Robotics meets Machining

3/20/2014 10:34:36 AM

The earliest attempts at creating robots go back to at least the third century BC. In 1495, Leonardo da Vinci designed a mechanical knight. In 1898, Nikola Tesla introduced the first radio-controlled vehicle. George Devol patented the first commercial robot in 1961, while the first computer-controlled robot went into operation in 1974. For decades now, industrial robots have been helping to streamline manufacturing processes and perfect the art of mass production. But as new advances see robots reach out increasingly beyond the automotive and electronic industries, we are witnessing a more strategic role for robots as they help to realize a whole new industrial paradigm. As today’s industry robots come more and more equipped with vision, sensors and inbuilt intelligence, we are witnessing a new age of more flexible and safer robotics. Robots are leaving their factory cages and starting to collaborate directly with humans.


At Volvo Cars in Ghent Belgium, over 99% of robotics simulation is managed by Tecnomatix Process Simulate


How robotics is evolving

In recent months leading automotive manufacturers such as BMW and Volkswagen have deployed robots as collaborative assistants directly alongside workers – a radical departure from age-old segregation due to safety concerns. Industrial robots have become lighter, more intelligent and more adaptable, enabling them to start working alongside humans – not as replacements but uniquely qualified helpers. New trends in robotics such as off-the-shelf availability, workcell integration, standardization, vision guidance and dual-arm technology all mean robotics is about to pervade the manufacturing environment. And as yesterday’s mass production evolves into tomorrow’s mass customization, a new generation of robots is helping to make industry more agile and adaptive.


Advancing towards the self-optimizing production landscape


A strategic partnership


At the heart of this evolutionary shift – just as in additive manufacturing – lies the key role of software and IT. To underline this strategic enabler, one of the world’s leading robot makers KUKA has just partnered with Siemens for greater integration between the worlds of robotics and motion control. In the words of Dr. Robert Neuhauser, CEO of the Motion Control Systems unit at Siemens, “The CNC control from Siemens and the robot controls from KUKA are ideal for integrating robot and CNC technology. With this cooperation, we are deepening our many years of cooperation and advancing intelligent automation solutions as outlined in the Industry 4.0 project for the benefit of both partners and to expand business.” The partnership, unveiled last week at the EMO trade show in Hannover, brings together a robotics leader with an automation one for a unique synthesis of virtual and physical manufacturing.


Tecnomatix, RobotExpert and SINUMERIK


As robots mature into intelligent machines that can sense and respond to their environment, their application in service and industry scenarios will continue to expand – from home help and healthcare to manufacturing, logistics, security and exploration. Multiple Siemens units are involved with integrating robotics into relevant industry, healthcare and other value chains. Just as Solid Edge is an enabling software for additive manufacturing, Tecnomatix and RobotExpert are leading integration platforms from Siemens PLM Software that help to bring together the virtual and the real worlds of robotics for greater manufacturing speed, efficiency and flexibility. The computer numerical control (CNC) platform SINUMERIK is also central to integrating robotics into industrial landscapes.


Realizing cyber-physical systems


There are currently around 1,400,000 industrial robots in operation globally. Whereas once 90% of those were to be found in the automotive arena, today about 50% are deployed in general industry settings. Increasing intelligence, adaptability and more lightweight design are enabling much wider deployment, as robots leave their restricted body-shop cages in the car industry to collaborate more closely in final assembly. Simulating robotic processes using software such as Tecnomatix and RobotExpert can deliver significant increases in productivity during operation as well as time savings in setting up real machines. The Industry 4.0 vision of seamlessly connected virtual and physical systems is an over-arching concept that spans many infrastructure layers and manufacturing arenas. The new collaboration between Siemens and KUKA is one step along that road, ensuring that manufacturers capture the full potential of intelligent, collaborative robots.