Robots doing non-traditional things – it’s just part of the robot explosion

During the world’s largest machine automation fair last week we demonstrated a novel industrial use for the FlexPicker--our high speed picking robot.

Since its introduction in the 1990s, the IRB 360 FlexPicker® has become something of a legend for high speed picking, packing and placing in the Food & Beverage industry. This “delta-style” robot has been so successful, in fact, we wanted to find innovative ways to expand its use beyond this traditional industry.

And now, given new, higher payload capacities on the most recent version of this robot, the Research & Development arm of ABB Robotics in Auburn Hills, MI, has found a brand-new and unique use we think will greatly appeal to our customers—and is also a sign that a combination of factors are converging to make robots ever more accessible to an increasing array of non-traditional uses.

It’s not always about Food & Beverage

The automotive industry of today is focused on fast, cost effective and efficient ways to do such things as transfer gears and other heavy metal parts between alloy trays and baskets. Such solutions need to be simple and fast. With ABB’s complete line of IRB 360s we are now able to offer just the thing to meet our automotive customers’ needs.

The most recent models in our FlexPicker family are capable of multi-object handling of up to 8kg (part and gripper combined), and the robotic gear handling cell we demoed during the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago last week improves system performance and uptime in production environments where the heat treatment process is constantly changing alloy tray conditions. You can see it in action below.

Equipped with a SoftServo motor and ABB Integrated Vision, the FlexPicker can—with extreme accuracy—locate, pick and place gears between alloy trays and baskets during the heat treatment process (a process that transforms green, or untreated, gears into hard gears). Our vision guided system’s auto exposure is so precise it can account for variations in alloy color caused by the effects of the treatment process.

Additionally the IRB 360 has been outfitted with a servo gripper to allow for the handling of multiple gear sizes. And it ensures that the gripper does not drop gears during the transfer process.

What does an application of this kind mean for our automotive customers’ bottom line? Off the top, it equates to a 30 percent reduction in floor space, and the faster cycle times mean a reduction in the number of gear transfer cells that are needed. Maintenance costs are also lower as are those related to health and safety.

But gear handling is only one example of how the FlexPicker can be used outside its traditional industry space. So long as there is a need to accurately and quickly place small parts of varying shapes and sizes in different positions, IRB 360 is a flexible option for these applications—meaning a whole new world of possibilities for one of the most recognizable workhorses of our entire robot family.


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About the author

Allen-Wenbin He

Allen was recently appointed Base Application Business Manager for Robotics in North America. He has been with ABB for more than two decades. He has held different positions in sales, marketing, business development, merger & acquisition and general management. He is responsible for machine tending, die-cast foundry and plastics injection.
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