They Don't Bring My Paper, Yet

From the outside, robots don’t look much different from when I first learned to apply and program them more than 20 years ago.

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The one exception would be the “Delta” robot patented by ABB some years ago. Vision and robots have been natural companions for at least that long. If you are moving an arm replicating a human movement, it just seems natural to have “eyes” with which to guide it.

So, despite years of science fiction visions, I don’t have R2D2 bringing my paper and a drink, or C3PO translating from Chinese so I can converse around the world. I don’t even have Hal running my computer. All these ideas have served to provide the foundation for robot/vision evolution under the covers, though.

One of the first things you’ll notice in packaging is speed. Packaging is a high-speed discipline, and robots were more limited in value until speed picked up. Perhaps even more important are improvements that are not visible to a visitor, but are of the utmost importance to engineers and operators. These are the software improvements that can only be seen generally by the shorter time from design to manufacture and the reduced time to run off and validate at start up.

Taking implementation from arcane text languages to visual configuration was a huge step. Improved data-flow technologies that enable closer coordination of the robot controller to the vision controller was a huge advance. Add to that the improved data flow from the machine to manufacturing execution systems and other business applications, and machines incorporating robots and vision can become full contributing members of the overall manufacturing system.

The 2009 edition of the Packaging Automation Forum is fast approaching. It will be held on March 31 in the suburban Chicago area. Check out the details at www.packworld.com/paf/pages/program.html. See you there.

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