2016-08-29 08:00 CET
Intelligent and flexible automation of assembly tasks like riveting or soldering offer new applications for companies with small and medium batch sizes. Human-robot collaboration is a key enabler to achieve these innovative automation solutions that are realized within the EU project LIAA (Lean Intelligent Assembly Automation) coordinated by Fraunhofer IPA. All 15 project partners will present the technologies and applications developed during LIAA at this year’s international trade fair for automation in production and assembly Motek from October 10th to 13th 2016 in Stuttgart, Germany. Five demonstrators from different industries will be showcased.
Assembly is the section of production which is still often done manually, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is due to dynamic and diverse requirements, e. g. small lot sizes and the large number of variants that characterize this section of production. However, companies would benefit from automation in several ways: by improving the product quality and working conditions of humans, by increasing the productivity of currently manual shop floors and by producing more cost-efficiently.
LIAA’s goal is to bring automation into assembly tasks by symbiotic human-robot cooperation. In working side by side, the senses and intelligence of the human – necessary for the sensitive or challenging steps – can be complemented by the strength and endurance of automation with robots for monotonous or non-ergonomic tasks. Also, hybrid and lean workplaces are easier to adapt to changing work load. To realize these working places, LIAA focuses on end user’s problems that so far hinder them in automating their assembly processes. The project addresses these problems by developing a vendor-independent software framework which provides several tools for a smooth integration of robots in manual assembly workplaces.
Design and configuration of hybrid workplaces
The project partners worked on three levels representing the workflow for a typical workplace setup: The first one is the design of these hybrid working places, the second one the configuration and the third one the runtime or execution level of ready-to-use applications.
For the design, the framework offers tools that allow a systematic planning and simulation of the workplace. Whereas today’s production planning needs months, LIAA aims at reducing this time to four weeks. Therefore, the framework is being developed in close cooperation with a system integrator in order to optimize both the conceptualization phase as well as the configuration phase. One example solution is the »Hybrid Workplace Design Tool«, which reveals safety-critical aspects of the planned collaborative workplace and gives information about how safety requirements influence the key performance indicators (KPIs). The end user decides in the planning phase the relative importance of the indicators (e. g. flexibility or velocity) and an appropriate safety concept can be realized. The tool for »Dynamic Task Planning and Resource Allocation« provides details concerning how to share tasks between robot and human in the best and most efficient manner.
By using innovative technologies such as augmented reality (AR) for robot programming, user training, error recovery and process monitoring, setup time and cost can be reduced. It is also possible to perform efficient training in virtual environment.
Time saving is also a crucial point for the configuration of the workplace. Today this costs weeks, whereas LIAA aims to configure the workplace within hours. The framework provides tools that help configure individual software and mechatronic modules and take account of dependencies between them, in order to perform as an integrated solution, tailored to the needs of each end user.
Applications to be shown at Motek
An important part of the project is to validate the developments by implementing them into real use-cases. Five demonstrator cells present SME-specific assembly solutions realized with the LIAA framework. Human and worker act safely together in narrow working spaces without fences. The workplaces can quickly be adapted to new processes. That means, new hardware is easy to integrate and robots are intuitive to (re-) program even by non-experts. Also, cost-efficient solutions are important since SMEs are not able to spend a lot of money on expensive equipment.
Assembly of TwinSpin reduction gear (end user: SPINEA)
Imagine a robot system which is instructed within few minutes or hours by ordinary employees to recognize new parts, perform careful assembly – and even call an operator when something is wrong. That is exactly what the Robot CoWorker, developed by Danish Technological Institute, demonstrates. Using a complete integration between robot, sensors, algorithms and intuitive interfaces, the Robot CoWorker is a universal tool for automating high-mix low-volume production. The demonstrator shows how the robot can execute the monotonous and error-prone task of feeding spacers and rollers into bearings.
