Open Innovation (OI) describes distributed and collaborative practices that amplify innovation. At its core, the practice is about opening up organisational boundaries to allow the exchange of knowledge with others.
An Open Innovation approach with Design Robotics: Knowledge sharing and product development

Design Robotics Open Innovation Pathway

There are two important kinds of open innovation: in-bound and out-bound. In-bound innovation is the process of incorporating external knowledge, while out-bound innovation describes the process of taking internal knowledge to the wider marketplace for others to develop and enhance.
OI approaches bring together diverse partners such as research institutes, industry and government to increase the speed and reduce the risks associated with innovating, particularly for smaller organisations. By providing SMEs access to advanced technologies and expertise, such collaborative arrangements facilitate the development of products and technologies with organisations often without the resources to manage such development on their own.
These collaborative arrangements have many labels – hubs, networks, clusters, accelerators, and incubators, for example. They can emerge organically, or be purposefully created, with national, regional, sectoral, or technological agendas. Silicon Valley is an iconic example of an innovation cluster. Ecosystems are another type of collaborative arrangement usually set up to encourage a large number of diverse organisations to think beyond their traditional supply chains. These large networks are often coordinated by a central platform leader or hub firm that, among other responsibilities, is tasked with managing direction and opportunities, and overseeing agreements and aspects of IP governance.
Opening up to outbound use of IP is one of the main challenges for organisations in adopting OI practices. Those most successful have managed opportunities in both inbound and outbound innovation – diversifying their product pipeline while developing absorptive capacity to leverage the resources of others within the network. Opening up knowledge accelerates research and development processes. It provides ways for organisations to address new and emerging challenges and creates opportunities for innovation not previously considered possible.
 

The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding.
 

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ROBOT FABRICATION | USING RHINO & GRASSHOPPER

There are considerable advantages in using products like Rhinoceros and Grasshopper, Robots for Grasshopper, and KUKA|PRC. Software and plugins enhance the control of industrial arm robots like the Universal Robotics UR10 or the KUKA range of robots, allowing users to create 3D simulations the robot moves or performs a complete task.
Rhinoceros (also called Rhino 3D, or Rhino) is a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software used for the design and modelling of 3D products. It is widely used in the industrial / product design professions, and also used in a variety of industries because of a large range of plug-in applications that enhance the options of the basic Rhino software. A major advantage of using Rhino over similar software packages is a plug-in application called Grasshopper. Grasshopper allows users to use a visual programming language that makes coding accessible to people with limited programming knowledge. By using Grasshopper, users can make rapid changes or explore many variations of 3D models using algorithms or simple commands. Grasshopper’s interface simplifies the creation of complex models, and with the right plug-ins – allows for other abilities such as robot control that can potentially fabricate.
Rhinoceros 3D software: Quick modelling, and straightforward control of robots. In this example a simulation of a UR10 robot is tracing a loop drawn in Rhino by the user.

Rhinoceros 3D software: Quick modelling, and straightforward control of robots. In this example a simulation of a UR10 robot is tracing a loop drawn in Rhino by the user.
Why Grasshopper?

Rhino and the Grasshopper plug-in have many advantages over other methods of robotic control systems. Rhino is primarily a 3D modelling application, so creating or editing the 3D simulation environment is controlled within one type of software. Once a model is created, it is easy to make adjustments to the location for setting up a robot in a real-world environment, as well as objects for the robot to interact with or avoid. The advantages of using Grasshopper include rapid workflows from virtual prototypes to production. Changes to the control of the program or the intended design can be made quickly and new fabrications can be created.
The example workflow (illustrated below) of this is the ROBOBLOX project by QUT Design Robotics and UQ Architectural Robotics. The project created over 100 unique polystyrene foam blocks cut by a hot-wire cutter attached to a KUKA industrial robot, for installation as an art piece.
 

RoboBlox Workflow
  • Creation of the 3D models for each unique design of the blocks in Rhino.
  • Grasshopper was used to create the path the robot would follow to cut each of the blocks, and this pathway is simulated to predict any errors.
  • Grasshopper was used again to send the commands to the robot for the real blocks to be cut from a large slab of polystyrene.
  • The unique polystyrene blocks were finished and installed on site.

