Hand in hand

Article of 27 November 2015 

In the production of the future, man and machine will work hand in hand - one example of this is the assembly

Robots in production – with these words, people imagine heavy machines, which eld parts together in a safety cage, for example. This safety enclosure protects the production workers from a collision with the robot. Yet the cage takes up space, costs working time and ultimately money, as it can only be opened when the robot is at a standstill.

No fear of contact!

What does the human-robot cooperation of tomorrow look like? The spatial separation of man and machine will be no longer necessary then. The future generation of robots will cooperate safely with the workers without any barriers. This will be made possible, for example, by means of elaborate sensor technology, which detects when a person approaches the robot. The machine will then stop moving. Lightweight robots can also be used directly alongside production workers. With their low weight and lightweight components they do not pose any danger.

Cooperation thanks to sensor technology

In Festo's new Technology Plant, a robot works directly with humans in the valve assembly department. It is responsible for transporting parts and pressing sealing rings into the valve housings. Sensors capture its movements: as soon as an employee comes too close to it, the robot slows down or comes to a complete stop. The concept of the assembly robot was developed by Festo working together with the iwb Anwenderzentrum Augsburg and implemented with the companies Müko, Kuka and MRK in close cooperation and consultation with the trade association. As it is very sturdily constructed, the assembly robot can also move larger parts without any problem.

“Adam” developed by the manufacturer, MRK, which is used in production at Audi, works similarly to the assembly robot at Festo. It too is equipped with sensors that prevent collisions. During the car assembly process, it hands the components to its human colleagues. These no longer have to bend down with difficulty to pick something up.

Taking the strain off

Such robots take the strain off their human colleagues when performing monotonous, ergonomically one-sided tasks. This makes work easier especially in the case of very short-cycle processes – which is why the acceptance level of the new “employee” at Festo is consistently high. Older employees in particular benefit when a robot takes on physically demanding activities.

Risk-free thanks to lightweight construction

Another variety of the new human-robot cooperation comes in the form of lightweight robots. These also have sensors and detect obstacles before they touch them. Above all, however, they are made of very light materials – including carbon or plastics – and are not dangerous to people due to their low overall weight. The lightweight robots include, for example, “iiwa” (intelligent industrial work assistant) developed by the manufacturer, Kuka, or “YuMi” by ABB. Due to the lightweight construction, however, their load bearing capacity is less than the Festo assembly robot.

Bionic Handling Assistant as a pioneer

A pioneer for lightweight robots was Festo's Bionic Handling Assistant, which won the German Future Award in 2010. The flexible gripper arm is modelled on an elephant's trunk and is pneumatically operated. Its bellow structure immediately yields in the event of collisions. The system is used by the Festo researchers as a development platform that combines a wide range of technologies and components.