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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.
 

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FORM-FINDING STRATEGIES | ENHANCING ROBOTIC FUNCTION

Over the past 15 years, researchers in architecture and construction have been exploring the possibilities of employing industrial robotics to help create new kinds of architectural forms. There is now a wealth of research in this area, which manufacturers can draw upon to inform new robotic 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 ROBArch, CuminCAD and prominent universities were analysed to identify key hardware requirements. The key findings of the literature review show that custom end effectors, direct human interaction with technology and vision embedded systems are 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.

Carving End Effector, image courtesy of UAP
Carving End Effector, image courtesy of UAP

End-Effectors

IRAs respond to numerous tasks by utilising different end effectors (EEs) by tools. EEs are gateways to manipulate various materials as well as exploring numerous ways of systems of thinking. The possibility of attaching any kind of a hand tool to an IRA creates immense opportunities and unique ways of exploring material properties and conditions. In that manner, architects have attached; pens, heat guns, extruders, grippers, hot-wire cutters, grinders, drills, chisels, suction heads, welders, etc… as end effectors to the IRAs.
When dealing with custom EEs, the main concerns are to be aware of the tool centre point (TCP) that is the gravitational centre and the payload of the proposed EE. The EEs can be modelled in a 3D modelling software with the tool base at 0, 0, 0 point, where most software use as an import point for the simulation of the kinematics model of the IRA. The weight and the location of the EE effects the movement of the IRA by means of vibration and locating the workspace and the material that is worked on.
Therefore, they should be calibrated in relation to these parameters. Calibration of an IRA is important to achieve precision and accuracy in the outcomes of the manufactured models. Calibrations are done through 3Points Calibration (XYZ) method or 4-point calibration method.

Sensors

Sensors are the receptors of the IRA. Sensors are used:

  • to contextualize a robot within an environment (Gramazio, Kohler),
  • to use the IRAs in their full capacity,
  • to sense the different material qualities,
  • to create engagement possibilities with the materials,
  • to allow safe human-robot collaboration.

Touch sensors, vision scanners, microphones, force control sensors, motion tracking systems are used to gather information from IRAs surroundings and materials. The gathered information through the sensors are fed into the robot control systems to create feedback loops to allow real-time manipulation of the IRAs movements. Such feedback loops are necessary to have greater control over the IRA as well as getting accurate or desirable outcomes.

Tracks, Turntables and Work Bases

Most of the IRAs used in architectural manufacturing are 6-axis. In some cases, where more than 6 axis is necessary, the IRA is set up on a moving track, or the worktable is a turntable. This provides flexibility in the movement of the IRA. In case of the IRA used as a tool in a construction field, it can be mobile allowing autonomous vehicle properties to be applied. By scanning its surroundings, the IRA can adjust its movements in relation to obstacles, as well as follow directives to complete predefined spatial tasks.

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.