Updated May 2018 || Robots are increasingly viable for a range of automation applications. In fact, proliferation of robotic platforms that come in proven industrial formats, Cartesian setups, delta subtypes, and six-axis selective-compliance-articulated robot arms (SCARAs) has spurred more use than ever of robots for palleting, machine tending, welding, machining, packaging, assembly, and more. No matter the application, the robot morphology must match the task at hand.
Consider how for pick-and-place applications in packaging and small parts assembly, delta robots are particularly suitable. These often integrate vision, I/O, and an HMI panel with one controller and network. Variations include extended-reach delta robots (for applications where the robot tends a wide conveyor, for example) and washdown delta robots for applications where the robot directly handles unwrapped food such as cookies, for example. One caveat: Delta robots are generally unsuitable for applications in which the payload exceeds a few kilograms.
Applications that require robots to operate around personnel are leveraging the increase of integrated safety in robots of all morphologies … including everything from Universal-type cobots to the larger industrial robots traditionally associated with automotive applications. Here, integrated safety monitors robot position, speed, and torque … as well of the robots’ external barriers where applicable. Applications driving much of this move are consumer-electronics and warehouse-management industries, as their processes demand more flexible safety than other industries that use robots.
In contrast, packaging, wireless technology, and pharmaceutical applications have spurred robot manufacturers to make smaller and faster robots. Helpful here is that advances in controls and software have made integrating robotics easier … even for advanced functions such as verifying product packaging, for example.
Industries that lead the use of robotics are food and beverage and packaging. Though many manufacturers in these industries still use manual operations, there’s a steady move to automate processes so as to leverage its flexibility and high productivity.
Robot improves aircraft assembly
KUKA Systems Aerospace is supplying Gulfstream Aerospace with advanced mobile-robot platforms and assembly fixtures (wing boxes and other tooling) to help assemble wings and other parts for the company’s newest and fastest corporate jets.
Gulfstream has tooling from KUKA’s aerospace group for G500 and G600 planes scheduled for first deliveries in 2018 and 2019. Deliveries of KUKA G500 wing-assembly fixtures are done, and work continues on the G600 wing fixture box and other tooling.
“We see huge potential in the growing aerospace industry for intelligent automation,” said Dr. Till Reuter, CEO KUKA AG. “Gulfstream is an important reference customer for KUKA along with other giants of the aerospace sector.”
The wing assembly fixture is vertical structure … larger than the wing itself. Inside that structure go the ribs and spars of the wing (between the top and bottom skins for structural integrity). KUKA also built vertical hoists to lift the wing, flip it from vertical to horizontal, and transfer it to the next assembly station. Other KUKA tooling includes fixtures for building sections of the aircraft—ailerons, engine mount bulkheads, flaps, and leading and trailing edge panels.
Aircraft tooling is built using large components fabricated and machined to tight tolerances to locate and hold airframe components for assembly. It’s always custom to engineering specifications for each aircraft type. Fabrication involves multiple processes, depending on the tool type and function. Most have machined locators on a fabricated structure. The main structure is usually steel tubing, while part-touching details or critical locators are aluminum. Some tools are solid aluminum so the coefficient of thermal expansion matches that of the aluminum aircraft parts they are assembling.
The two mobile-robot platforms are KUKA innovations, and the first built by any U.S. manufacturer. The aim is precision drilling and fastening, with excellent repeatability, to increase the productivity and quality of the assembly process. Each mobile-robot platform has a KUKA robot and multi-function end effector. For Gulfstream, the mobile robot platforms drill primarily on the wing and horizontal stabilizer structures, including sections of titanium that are hard to drill manually.