The entire process from choosing a design, to installation, was fabricated quicker and with greater accuracy compared with a similar project completed without a robot.
Workflow from modelling to simulation to fabrication to installed product

Workflow from modelling to simulation to fabrication to installed product
Visual Coding

On a typical Windows PC, the Grasshopper interface, or canvas is clearly laid out (shown above). Menus at the top of the Grasshopper window allow users to switch between different panels of icons. Each icon provides an option or toolset – with additional downloadable plugins extending these panels of tools. A script in Grasshopper uses components that look like box-like containers, each one offering varying inputs, an altering function, and outputs. The example image shows a script made with components from the Robots plugin. This layout shows how the visual script is easily read by following the guidewires that connect the container’s transfer data. Changes made to the data at the beginning of the script alters later outcomes and using this method it is quick to visualise many alternative designs before sending the final design to the robot for fabricating. The advantage of this is that rapid prototyping and robotic fabrication can be achieved or experimented with a variety of adaptations through the use of one type of software.
 

The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding.
 

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LINISHING | EXPLORING COLLABORATIVE ROBOTICS

Contemporary industrial production is no longer simply about reducing ergonomic and safety risks, or improving speed and productivity, more-and-more it is driven by decreasing lead-times and increasing levels of customisation. This approach requires flexible and adaptive production units, including a combination of human and robot capabilities. Here, we explore the role collaborative robots play in the linishing process.
Assistive Robots and machines that work alongside skilled human experts are key enabling technologies in advanced manufacturing and the factories of the future. Safety is a primary concern, but further work is needed to extend the application of robotic technologies across manufacturing environments. Rather than autonomous, robotic systems designed to replace human workers, new systems will work in areas requiring a high level of integration between human and robotic competencies.
Collaborative robots are robots designed to allow humans and robots to work together without the need for physical cells to separate and protect humans from the robot. These force-limited robots have built-in sensors that monitor and detect the presence of objects such as people by detecting impact and external forces. These robots stop moving when they impact with something else. They are also designed to have rounded edges and smoother finishes so that their impact creates minimal damage or harm to others.

Human and robot linishing collaboration

The linishing video of a UAP worker collaborating with a UR10 demonstrates the capability of a human and robot working together to achieve a time consuming and large scale task that would be difficult for a human to complete on their own.

Technologies such as VR and AR can help people interact with robots
Technologies such as VR and AR can help people interact with robots

Existing industrial robot installations are subject to strict international standards governing the design, installation, and integration of robots and robot systems (ISO 10218 1&2 – 2011).
There are four primary HRI safety methods. Methods often separate the robot and operator with physical or sensor-based barriers. Given these barriers are somewhat eliminated in collaborative workspaces the ISO standards have been updated to specifically address the integration of collaborative systems (ISO/TS 15066:2016). Collaborative robots employed to work in industrial operations must fulfil at least one of four modes. Different modes align with different applications of human/robot collaboration.

Digital Transformation

Advanced digital technologies have already transformed banking, communications, and media landscapes. Representing one-sixth of the global economy the manufacturing sector poses just as much potential for disruption.
Lower costs and improved robot capability are decreasing barriers to entry and increasing global competitiveness. From agriculture to transportation, SMEs are exploring robotic applications in areas not previously considered possible. Accordingly, 52% of Australian CEOs are exploring the possible benefits of humans and robots working together.

Core Considerations
  • End Effectors are the tools that can be attached to a robotic arm such
    as a gripper, a milling head, a spindle etc.
  • Payload is the weight that a robotic arm can carry. The payload needs to
    consider the weight of the end effector and anything it would carry or
    force it would apply.
  • Reach is the extension length of the robotic arm from its wrist to its base.
  • Maximum Speed is the fastest speed that the end effector can move.
  • Degrees of Freedom refers to the number of axes that the robotic arm can
    move around. The more degrees of freedom a robotic arm has means it has
    increased levels of dexterity.
  • Repeatability is the ability for the robotic arm to accurately repeat
    the same motion.
  • Price, Weight and Size are other factors that need to be considered when
    taking into account the different collaborative robots on the market.

