B&R, a unit of ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business, today announced the integration of ABB’s robots into its automation portfolio. The company said that merging robotics with machine control into a unified architecture will enable manufacturers to embrace the trend of mass customization and optimize their “lot size one,” or high-variability, small-batch processes.
B&R became a business unit of ABB Group in 2017. Last year, Zurich-based ABB invested €100 million ($110 million U.S.) in expanding B&R’s headquarters in Austria. The unit said it supplies virtually every industry with complete solutions for machine and factory automation, motion control, human-machine interaction, and integrated safety technology.
B&R said it has redefined automation engineering with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) communication standards such as OPC UA, POWERLINK, and openSAFETY, as well as the Automation Studio software development environment.
B&R becomes a ‘one-stop shop’
B&R said that fully integrating ABB’s robots into its automation systems enables it to supply machine builders with machine automation and robotics from a single source. Builders will be able to buy their robots along with all their control, I/O and drive components.
“The integration of ABB’s robot fleet into the B&R portfolio makes us a true one-stop shop,” stated Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business. “We are the only company to offer industrial automation customers the entire range of integrated hardware and software solutions around control, actuation, robotics, sensing and analytics and electrification.”
“Our strength lies in our ability to combine ABB and B&R products into one solution, supported by our deep application expertise,” he added. “This will help manufacturers increase their flexibility, at all levels including machines, to support shorter product cycles and to make much smaller lots of greater variety.”
Designing to ease development, diagnostics, and maintenance
Integrating robotics and automation also means only one controller and one engineering system will be needed for development, diagnostics and maintenance, said ABB. As a result, it said, there will no longer be a need for an extra control cabinet just for the robot, which will save floor space.
More user-friendly programming is another advantage that comes from combining robotics with machine control, according to B&R. Instead of programming a robotics application in one development environment and a machine application in another, there will only be one application and one development environment. It said this could reduce development times significantly.
With the ready-made software components of mapp Technology, developers can quickly set up and configure the machine application, including robots, without any knowledge of special robotics languages, said B&R.
“Our newly developed integrated solution enables us to support machine builders, enhancing their processes and future-proofing their automation investments,” said Hans Wimmer, managing director of B&R. “Traditionally, the robot is a self-contained system, with its own controller and its own control cabinet.”
“Engineering, diagnostics and maintenance are all performed using dedicated systems, and with a specific robotics language, you often need a specialist programmer,” he said. “With the incorporation of ABB robots into one simple architecture, we create a fully integrated automation system. For machine developers, it now makes no difference whether they must integrate a single motion control axis or an entire robot into the machine.”
An engineer can program ABB’s robots in B&R’s universal engineering environment just like other automation components, while in the digital twin, the user can simulate and optimize the machine’s entire motion sequence, including the robotics, before the machine is built. B&R said this makes engineering and development both faster and cheaper, which in turn lowers the threshold for machine builders looking to implement robotics in their production machinery and increases their return on investment.
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Synchronization and speed
Machine builders will be able to choose from a wide range of ABB robots, including articulated arm, SCARA, delta, and palletizer robots in various sizes and with various payloads. This is particularly important for applications where a high degree of synchronization with other components is required, such as picking solutions.
With its robots integrated into machine automation systems, customers will benefit from an unprecedented level of synchronization between robotics and machine control, claimed ABB. Since a robot will no longer require a dedicated controller, all interfaces between the machine and the robot are eliminated. With all axes and sensors communicating on a common network, precision could increase to the previously unimaginable microsecond range, said the company.
Synchronization between sensors and robot motion will also become easier with integration, said B&R. The result of a quality inspection with a B&R vision camera can be converted into a control command for the ABB robot in less than a millisecond, so defective workpieces can be removed from the production process without manual intervention or slowing the manufacturing process.
By unifying hardware, communication networks and applications, B&R said that machine builders can more tightly synchronize a robot with other machine components. The movements of the robot and all of the machine’s motion control axes can be coordinated with unprecedented microsecond precision, boosting the productivity of the machine and the output of the process, said ABB.