Fueled by strong demand from manufacturers in all sectors, the North American robotics industry is off to its fastest start ever, according to the Robotic Industries Association.

Robot orders and shipments in North America set new records in the first nine months of 2014. A total of 21,235 robots valued at $1.2 billion were ordered from North American companies in the first nine months of 2014, an increase of 35 percent in units and 22 percent in dollars over the same period in 2013. Robot shipments through September totaled 18,490 robots valued at $1.1 billion, breaking the previous record set in 2013 by 5 percent in units and 2 percent in dollars.

There was no shortage of robotics suppliers at The ASSEMBLY Show last October. At least nine robot suppliers exhibited, including OEMs, like EPSON Robots, FANUC America Corp. and Janome Industrial Equipment USA Inc., as well as suppliers of grippers and other robotic peripherals, such as SCHUNK Inc. and ATI Industrial Automation. And, that’s not including companies like dispensing equipment supplier Fisnar Inc., which offer various specialty robots in their product portfolios.

Don’t have the in-house expertise integrate robots into your line? No worries. Numerous systems integrators, including Edgewater Automation and ATC Automation, also exhibited at the show. These experts can provide turnkey automated assembly systems—with or without robotics—to meet your exact requirements.

The following is some of the robotics technology that was on display at the show.


SCARA Is Fast, Compact

The new, compact C4 six-axis robot from EPSON Robots can perform a standard cycle—move a part 1 inch up, 12 inches across, 1 inch down, and back again—in just 0.37 second. To put that in perspective, an eye blink takes 0.4 second. Despite that speed, it’s also very accurate. It can place a part with an accuracy of ±0.02 millimeter—or one-fifth the width of a human hair.

“Our C3 robots have been well-received in the industry and are being applied to a wide variety of applications in the medical, automotive, electronics, consumer products and other industries,” says Michael Ferrara, director of EPSON Robots, a charter exhibitor at the show. “The new C4 arms build on the success of the C3 by adding more payload, while maintaining the unique SlimLine design originally provided with the C3 arms. Also, an extended reach C4, called the C4L, has been added to our product lineup, providing up to 965 millimeters of reach.”

The robot’s slim body and compact wrist design allows for greater motion range and less mechanical restrictions. The robot can easily reach into confined and restricted work spaces from many angles with smooth motion.

Through EPSON’s unique QMEMSTM vibration-sensing technology, C4 and C4L arms are able to automatically adjust to minimize vibration and therefore maximize speed, acceleration and deceleration.


Wall-Mounted Robot for Fast Picking

Stäubli Robotics has introduced the TP80 Fast Picker, a new series of high-speed pickers that can deliver up to 200 picks per minute.

Lightweight and agile, the robot can be mounted on a much lighter base than delta-style robots. And, unlike multi-armed delta robots, the robot will not interfere with the line of sight of machine vision cameras for guidance. The robot’s slim forearm also enables it to access confined areas, such as slotted machine openings.

The four-axis robot can carry a maximum payload of 1 kilogram. It has an 800-millimeter reach and a Z-axis stroke of 100 millimeters. Additional features include high rigidity, repeatability of ±0.05 millimeter, and an IP65 protection rating when equipped with bellows. Pneumatic (4 and 6 millimeter OD) and electrical lines (four twisted shielded pairs) are protected inside the arm and are available at the tool flange.

The robot is controlled by the CS8 controller, a single control platform able to pilot all Stäubli robots. Various VAL software packages are available.


Intelligent Assembly With “Genkotsu” Robot

FANUC will demonstrate intelligent assembly with its new M-2iA/3AL parallel-link “Genkotsu” robot at The ASSEMBLY Show.

“The new M-2iA/3AL has a three-axis articulated wrist for flexible applications, providing the full articulation that no other parallel-link robot can achieve,” says Phil Zanotti, product manager at FANUC America.

The new M-2iA/3A (short arm) and M-2iA/3AL (long arm) robots are the latest additions to the M-2iA series of high-speed parallel-link robots. Both robots offer six axes of motion and a 3-kilogram payload for high-speed kitting and assembly applications.

