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Man controlling a robot

Making Robots Easier to Use

Jan. 10, 2022
Improving the interoperability of robots will lower prices and let small and medium-sized companies in a wider range of industries profit from the latest in robotic technologies.

Members of Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM), a group of more than 300 organizations in industry, government and academia fostering a strong national robot-based manufacturing environment, are working to make robotics more accessible to manufacturers of all sizes and in all industries. One of the group’s goals is to break down proprietary barriers that make it difficult to combine and interconnect different robot platforms, thereby eliminating barriers to technology adoption and providing vendor-agnostic plug-and-play platforms for smart manufacturing.

Currently, robots and robotic components from different manufacturers are rarely able to “talk” with each other, which greatly reduces flexibility and increases complexity—especially in small- and medium-sized companies that lack the staff or skills to manage all of these different components.

Here are three ARM-funded initiatives that are trying remedy that situation.

The teaching pendant is the most common method used to operate, control and program industrial robots. Unfortunately, these pendants are vendor-specific and usually cannot accept additional inputs from such useful tools such as machine vision and torque sensors. ARM’s “Teach Pendant” project aims to bridge this gap with an open-source approach.

Robotic QA of complicated metal parts that can be conducted 24/7 and without human intervention would reduce the number of defective parts and lower manufacturing costs. Developing the necessary technology for such a goal is another ARM project (Automated Defect Inspection for Complex Metallic Parts).

An ARM team is working on a method to collect imaging data that is robotically collected to quickly analyze surfaces and profiles using AI. In tests, the approach has yielded good results, including detection rates above 95% and an expected 345% return on investment if deployed at one site. GKN Aerospace is already adopting the technology by building such an inspection cell in a factory.

ARM is also looking to expand robotics to industries that currently do not or cannot use robots. The apparel industry, for example, must rely on a lot of manual labor due to the difficulties in handling limp textiles. ARM’s project, the Robotic Assembly of Garments, is trying to overcome this limitation by developing a robotic assembly process that temporarily stiffens garment pieces by laminating them with water-soluble thermoplastic polymer, thus simplifying automation.

The polymer is easily removed by washing and can be recycled for use in several cycles. The technology was successfully demonstrated at a Bluewater Defense production facility and is being further developed to handle more complex sewing operations such as medical gowns and face masks.

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