Another important concept - Integrated Robotics

Sept. 30, 2010
For some time I've mentioned the term integrated robotics in my posts.
As time has passed, I've learned that not everyone interprets this term in the same way. I see integrated robotics as a significant advancement in the design of machinery, so I think it worth some further discussion.

For many years, we have used robots in our manufacturing operations as stand-alone cells for operations such as end-of-line palletizing. We have also integrated robotic cells into our systems, for example, using a robot to pick up wrapped product from a conveyor and present the product in a collated fashion to a cartoner. This is not what I mean by integrated robotics.

In the examples above, the robotic cell can typically be removed from the plant or line in which it is installed. The cell will include a recognizable stand-alone robot from some supplier such as ABB, Fanuc or Adept. The parts adjoining the cell, such as the infeed conveyors or the cartoner, may continue to be used for their prior purposes. The cell may contain some specialized component such as a product orientation fixture or an end-of-arm tool that is customized for the application and may be difficult to redeploy, but the robot itself remains intact and useable as it was when it was delivered from the manufacturer.

In contrast, an integrated robotic solution, as I use the term, does not employ a recognizable standalone robot. Certain machine components will resemble a robot in that they are arranged in a manner that looks like a typical robotic arm. But this arm is an integral component of the larger machine, not a machine cell in its own right. A loose and over-simplified analogy might be the difference between applying gear technology by incorporating a custom designed gear train into the casting of a wrapping machine vs. using a series of off-the-shelf gearboxes to create various shaft rotations. Both are an application of gears. One is "integrated" and one is not.

Integrated robotics becomes another tool in one's bag of design components on a mechatronic machine. Just as you can choose to make a gear or purchase one from a gear manufacturer, you may choose to make a robotic arm or purchase one from an arm supplier. But the gear or arm by themselves will not accomplish anything. They must be mechanically integrated with the overall machine motion with a single controller performing the rotary, translational, and other movements.

I've not seen a lot of this done as of yet on packaging machines. The Italians seem to be among the leaders in applying this concept. If we misuse the term "integrated robotics" we may miss the concept that it represents. If you have or know of an example of integrated robotics on a packaging machine, I and my readers would like to learn about it. But please, no commercials.

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