At the recent A3 Business Forum — held in conjunction with the Robotics Industries Association, or RIA, the Automated Imaging Association, or AIA, and the Motion Control & Motor Association, or MCMA, I got the chance to interview some robotics experts about the current state of technology.
Nigel Smith, President and CEO, and Ryan Guthrie, Executive VP of TM Robotics Inc. took time out of their days to expound on the current state and future of robotics — including cobots, medical robotics, consumer-grade robots, and innovations in industrial robotics as well. Here’s some of what they said.
Eitel • Design World: How do you stay technology agnostic when helping someone pick between robot designs that are so different?
Smith • TM Robotics: Our specialty is smaller robots — which is anything with less than a 20-kg payload. Toshiba Machine is one of only a few manufacturers that can supply Cartesian, SCARA, 4-axis, and small 6-axis robot technology. We analyze applications to supply a robot that’s suitable for their specific needs. Often, applications don’t need 6-axis robots … and can use small SCARAs instead.
Using the simplest possible robot for a job saves on cost and boosts ease of use. So if an engineer doesn’t need a 4-axis machine, maybe he or she can use a two axis or three-axis actuator. We can offer that product as well. Again, it’s making sure the customer is getting the right product at the right price and not overspending on technology. Again — the smaller the robot, the less complicated it is … so that a two-axis or three-axis machine is simpler than a 6-axis machine overall.
Eitel • Design World: What role will collaborative robots come to play in industry? Is it hype or not?
Guthrie • TM Robotics: We offer Cartesian, SCARA, 4-axis, and 6-axis robots. Collaborative and medical robots each provide unique uses and benefits to those fields, but we don’t directly sell those ourselves.
Even so, we have our finger on the pulse of the industry, because it’s something that we come up against. Some of our distributors are in the collaborative market, and it’s a great foot in the door. Many customers say, “What’s this all about?”
Here, sometimes distributors will start working with end users only to find that the application won’t really be served by collaborative robots.
In fact, collaboratives are great when a setup includes human interaction, space constraints, or a variety of special pieces that must be loaded onto unique parts.
In short, collaboratives have their niche. But often, applications don’t need cobot-level automation … and other times, applications need more speed than a cobot can provide. That’s what limits cobots as well.
Smith • TM Robotics: I think the key factor is the speed limitation. We sell industrial products that work at high speed with high accuracy … you don’t want to put people in the way of a high-speed moving robot. A lot of the applications do need that speed.
Collaborative robots address market entry, as they’re simple to use. If an application doesn’t need the speed, or if the end user wants more interaction with humans — and the assembly of unique parts, for example — well, it’s a good door opener for the industrial robot.
Eitel • Design World: Tell me a little about your robotics company.
Smith • TM Robotics: We’re the exclusive distributor for Toshiba Machine industrial robots, which means we handle the sale and support of Toshiba Machine robots in just about every country throughout the world except Japan.
We assist engineers in the packaging, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and automotive industries, and our U.S. headquarters is in Chicago.
That’s where we have training facilities and stock, and we also offer presale and after-sale support as well as marketing to ensure our customers are getting the right technical product at the right price.