Assembly of a turbo charger (end user: OPEL)
Powertrain assembly currently requires considerable manual labour. The OPEL Collaborative workspace developed in LIAA deals with the assembly of the turbo charger for the new EURO 6 diesel engine and the LIAA solution can be applied in the majority of the necessary assembly operations. The workload is evenly distributed dynamically to humans and robots that safely coexist in a common workspace in the assembly line, optimizing both the ergonomics and the productivity of the process. Robot tasks and human instructions are coordinated by a set of cell independent software tools and wearable devices, securing the flawless execution. For example, the worker can use augmented reality glasses to detect when he is too close to the robot, or where exactly to fixture the manifold.
Assembly of radiant elements (end user: TELNET)
The variety of antenna models is very big whereas the manufactured lot sizes are small. In addition, the product is under continuous evolution and requires regular changes. So far, no automation solution was appropriate for these conditions. LIAA provides a flexible automation system based around a dual-arm robot to speed up setup processes. This provides flexibility and easiness of use for integrators and end-users, as they can adapt manufacturing cells to new requirements without specialized abilities, reducing critical time to market. CAD models and advanced 3D perception skills are used for part referencing, which means that no special fixtures are needed, and human presence detection fulfils all safety criteria. The approach takes advantage of the CAD information for automatic robot program generation so that the end user does not need any expert knowledge in robot programming. An advanced online dual-arm trajectory planning system is used to avoid humans and obstacles in real time manipulation operations.
Riveting application for assembly of roof luggage rack (end user: FISCHER)
Manual riveting with a rivet gun is physically demanding because the rivet gun is heavy. Since the task is repetitive and boring, it is also prone to errors. LIAA improves the process by fixing the rivet gun. The worker then puts the workpieces into a fixture on the robot and the robot moves it to the stationary rivet gun, which relieves the worker from the exhausting work. Several safety measurements were implemented. For example, the riveting gun is enclosed by a new safety hull with different locking mechanisms. The system is integrated into a mobile tool cart and can be docked with the manual workstation when required.
Soldering for final assembly of hall sensors (end user: DDE)
At this assembly workplace, worker and robot can work together to apply solder. The soldering iron is fixed on the robot which provides also the soldering material. A camera detects the workpiece and the robot automatically moves to the right position. The whole process is safe because of a retractable soldering iron, which is hidden inside the soldering tool during movements and only extended in such a way that prevents the worker from being able to reach the hot iron surface with his fingers. The solution addresses the problem that hand soldering is the most prominent source for quality problems. Hence, only a few workers are allowed to manufacture certain quality sensitive products in order to keep the error rate low. With the LIAA solution, the robot can do the quality-critical parts and acts as a »third hand« for the worker.
Fair: 35th Motek – International trade fair for automation in production and assembly, 10th to 13th of October 2016
LIAA booth: hall 7, booth 7137
Demonstrators: assembly of a reduction gear, assembly of a turbo charger, assembly of a mobile antenna receiver, riveting of a car roof rack, soldering of PCB
Further LIAA exhibit: At the partner booth from Fraunhofer IPA (hall 7, booth 7230), another LIAA exhibit presents the advantages of a software package named »pitasc« that can be used in conjunction with nearly all types and makes of robot to perform numerous assembly tasks. Complex and sensitive tasks that were previously carried out manually, such as assembling switch cabinets, can now be taught intuitively by non-experts and thus be automated cost-effectively.
Project LIAA: »Lean Intelligent Assembly Automation«
Duration: September 1st 2013 to August 31st 2017
- End users: Adam Opel AG (Germany), Dresden Elektronik Ingenieurtechnik GmbH (Germany), SPINEA, s.r.o. (Slovakia), Fischer IMF GmbH & Co. KG (Germany), Telnet Redes Inteligentes SA (Spain)
- Research institutions: Fraunhofer IPA (project coordinator, Germany, Danish Technological Institute DTI (Denmark), Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems & Automation (Greece), Tecnalia Research & Innovation (Spain)
- Robot manufacturer: Universal Robots A/S (Denmark)
- System integrator: InSystems Automation GmbH (Germany), LP-Montagetechnik GmbH (Germany)
- Technology suppliers: Visual Components Oy (Finland), EON Reality Inc. (Sweden), Penny AB (Sweden)
Funding: LIAA has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under the grant agreement no 608604.
Technical expert and more information:
Dipl.-Wi.-Ing. Ramez Awad, email@example.com, phone: +49711-970 1844