Small robots are beginning to handle tasks inside automotive production facilities that require human-like dexterity.
“The primary reason for smaller robots gaining traction in the automotive industry, especially in the assembly area, are advances in end effector technology (the device at the end of a robotic arm), tactile sensing capabilities, and overall precision,” said Alex Shikany, Director of Market Analysis for the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) in Ann Arbor, MI.
Improved sensor technology is making it safer for humans to work alongside robots, according to Jeff Burnstein, President of RIA, who adds, “This so-called ‘collaborative robot’ movement is the hottest area of robotics today, and many of the collaborative robots are smaller robots.”
Comau recently unveiled its Racer3, a compact robot with the same precision and repeatability of the company’s large industrial robots used in the automotive manufacturing environment.
“The Racer3 is not the spot-welding robot, for sure. I think there are a lot of areas in automotive—beyond the body shop where you do not see a high-density of robots—where the Racer3 can be used,” Mathias Wiklund, Chief Operating Officer of Robotics for Comau SpA, said in an interview with Automotive Engineering during a press event at the Castle of Rivoli in Italy.
Comau’s Racer3 can assemble small components, like powertrain parts.
“I think powertrain is an area where you have a tendency of investing in hard automation, instead of investing in flexible automation. And I think flexible automation becomes a need for the future,” said Wiklund.
While welding and paint shop tasks have been handled by large robots for several years, the trend toward using smaller robots for other automotive production duties is an emerging trend.
Said Shikany, “Advances in technologies are increasing the capabilities of these smaller, flexible robots, which opens up new automotive industry applications, such as dashboard assembly, engine and transmission handling, and cutting applications for softer materials.”
The six-axis Racer3’s primary applications are aimed at assembly, material handling, machine tending, dispensing, and pick and place. Racer3 has a 3-kg (6.6-lb) payload, and a 600-mm (23.6-in) reach.
Its 30-kg (66-lb) weight reflects the usage of aluminum and another lightweight alloy.
“There are a lot of new things with this robot that we did not have before. For instance, none of our big robots use magnesium. This robot has magnesium to make sure it is lighter and to make sure it is performing better,” Wiklund explained.
Designed to resemble a snake, the Racer3 can rotate into many positions. For example, it can assume a scissor shape, surpassing the flange at axis one. It also can close like a book, bringing the robot’s wrist toward the body in order to rotate the axis one at maximum speed.
According to Tobias Daniel, Head of Comau’s Robotics for Europe and the Americas, one of Racer3’s selling points is its speed (0.36-sec cycle time in prototype trials). “It is useful for automotive,” said Daniel, who points out that the Racer3 was specifically created for general industry sectors, including electronics, plastics, and metalworking.