Gripping and putting down a workpiece, welding parts together or painting a component: until now robots have usually only taken on a single programmed operating sequence. In the production of tomorrow they will move freely and support employees flexibly at changing workstations. The ARIZ project (‘Work in the industry of the future’) investigates how man and machine can operate safely in the same working space.
Where there used to be a protective cage, an assembly robot and a worker now stand side by side in the production facility. The robot passes the valve housing to the worker for further processing. When all the parts are finished, the machine is taken to another workstation where it assists in the quality inspection of printed circuit boards. If the human gets too close, the robot stops immediately – so there is no unwanted collision. That is what tomorrow’s production should look like. The future scenario is being tested in practice in the ARIZ research project (‘Work in the industry of the future’).
A mobile production worker
One of the main objectives of the project is to develop the robot into a flexible and versatile ‘mobile worker’ that can be used at a wide variety of workplaces. It should relieve workers here by assisting them and taking over monotonous, ergonomically repetitive tasks. The robot assistant will be networked with the overriding IT system so that it is able to access information itself and hence make the configuration easier for operators. In this way, when it comes to gripping tasks, for instance, the employees only have to enter the dimensions of the object to be gripped, and the robot will be ready for action.
Safely beside the worker
When man and machine work together in the same working space and without a protective cage, safety comes first. The robot stops completely as soon as an employee gets too close. This is made possible by a highly sensitive sensor skin on its arm. The sensor automatically alerts the robot when someone enters its immediate vicinity and shuts it off. Only when the human colleague is far enough away does the robot assistant get back to work.
Human–robot cooperation at Festo
Since the opening of the Scharnhausen Technology Plant in 2015, Festo has been gaining experience with the interaction of production workers and robots. An assembly robot is allowed to work alongside people without a safety fence. It takes the strain off its human colleagues in the valve assembly department and takes on the exhausting and onerous gripping and joining tasks. In addition, an APAS robot from Bosch supports the quality inspection of printed circuit boards. A project team is currently further developing the concept of the ‘mobile worker’ and is transferring the robot assistant to production and electronics assembly – where it is to assist the workers flexibly at different assembly workstations in the future.