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Automation technology has evolved to a stage where numerous
other technologies have emerged from it and have achieved a status of their
own. Robotic automation is one such technology which has been recognized as a
specialized field of automation where the automated machines have some human
like properties. The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) defines an industrial
robotic manipulator as follows:

“An industrial robot is a reprogrammable, multifunctional
manipulator designed to move materials, parts, tools, or specialized devices
through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks.” 1

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Industrial robots are employed to automate a wide range of
industrial processes which are generally too dull, dangerous or dirty for human
operators. Moreover, advance robotic manipulators have enabled us to achieve
new levels of precision, accuracy, repeatability and productivity which are of
prime importance in many modern engineering applications. Robotic automation is
mostly used in the following industrial applications:


Machine Tending


Material Removal

Material Handling

Palletization and De-Palletizing

Vision Inspection

It can be inferred, from the above definition, that a
robotic manipulator enables precise motion along a pre-defined trajectory. But
a complete robotic automation solution involves much more than just achieving
desired movements. Each application has its own special need, leading to a
complicated design, simulation and configuration process, which makes robotic
integration very cumbersome and time consuming.

Selecting the right robotic arm, peripheral equipment and
end-effector has critical importance. Material handling in a press line, for
example, requires highly customized end-of-arm tooling with suitable
end-effectors, with or without special functions, to perform the desired task.
Additional functions like automatic tool changing, required for higher
flexibility, make the integration process even more complex. With new
applications emerging every year, it becomes very important to develop
standardized methodologies for designing, configuring and integrating robots in
order to keep project cost and time under control.

The following section describes the motivation and
objectives of this thesis project.

Research Motivation

The advent of Industry 4.0 would have huge consequences for
the manufacturing industry. The full impact of the fourth industrial revolution
on the manufacturing world is yet to be discovered. But it can be considered as
a new model of growth and development which would lead to the creation of “smart
factories”. These factories of the future are characterized by a high level of wireless
connectivity and data sharing between machines through the power of IoT. Another
salient feature of these factories would be modular physical structures which
could be replicated in the virtual world to control and monitor processes to
make decentralized decisions. In order to achieve this, a high degree of
standardization of manufacturing equipment is needed.

Robotic automation has been identified as one of the key technologies
that would drive the fourth industrial revolution. Therefore, industrial robots
play a major role in realizing the factories of the future. As introduced
earlier, the process of integrating robotic equipment in a production process is
slow and complicated due to the highly specialized nature of the configuration
process. Robotic arms, peripheral equipment and end-of-arm tools have a strong
dependence on the application being considered. This is a problem and causes
difficulty in managing automation projects effectively and keeping project cost
and time under control. Hence, there is an immediate need to develop innovative
solutions to standardize the robot configuration and EOAT design process with
the aim of reducing variety of different components and functions without
compromising on flexibility and customization.

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