When businesses discuss building the factory or warehouse of the future, you can bet that robots are involved. Fundamentally, those robots must possess autonomy, flexibility and safety to be a worthwhile investment. But add mobility to that equation, and you have the true future of industrial robotics.
Whether a mobile robot is delivering tools to a human worker or raw materials to a stationary robot, it functions as the connection between product and productivity. Take that idea one step further: a mobile robot with arms and a torso that can actually fetch its own materials and move, un-tethered, around the object it’s assembling. There you have the physically autonomous, co-worker robot that will revolutionize the global industrial environment. You’re also looking at a platform that can work outside factory walls—in a hospital, a mall or even a home.
Large companies already recognize the financial benefits of autonomous mobile robots. They are more flexible than conveyor belts, less costly to maintain than large forklifts and their operators, and, in many ways, safer to operate in close proximity with human workers and delicate materials.
AGVs were the robotics industry’s initial response to the need for leaner manufacturing processes. But AGVs are usually large; their navigation requires the aid of wires on the floor or beacons, which complicate installation and increase costs. As “guided” vehicles, they work within a defined space, meaning that—beyond stopping—they do not know how to respond to environmental anomalies, i.e. any human or misplaced object that might obstruct their established route.
“Smart” navigational systems, such as Adept Technology’s Motivity platform, address these shortcomings. Adept’s Motivity software utilizes onboard sensors to generate a map of the given workplace. The Motivity Core allows the AIV to navigate autonomously within that dynamic work environment, avoiding obstacles and even communicating with workers as appropriate.
According to Adept’s Product Marketing Manager, Erin Rapacki, “Prior to the recent product rollouts from Adept Technology in the Mobile Robots arena, the robotics community couldn’t purchase flexible indoor navigation software as a reliable (and supported) component for a larger mobile robotic system.”
The Adept AIVs require no guides or complex programming. Integration can take less than a day, with parameters set within a software program that employs a GUI.
“The robot is trained using a joystick to create a map of the environment, and then the environment is adjusted within the GUI by dragging-and-dropping goals, do-not-go zones, one ways, special areas, etc.,” says Rapacki.
An operator deploys the robots using a network application, called Enterprise Manager, which is compatible with any other software system such as an MES/WMS. Enterprise Manager translates tasks into “transport requests” and selects which robot is best suited to the job. Via Enterprise Manager, a fleet of mobile robots of various sizes can operate in harmony with one another and their changing surroundings.
So, what does the factory of the future mean for the manufacturing industry? Solutions, such as automated mobility, that can provide a faster return on investment and an incentive to keep manufacturing local. Also, the opportunity for automation in more complex environments as navigational tools continue to be refined and robots’ capabilities broaden.
“As recent advances in robotic technology from both the industrial arm and mobile robot side allow for new applications, integrators need to be creative in finding new places to automate,” says Rapacki.
Adept supports the proliferation of automated mobility with the company’s Motivity Core, MT400 and MT490, which Rapacki says are available as foundational components for any mobile robot system. “Instead of companies building the entire mobile robot on their own, they use this small AIV platform as the wheels, power and safety-rated navigation—which reduces their technical risk and allows them to focus on the application payload. This allows all other companies pursuing mobile robots the ability to get to market faster,” she says.
Rapacki is bringing her professional experience and Adept’s product offerings to this year’s RoboBusiness Leadership Summit in Pittsburgh. As an integral part of the robotics community, she will speak within the larger context of how industrial robotics’ underlying technology can transition into more emerging markets such as healthcare and service robotics.