Collaborative Robots that are force limited achieve their safe human/robot relationships through four different approaches. These different approaches classify the collaborative robots under 4 different types including:

  • Inherently Safe robots have many sensors and a low amount of force (a
    payload under 1kg) so even if they collided with a person they would not
    cause harm.
  • Skin Sensing robots use tactile sensing technology to sense impact
    causing them to stop automatically at specific levels.
  • Force Sensor Base robots have a force-sensor at their base which
    measures and detects different forces placed onto the robot.
  • Joint Sensing robots use their joints to detect and monitor forces that
    are applied to the robot’s body. This is the most common type of
    collaborative robot on the market and the one that the design robotics team
    at QUT uses for their research.

For more details and examples of different kinds of collaborative robotic arms made from a range of manufacturers refer to the comprehensive Robotiq Collaborative Robot eBook https://blog.robotiq.com/collaborative-robot-ebook.

Manufacturing Advantages
  • Improved cost-effectiveness in complex, creative tasks supporting approaches that let humans and robots collaborate effectively
  • Increased efficiency supporting co-located human/robot collaboration is expected to lead to significant time and cost savings
  • More flexibility Human/robot collaboration approaches allow for on-the-fly (or in-process) and direct designer input facilitating the creation of unique bespoke products for clients
  • Improved safety: Augmented Reality combined with human/robot collaboration enables increased scope for co-location of humans and robots supported by advanced safety mechanisms.
Manufacturing Limitations

Currently, the majority of collaborative robotic arms on the market have payloads under 16kgs which helps them be safer and easier to use in a range of applications. However, in many manufacturing tasks, there is a need for high levels of force to be applied by robotic arms to effectively achieve tasks such as metal polishing or grinding. Therefore one of the biggest limitations that collaborative robots face within manufacturing environments is their low levels of force that they can apply to work in industrial settings. Another limitation is their size with reach ranges typically under a meter, thus making it difficult for these types of robots to work on large or complex forms.
There are many ways that this can be overcome and will require each user to consider the pros and cons of the robotic technology available to them. As with many manufacturing processes, there is a workflow to consider which involves different skill sets, tools, and applications. Therefore some manufacturing settings may find they require a combination of traditional tools with industrial robots to conduct large high-force tasks which are then finished off by humans and collaborative robots to do the finer parts of the process. As with any process, the combination of tools and approaches will depend on several factors.\

The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding.

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AR & VR | SAFE, PRECISE, & ACCESSIBLE

Alongside 3D printing and robotics, Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR & VR) are emerging as key Industry 4.0 technologies. Thanks in part to cost reduction and advances in consumer-level equipment, AR & VR applications are becoming well-accepted in product development and manufacturing environments. The novel interaction techniques, including multimodal interfaces and gesture control devices, support traditional manufacturing processes by improving safety, flexibility and precision.
Modelling a facade element using virtual reality (image courtesy UAP)

Virtual Reality (VR) Solutions

Computer-generated 3D environments that respond in real-time to human gestures usually experienced through immersive head-mounted displays. Handheld controllers are used for hand and body tracking and may provide haptic feedback.
In industrial applications, VR can be used as a tool to visualise how different hardware and software can collaborate with human and robot systems, in programming, maintenance and error handling. This is beneficial for understanding spatial relationships in assembly processes, as well as aspects of ergonomics and “viewability” critical for certain processes of product assembly and repair.
VR can also facilitate interactive development and decision making within product design teams. Teams can review the product at scale in a collaborative environment, exploring any limitations in the design or assembly.

Augmented Reality (AR) Solutions

AR is an environment where computer-generated 3D objects, text or graphics are overlayed on the realworld view. In industrial prototyping these techniques can be used to augment a virtual robot or machine into a real-world space.
AR environments allow for safe and precise manipulation of tools in industrial applications– particularly where other methods are not feasible – and can provide context-awareness to increase levels of trust in systems. Recent work is exploring the possibilities of free-form modelling and flow-sculpting. The intent of these developments is to support more natural human gestures in conceptual design. The technology may sidestep the level of skill required to work with CAD technologies, as well as open up the possibility of cross-department workflows within organisations.

