The robotics industry is not slowing down. Last year the robotics industry shipped more robots to North America than ever before. And companies today are figuring out that they can utilize machine vision and robotics in many new applications.
“The use of vision in a robot gives the robot the ability to see,” says Bob Doyle, vice president, Robotics Industry Association (RIA) & A3 Mexico. “It’s simple, but it’s really true. Robots, through programming, can do many different things, but when you add a vision component it opens up even more application opportunities.”
Last year was another year of growth for the industry, notes Doyle. According to statistics from RIA, part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), 35,880 units were shipped in 2018, a 7% increase over 2017, with 16,702 shipments to non-automotive companies, an increase of 41%. Industries such as food and consumer goods (48%), plastics and rubber (37%), life sciences (31%), and electronics (22%) saw increased adoption.
Today’s robots have found a place in many different applications. Source: Veo Robotics
It’s no surprise that the industry continues to gain traction in a range of applications.
Robots can improve quality and make the manufacturing floor an easier place to be. In addition, the complementary vision technology continues to improve.
“There is definitely a shift to 3D slowly starting to happen,” says David Bruce of FANUC. “Robots have always been 3D machines, but most of the vision problems have been reduced to only 2D because of the lack of good quality 3D vision systems. This is changing dramatically as the machine vision industry has started to crank out several high quality and reasonably priced 3D vision systems.”
In addition, using industrial robots in a collaborative application is another trend, says Doyle. Startup Veo Robotics, for example, uses computer vision to make a traditional industrial robot work safely with people. Veo Robotics, which will start delivering products this month, aims to make the manufacturing floor more collaborative between industrial robots and production floor staff.
If you’re considering adding robotics at your company, Patrick Sobalvarro, co-founder and CEO at Veo Robotics, has some advice. He says that they would typically ask customers, “How do you design the process steps? What is the purpose of the automation in a process step? What’s the purpose of the operator in the process step? What are you hoping to accomplish there?”
This shows a robotic part handling system using a FANUC 3DV/400 vision system to identify part orientation. Source: FANUC
Doyle offers some additional questions to consider for those in this situation. “For any person considering automating their operations, really look at your processes,” says Doyle. “What’s a pain point you have? What’s an area you need better throughput or quality? Typically that’s a great opportunity to implement an automation solution. If you’re new to automation, don’t necessarily go to the hardest project. Start with a little easier project, get some experience, then tackle a more difficult problem.”
No matter what type of project robots are used on, they have the potential to affect—and improve—quality. “The repeatability of industrial robots has elevated the quality of many different processes that were previously done manually,” says Bruce. “The use of vision with robotics has allowed for sophisticated quality checks that were at one time very impractical. By mounting a 2D or 3D vision sensor on a robot, several different quality checks can be done on a finished assembly—all with a quick and cost-effective integration timeline.” V&S