The M-2iA series has six models. In addition to the new M-2iA/3A and M-2iA/3AL robots, the series includes the M-2iA/3S and M-2iA/3SL models offering a 3- kilogram payload and four axes of motion with a single-axis rotation at the wrist, and the M-2iA/6H and M-2iA/6HL robots offering a 6-kilogram payload and three axes of motion for high-speed picking.

The three- and four-axis models have hollow wrists that allow cables to be routed internally, minimizing wear and tear. As an option, the entire robot can be outfitted for an IP69K rating. That means the robot is waterproof and can withstand harsh environments, including dust and high-pressure cleaning. In addition, a special coating can be applied to the robot to handle acid and alkaline disinfectants.

The M-2iA operates with FANUC’s latest R-30iB controller with integrated intelligent functions, such as iRVision, force sensing, Robot Link, and Collision Guard. Collision Guard detects robot collisions with external objects, minimizing damage to the part and robot. Robot Link controls and coordinates up to 10 robots through a network exchange of robot positional data.

FANUC iRVision is a truly integrated, plug-and-go vision system that runs on the standard CPU of every R-30iB controller without any additional hardware. The system offers easy setup and operation for factory environments requiring 2D and 3D guidance, error proofing, visual tracking and quality control.

The R-30iB controller uses high-performance hardware and the latest advances in network communications, integrated iRVision, and motion control functions. The controller features the easy-to-use iPendant with 4D graphics. The pendant displays process information and the actual process path directly on the screen, enabling easier setup and troubleshooting.

Based on the latest FANUC Series 30iB CNC Controller, the R-30iB Robot Controller is compact and energy efficient, consuming less power than previous models. It’s also available with an optional power regeneration feature.


Safety Gripper for Collaborative Robots

With safely limited speed (SLS), safe operating stop (SOS), and safe torque off (STO) functionalities, the new EGN gripper from SCHUNK enables safe human-machine collaboration. If the production process is interrupted by an emergency shut-off, the gripper goes into either a safely limited speed mode or a safe stop mode depending on the activated protection zone.

Certified in accordance with the DIN EN ISO 13849 safety standard, the gripper is continuously powered even in the safe operating stop, so that gripped parts are reliably held even without mechanical maintenance of gripping force. As soon as the protection zone is released, the gripper immediately switches back to the regular operating mode without the system having to be restarted.

The two-finger parallel gripper is modularly designed and covers a wide range of applications. Gripping force, speed and finger position can be flexibly controlled during the handling process. All sizes have SCHUNK’s patented multitooth guidance system.

The gripper is controlled by the SCHUNK ECM controller equipped with standard connector technology either via Profibus (up to 12 megabits per second) or CAN bus (up to 1 megabit per second). To use the certified SLS, SOS, and STO functionalities, the SCHUNK safety module is added to the gripper and the controller. Due to the modular design, existing EGN applications can be retrofitted with the safety functionality at any time.


Wireless Force, Torque Sensing System

ATI Industrial Automation will be showing its new Wireless F/T, a small wireless transmitter that streams data from up to six six-axis transducers simultaneously. The Wireless F/T communicates using IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless standard at 2.4 gigahertz or 5 gigahertz and can stream to the user’s host device for data collection, real-time motion control, or user-defined signal processing. The transmitter comes in two configurations, one that supports up to six transducers and one that supports up to three transducers.      

The transmitter’s range in an office environment is 98 feet and may reach up to 328 feet in an unobstructed environment.

Battery life is approximately one hour at maximum capacity (full measurement rate with six transducers enabled). Battery life can be extended extended at lower data rates or by disabling one or more of the transducers. Power options include a removable, rechargeable battery that can be charged internally or externally via a Micro USB connector using an external, 5 VDC power supply.

The transmitter features a small enclosure with robust mounting features. The three-transducer model measures 150 by 82 by 19 millimeters, excluding mating connectors. The six-transducer version measures 150 by 82 by 33 millimeters.

ATI’s force and torque sensor system measures six components of force and torque (Fx, Fy, Fz, Tx, Ty, Tz) and features a compact design, hardened stainless steel construction, high-speed output, overload protection, span temperature compensation options, and high signal-to-noise ratio. ATI offers a wide range of custom and standard sensor models from 17 to 330 millimeters. Environmental protection is available on most models.