Challenges & Considerations

AR & VR systems can still be complex and expensive to set up. In some cases, the virtual environment may be time-consuming to create, increasing human labour and causing it to be an expensive alternative to traditional modelling and prototyping. Despite increased accessibility of commercially available equipment, the interface also has limitations – gesture recognition can be unreliable, the head-mounted hardware uncomfortable, and extended use has been known to cause simulator sickness. Interestingly though, successful simulation in VR is supported by a user’s real-world knowledge of the task. When used as a training tool, VR has had a positive impact in a number of industries, from manufacturing to medical surgery. VR/AR technologies have also been successful in reducing the risk of costs associated with training, particularly in environments that are complex, hazardous, or difficult to access.

Adding Value to Design & Engineering Outcomes

AR & VR can add value to design and engineering outcomes by:

  • Effectively communicating internally across departments, and externally with clients and contractors.
  • Providing more clarity of production requirements and processes for the manufacturing and construction team.
  • Drastically reducing or helping eliminate the amount of documentation which is required for assembly of structures.
  • Establishing more efficient iterative design changes, more effective collaboration across disciplines and departments, and faster design process.
  • AR can also help in Visualising the scale of a structure and its relationship to a site through the use of AR.
  • Assisting in assessing the aesthetic quality of the work.
  • Identifying errors earlier in the production.
  • Evaluating and assessing compliance of Australian standards.
AR & VR Workflow
  • Map out opportunities and potential use-cases with employees
  • Identify a project champion within your organisation to lead the projects
  • Audit current in-house workforce skills
  • Explore potential technology – including options for ongoing technical support and training, some examples:
  • Set aside a physical space (for AR)
  • And provide training and practice time! – See our brief on workforce considerations.
The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding.

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REVIEW | ARCHITECTURAL ROBOTICS SOFTWARE

Over the past 15 years, researchers in architecture and construction have been exploring the possibilities of employing industrial robotic equipment to help create new kinds of architectural forms. There is now a wealth of research in this area around the most effective software, particularly with regard to maximising the direct path from digital design to fabrication. For architects, designers, and construction managers, this research also reveals new form-finding strategies.
Recent publications from ROBArch, CuminCAD, and prominent universities were analysed to identify premium software resources. The key findings of the literature review show that tailored software is necessary to correspond to the needs of manufacturing bespoke designs. The results of this research hints that there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way fabrication is thought, as the design methods used in the early exploratory stages directly correlates with the way the industrial robots function and manufacture.
Some available software for architectural robotics
There are various different software packages available for controlling IRAs. However, considering direct workflows from architectural digital design to fabrication, add-ons within the parametric design plugin called Rhinoceros/Grasshopper is the most common one. Many architectural institutions and schools use KUKA PRC and Robots. KUKA PRC also serves as a hub of knowledge through their conference, workshop, website and online forum. It is also easier to find online tutorials of KUKA PRC, whereas Robots is freely available and easy to control with Grasshopper comments. It can also control all kinds of robots. On the other hand, Autodesk PowerMill Robot is most commonly used in architectural manufacturing firms. Open software packages for controlling robots are very common in robotic engineering. Software like ROS that can control robots, in general, are adapted for designers through more user-friendly interfaces. Also, free-standing software like Mind Ex Machina can connect different design platforms such as Processing, and Grasshopper.

Stand-alone Programs

The software in the following table are stand-alone programs.

Name Website Robot Brands
Mind ex Machina Link All kinds of robots
RhinoRobot Link KUKA, UR, ABB, Staubli, Yaskawa, Fanuc
PointLoader Link KUKA
PowerMill Robot Link ABB, FANUC, KUKA
ROS Link All kinds of robots
Robo.Op Link ABB

Grasshopper Plugins

The following table lists software add-ons that can be used with the parametric design software environment ‘Grasshopper’.

Name Website Robot Brands
CRANE Link Staubli
GAZEBO Link UR
HAL Link ABB, KUKA, UR
KUKA PRC Link KUKA
Mussels Link ABB robots
RAPCAM Link ABB, FANUC, KUKA
ROBOTS Link ABB, KUKA and UR
SCORPION Link UR
TACO Link ABB

 

The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.
Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding.