Trade shows still get me excited-even after 25 years as a magazine editor.
This past Monday, for instance, I attended my first Automate Show, held at McCormick Place in Chicago this week, from March 21-24.
For the past several months I’d heard that this was the show where an industry newcomer could significantly expand his knowledge base of robots used for assembly. [FYI: I’ve been a senior editor on Assembly Magazine since January 2010.]
I can honestly say I wasn’t disappointed.
For nearly seven hours, I worked the Automate show floor and visited every booth where robots were displayed.
Along the way, I learned many things. Let me share a few personal highlights:
So Nice to Meet YouI got up close to the Dexter Bot, aka the SDA10, which was on display in two booths by Motoman Robotics, a division of Yaskawa America, Inc. One booth showcased a headless Dexter, while the other booth featured a headed unit.
Dexter is slim and agile with human-like flexibility. I saw this dual-arm, 15-axis robot do many amazing and funny things-from mimicking component assembly, to wiping the sweat off his brow. So far as I could tell, he drew the biggest crowds all day long.
The robot’s 15 axes of motion include seven axes per arm, plus a single axis for base rotation. Spokespeople explained that this version of Dexter is slimmer, stronger and has significantly faster acceleration than the previous model, the DIA10. Also, the SDA10 features a shorter link distance between the P-point and flange that provides more flexible tool motion and a higher load-carrying capacity.
Three-Fingered Hand ShakeLike many other show attendees, I got to shake hands with the BarrettHand, which was attached to the WAM Arm at Barrett Technology’s booth. According to a Barrett flyer, the Guinness World Records Millennium Edition calls WAM the “most advanced robotic arm in the world.”
Barrett was founded in 1990 as a spin-off from the artificial intelligence laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The WAM Arm is highly responsive to contacts all across its link surfaces, not just at its end tip. The WAM does not rely on any active force or torque sensor; rather, it precisely controls motor current.
Besides manufacturing, the WAM Arm is used in healthcare, surgical, research, space, and interactive applications. In healthcare, WAMs are being used by stroke patients at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for neuromuscular rehabilitation. An interactive example is massaging patients using a lollipop-shaped manipulator attached to the arm.
Software to Program RobotsProgramming robots is getting easier, according to several software companies I visited. One was Jabez Technologies Inc., which showcased Robotmaster, a software package that lets manufacturers use CAD/CAM integration to program a robot the way they program a CNC machine tool.
Programming of the robot is done graphically and starts with the user selecting geometrical elements (lines, arcs, part edges and/or 3D part). Because CAD design is streamlined, each piece of geometry the user selects is “live” and can be quickly modified until it’s exactly what the user wants.
Next, parameter boxes guide the user to properly select process information, which the software uses as a basis to automatically generate the robot trajectory without teaching points. Robotmaster then lets the programmer draw from a library of pre-configured robots representing various makes and models of articulated robot arms.
Applications include welding, dispensing, trimming, 3D machining, deburring, polishing/sanding, grinding, deflashing, paint/spray coating, rail/rotary and part to tool.
Finally, I learned a little about service robots, which are specifically designed to perform repetitive actions that people want to, or must, avoid. For my next Automate show, in 2013, I’ll request one of those robots to help lessen my very, very extensive walking.