Machinery : Industrial Robot : General
KUKA is a global automation corporation with sales of around 2.6 billion euro and roughly 14,000 employees. The company is headquartered in Augsburg, Germany. As one of the world’s leading suppliers of intelligent automation solutions, KUKA offers customers everything they need from a single source: from robots and cells to fully automated systems and their networking in markets such as automotive, electronics, metal & plastic, consumer goods, e-commerce/retail and healthcare.
Ford Operates 3D Printers Autonomously
At Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center here, Javier is tasked with operating the 3D printers completely on his own. He is always on time, very precise in his movements, and he works most of the day. He never takes a lunch break or a coffee break—he doesn’t even ask for a paycheck. Javier is an autonomous mobile robot from KUKA, and he’s integral to the company’s development of an industry-first process to operate 3D printers with little or no human intervention.
Typically, different pieces of equipment from various suppliers are unable to interact because they do not run the same communication interface. Ford developed an application interface program that allows different pieces of equipment to speak the same language and send constant feedback to each other. For example, the Carbon 3D printer tells the KUKA autonomous mobile robot when the printed product will be finished, then the robot lets the printer know it has arrived and is ready to pick up parts. This innovative communication is what makes the whole process possible.
Engine block assembly line for Scania's trucks of tomorrow
Ford rolls out autonomous robot-operated 3D printers in vehicle production
Leveraging an in-house-developed interface, Ford has managed to get the KUKA-built bot to ‘speak the same language’ as its other systems, and operate them without human interaction. So far, the firm’s patent-pending approach has been deployed to 3D print custom parts for the Mustang Shelby GT500 sports car, but it could yet yield efficiency savings across its production workflow.
“This new process has the ability to change the way we use robotics in our manufacturing facilities,” said Jason Ryska, Ford’s Director of Global Manufacturing Technology Development. “Not only does it enable Ford to scale its 3D printer operations, it extends into other aspects of our manufacturing processes – this technology will allow us to simplify equipment and be even more flexible on the assembly line.”
At present, the company is utilizing its setup to make low-volume, custom parts such as a brake line bracket for the Performance Package-equipped version of its Mustang Shelby GT500. Moving forwards though, Ford believes its program could be applied to make other robots in its production line more efficient as well, and it has filed several patents, not just on its interface, but the positioning of its KUKA bot.
AI in production logistics: mastering flexibility with KUKA AIVI
Plug-and-Play Robot Ecosystems on the Rise
Robot ecosystems are bringing plug-and-play ease to compatible hardware and software peripherals, while adding greater value and functionality to robots. Some might argue that the first robot ecosystem was the network of robot integrators that has expanded over the last couple decades to support robot manufacturers and their customers. Robot integrators continue to be vital to robotics adoption and proliferation. Yet an interesting phenomenon began to take shape a few years ago with the growing popularity of collaborative robots and the industry’s focus on ease of use.
Campbell describes the typical process for engineering a new gripping solution for a robot: “You have to first engineer a mechanical interface, which may mean an adapter plate, and maybe some other additional hardware. If you’re an integrator, it must be documented, because everything you do as an integrator you have to document. You have to engineer the electrical interface, how you’re going to control it, what kind of I/O signals, what kind of sensors. And then you have to design some kind of software.
“When I talk to integrators, they say it’s typically 1 to 3 days’ worth of work just to put a simple gripper on a robot. What we’ve been able to do in the UR+ program is chip away at time and cost throughout the project.”