Robots – Do they have a role to play in the future of the Printing Industry?
Epson has commercialised a “seeing, sensing, thinking, working” autonomous dual-arm robot named the WorkSense W-01 that will expand the scope of automated production. Whilst initially focussed on manufacturing, do robots have a role to play in the Printing Industry?
In recent years, manufacturers’ needs have grown more diverse with demand for products fluctuating sharply and a growing necessity to flexibly accommodate small-lot production and just-in-time (JIT) production. Industrial robots are conventionally installed in a fixed location on a line to perform a given task. The WorkSense W-01, however, was developed for easy mobility so that it can be wheeled from place to place to perform assembly, transport, and other tasks. The features described below enable the robot to automate production tasks that previously defied automation.
The robot is equipped with 4 head-unit cameras and 2 arm-mounted cameras that give the robot human-like vision, enabling it to accurately detect an object’s position and orientation in three-dimensional space. And even if the location of objects and obstacles changes, the robot can independently “see” and determine their position.
The robot arms are outfitted with Epson’s highly sensitive, precision force sensors, which are already available on sale. The robot is thus able to perform delicate assembly, transport, and other tasks that require human-like force control to avoid damaging objects. Multipurpose hands that can grasp, grip, and clamp objects of various shapes and sizes are included as standard end-of-arm tooling. They can manipulate tools and jigs that were designed for humans.
The robot can accurately detect the position and orientation of objects in three-dimensional space, so even if the robot is relocated, it can immediately start work—with no programming change required. This gives the robot the ability to flexibly adapt to sudden changes in production. So, for example, it can be wheeled to different locations to perform different tasks every day, if need be. The robot independently decides the path and orientation of its 7-axis arms and can avoid obstacles.
The robot’s two 7-axis arms move like human arms. The dual arms move independently from one another to allow the robot to perform tasks that a single-arm robot cannot, such as tightening a screw in a component with one arm while holding the component in place with the other.
The WorkSense brand name was coined to represent the concept of a robot that sees, senses, thinks, and works. With its WorkSense robot, Epson is targeting market segments where demand for small-lot production and JIT production are particularly high, such as automotive parts production.
Yoshifumi Yoshida, chief operating officer of Epson’s Robotics Solutions Operations Division, says, “Epson’s Corporate Vision expresses a strong commitment to driving robotics innovation. We are refining our core technologies that combine sensors and smart features, as well as our efficient, compact, and precision technologies, with the aim of realising a future in which robots are widely used to serve and support people. We see the WorkSense W-01, which harnesses the power of Epson’s deep portfolio of technology, as bringing us one step closer to bringing about such a future."
Epson has also developed prototypes of three new models of industrial robots, the vertically articulated N6 and VT6 robots and the T6 SCARA robot, to meet the wide-ranging needs of manufacturers.
Epson’s N series of compact 6-axis robots is capable of performing tasks in tight spaces more efficiently than earlier robots thanks to a uniquely engineered “folding” arm. The N6, which will join the N2 in the N series, was developed to meet the needs of customers who want to transport relatively heavy objects and transport objects over a wide area. Floor-mounted, the N6 has a
6-kg payload capacity and an arm length of 1,000 mm, both considerably larger than the N2. The N6 is ideal for tasks such as loading and unloading electronic components and automotive parts to and from test equipment or shelving and removing medical products. It can reach a wide range of places such as high and low shelves using a smaller installation footprint than earlier 6-axis robots. These features will enable the robot to increase productivity and the efficiency with which factory space is used.
Engineered for maximum usability and a low total cost of ownership (TCO), the 6-axis VT6 is built to automate simple, repetitive material handling tasks that humans find tedious. Manufacturers have been reluctant to automate material handling tasks that add little value because of the expense and trouble involved in building production lines. Epson is bringing down this barrier with the affordably priced and easy to install VT6. Drawing on the miniature controller technology it developed for its T series of SCARA robots, Epson equipped this entry-level robot with a built-in controller. Among the many possible uses for this robot are machine tending applications in which components or workpieces are loaded into and unloaded from test equipment.
Equipped with a built-in controller, the T series of SCARA robots are designed for installation simplicity and maximum usability. They are ideal for automating simple material handling tasks. The T6 has doubled the payload capacity (6 kg) of Epson’s T3 robot and thus can transport larger, heavier objects. This robot can be outfitted with heavy end-effectors, such as dual end-effectors that can hold two objects at once, to help manufacturers increase factory productivity.