Industrial automation isn’t typically considered to be as innovative as other areas of robotics. However, more capable robots offer manufacturers increased efficiency, safety, and flexibility, as well as new applications, said Sebastien Schmitt, robotics division manager at Stäubli North America.
Stäubli North America is a unit of Switzerland-based Stäubli that has been headquartered in Duncan, S.C., since 1979. The company makes robots and connectors and serves the textile industry and others. Schmitt recently updated The Robot Report about how Stäubli’s robots are designed to respond to and anticipate evolving manufacturing processes.
Stäubli addresses current production needs
“We continue to roll out a newer generation of machines, including the launch of new TS2 robots at Automate 2019,” said Schmitt. “One highlight of the first part of the year is that we are able to supply the CS9 controller, the TX2 six-axis robots, and the TS2 four-axis SCARA robots with better connectivity to ERP [enterprise resource planning], IoT [Internet of Things], and other Industry 4.0 devices.”
“We’re extending our portfolio with mobile robots,” he added. “Stäubli acquired WFT last year, and the integration is going well. We demonstrated our HelMo autonomous mobile robot [AMR] with a TX2 arm at ProMat and ATX West. Our robots are capable not only of moving parts in production, but also handling them.”
Popular industrial applications
Robotics designers should keep asking about customer needs, and both suppliers and end users should consider trying different robots for certain tasks, Schmitt said.
“To provide more value to customers, we have to be more compatible with their environments,” he said. “We’re rolling out the TX2 to antiseptic environments, such as food handling, so the robots are fully enclosed and washdown-capable. They’re also designed against ESD — electrostatic discharge — for cleanrooms.”
“In the past, we were using six-axis robots, not for their motion but for the environments they were in. The TS2 can access in 360 degrees and is compact, which is good for integration,” Schmitt said. “Cycle times are also much faster with SCARA than six-axis robots, and the power requirement is more economical for a four-axis robot.”
“Now, we’re bringing customers from a conveyor to a box or blister pack — there’s new interest in fields where SCARA robots were not previously,” he said.
Managing mobility expectations
Mobile manipulation is also an area of interest, but designers and developers must ensure that robots serve actual needs, explained Schmitt.
“AMRs are a new field for us, so we’re trying to better understand our customers, who can pull us in multiple directions,” he said. “For example, the metals industry is very interested in mobility. There are typically long cycles on machining, waiting for loading and unloading — process times are long, so it doesn’t make sense to automate if a robot is sitting idle for polishing.”
“Being able to tend multiple parts and machines provides a better return on investment if the asset is serving three to four machines rather than just one,” said Schmitt. “In the same way, semiconductor factories a couple of decades old don’t have automated transport mechanisms, and life sciences is also interested in updating processes inline.”
“A typical mainline conveyor taking a product from one step to another works for mass production, but with smaller batches and high customization, they need something that doesn’t link areas like a conveyor. An AMR can take parts that don’t follow the same steps,” he said. “We’re getting into a world where everybody wants more flexibility and customization of their products — a batch of one.”
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Stäubli listens to the market
“Stäubli is always listening to what’s out there in the market. We’re interested in organic growth as well as external growth,” said Schmitt. “For this year, the robotics industry is growing, and Stäubli is doing very well. We’re seeing rapid growth, even though the automotive industry is having difficulties lately, particularly in Mexico.”
“Smaller manufacturers can’t afford to lag behind,” he said. “Line managers and engineers need to endorse new technology. Our duty as a robotics maker is to help them understand the technology, to provide training and support, and to help them use the best systems for the most efficiency.”
“With Stäubli’s customer-support services, we want them to get the most out of our robots,” Schmitt added. “We’ll be opening training centers across the U.S. to give them know-how and let them do their jobs.”
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