“The whole idea behind robotics is flexibility,” Stuart Shepherd, CEO and Area Manager-North America, for Kuka Robotics Corp., said in interview with an SAE Magazines reporter at the company’s new 80,500 ft² (7479 m²) North American headquarters in Shelby Township, MI.
As the needs of manufacturing evolve, robots are proving to be nimble adjusters.
“There have been changes in the workforce in terms of the availability of certain skill sets. That’s one reason why being able to program a Kuka robot in CNC language makes sense. If workers understand how to run a machine tool, they can run the robot without significant, additional training because the programming is in a language that’s familiar to them,” Shepherd said as a Kuka robot programmed in CNC was imitating a five-axis machine’s capabilities.
Just a few years ago, welding tasks were the primary domain of robots. But today, robots are handling assorted assignments at automotive manufacturing plants.
“Robots are doing dashboard assembly and roof liner assembly. They are also being used for the insertion of sunroofs as well as for the attachment of doors and other accessories. In the past, those tasks were almost impossible to do with robotic automation,” Shepherd said.
A major enabler for the expanded work duties of robots is mounting choices. For years floor-mounted robots were the norm, but now other options are possible.
James Cooper, Kuka Robotics Vice President of Sales and Marketing, said the new KR Agilus series of robots can be floor-, ceiling-, or wall-mounted. Offered in three different arm lengths, the robots can handle 6-kg (13-lb) and 10-kg (22-lb) payloads vs. the prior generation’s 5-kg (11-lb) payload capability.
“The new Agilus can carry more payload and operate at almost double the speed of the previous generation,” Cooper said, noting the robot is commonly used for assembly and material-handling tasks.
The next-generation Quantec series includes a shelf-mounted robot.
“The new generation is slimmer and larger in reach, and it has better accuracy and repeatability,” said Cooper. "It also operates at faster speeds and can carry more payload"—up to 300 kg (660 lb) vs. the previous generation’s 210 kg (463 lb). And, the new Quantec uses up to 30% less energy than the previous generation, he added.
The Quantec, available in 40 styles, handles various automotive plant tasks, including the transport of powertrain components as well as spot welding.
Kuka sells more than 300 different models and configurations of robots to automotive, aerospace, medical, and other industries.
Said Shepherd: “In the past, the focus for customers was how to make the robot work. Now, customers are more focused on solving manufacturing challenges and making productivity improvements, which underscore the core values of using robotics.”