At IMTS, Keep Automation in Mind as a Shop Strategy

The start of the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago is only days away. Attendees who plan to be at McCormick Place anytime between Sept. 8 and 13 are finalizing lists of which exhibitors, conferences, and events they need to see.

In a trade show that takes up all four buildings of McCormick Place, it's easy to overlook opportunities to learn about new technologies, equipment, and capabilities that can make a difference in the productivity and profitability of machine shops.

A six-axis robotic arm from Universal Robots. A six-axis robotic arm from Universal Robots.

One area that should be of interest to every shop owner, however, no matter the size of the company, is automation. There will be plenty of displays at IMTS that feature automated equipment, ranging from robotic arms to elaborate work cells. Putting these on must-see lists could expedite the return on investment shop owners put into time away from office.

This year's IMTS will feature the second appearance of Industrial Automation North America as well as the inaugural Motion, Drive & Automation (MDA) North America, co-located shows in the East Hall of McCormick Place that feature exhibitors specializing in all aspects of manufacturing automation. The automation systems, components, and technologies that these exhibitors will display hold the potential for shop owners to improve the quality of their work, increase the amount of business they can take on, and wring as much profit as possible from operations.

Concurrent with the shows will be conference sessions, many of which are free, providing additional insight into key issues that affect automation. Among these are advances in plant-wide communication and control systems, using 3D machine vision for robot guidance, Ethernet and cyber-security, and techniques for integrating robotic controls into machine controllers.

For a long time, many machine shops viewed automation as a costly investment that was unnecessary or unaffordable. It was regarded as an investment for big companies. But as exhibitors at Industrial Automation and MDA will explain, a number of automated systems are affordable, justifiable for all types of operations, and promise fast returns on investment - usually in less than a year.

New breed of robotic arms have safety features enabling them to work alongside personnel. New breed of robotic arms have adaptive safety features enabling them to work alongside personnel.

One notable trend that will be evident in the East Hall is the availability of low-cost production robots that don't require safety barriers, complex programming, technical experts or costly machine integration. Some of these robots can, in fact, be easily moved around a plant floor and "reassigned" to different machines as the need arises. They can also be operated alongside humans on the production line.

One example of this will be seen in robots from Universal Robots, a Danish company whose U.S. office is in East Setauket, N.Y. The company will display its UR5 and UR10 robotic arms in the East Hall, at Booth E-4841.

The six-axis robotic arms have a patented safety system that monitors movements, momentum, and power. Among other benefits, this allows the programming of safeguards that adjust how a robotic arm works when a change occurs in its immediate area. If a worker enters a work cell, for example, the robot detects this and automatically transitions to a slower mode of operation for safety. When the worker leaves, the robot adjusts accordingly and resumes full speed.

The UR5 and UR10 arms are also equipped with true absolute encoders, which allow them to achieve faster startup because they recognize their positions when they power up. Universal Robots says the absolute encoders differ from the incremental encoders found on most industrial robots, in that they are not battery operated. Since there are no batteries, the robot arms remain aware of their positions and do not need to be reinitialized as would happen when this power source runs out.

The UR5 has a load capacity of 11.3 lb, and the UR10 handles 22.6 lb. Both can be "intuitively programmed by non-technical users," the company says. The robots weigh as little as 40 lb each, have a reach of 51 in, and a repeatability of +/-0.004 in, which allows for the handling of microscopic parts. The arms reportedly go from box to operation in less than an hour, and, according to Universal Robots, pay for themselves in around six months.

See you at the show.

MORE FROM THOMASNET NEWS: Collaborative Robots: A Gateway Into Factory Automation


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