Over the past 18 months, the demand for robotic work cells that target business issues has skyrocketed. On a continual basis, we see clients who are achieving a return on investment (ROI) by cutting operating costs, increasing productivity and reducing errors.
The robotic work cells can be made even more effective with the addition of 3D laser scanning technologies. The scanning is able to capture all aspects of a part, allowing us to inspect and analyze objects or environments, which is often necessary for the measurement and data collection on the exact shapes and orientations. By employing 3D technologies, we develop a more robust data set, creating a smarter solution that can be used in more variable work conditions.
Various industries can utilize 3D scanning systems—from manufacturing and engineering to design, development and surveying, to movies, art and medicine. It often results in two key benefits: lower-cost manufacturing processes and higher-quality products (increasing yield). It has been estimated that 3D scanning can reduce manufacturing costs by 75 percent.
Based on our experience, below are a few examples of how businesses can benefit from 3D scanning systems.
The 3D concept phase
When working with clients, we often go through a concept phase prior to starting the actual design work. At this stage, clients are thinking about the big picture—the inputs and outputs, and how a work cell fits into the overall manufacturing process. What we have found is that we can use 3D scanners during the idea generation phase to digitize objects and then use them to interpret and enhance concept diagrams. The more work that can be done virtually, the more will be saved when it comes to final design and build. The 3D scans that we generate during the design phase can be incorporated into robot simulation tools offered by leading manufacturers—Fanuc Roboguide or ABB RobotStudio.
3D scanning for design development
As discussed, 3D scanning can be applied at the beginning of the design phase by scanning a physical object to generate a computer-aided design (CAD) model. Our designers usually need to design around existing parts and part tolerances. By having 3D models of the parts we will be handling, we can drastically improve the accuracy of the final design because so much of the trial-and-error work can be done with software. 3D model scanning systems can benefit the actual design process in the following ways:
- Increase the effectiveness of working with complex parts and shapes.
- Assist with the design of input/output mechanisms for the work cell.
- If CAD models are outdated, a 3D scan will provide an updated version.
- 3D scanners quickly capture all physical measurements of any object.
- A 3D scanner ensures that the parts fit together on the first try.
- Assist with end-of-arm tooling for robots to ensure end effectors properly handle and manipulate parts.
- Scanners use modern manufacturing on parts that were manufactured before CAD existed.
- Allows for a comparison between as-designed models and as-built parts.
3D scanning—maximizing investments
We have discussed the many ways 3D scanning technologies can improve the concept and design phases of a robotic work cell. Outside of those applications, we have had numerous incidents where we have employed 3D scanning to create more flexibility in a work cell. For example, by using 3D scanning, we are able to locate parts in space and, if required, provide a path offset to a robot so it can handle a part that is in a random orientation. Another example is to use 3D scanners to inspect the part before it is handled by the robot. By scanning the part, we can compare it to the “golden model,” and if it is out of compliance we can pass over it or sweep it into a rework bin. Last, by scanning parts, we can determine what it is and then execute the corresponding robot program. This creates dynamic functionality, which requires less input from an operator, allowing them to focus on other tasks.
The world of 3D scanning technologies is rapidly expanding. With more processing power, lower price points and easier user interfaces, it is safe to say these technologies are here to say. If you are in the market for 3D scanning, check out the new solutions from leading manufactures such as Sick, Cognex, Keyence and Hermary.
Michael Lindley is vice president of business development and marketing at Concept Systems Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). See Concept Systems’ profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.