Grasping smart manufacturing in both shiny robotic hands
Epson’s dual-arm autonomous robots are helping European manufacturers create smarter assembly lines
Epson has set itself the challenge of using its core technologies to drive change in four key areas. One of these is the manufacturing sector. In taking on this challenge we’ve resisted the temptation to rest on our laurels as the leading global provider of SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) and focused on exceeding our customers’ expectations. As a result, we’re now developing advanced robotics that look set to revolutionise production processes.
A changing context for European and global manufacturers
Although manufacturing has long been mechanised, quantity and quality in production still relies on people. That is about to change. We are starting to see manpower shortages caused by falling birth rates in advanced economies, and rising income levels in emerging economies. Europe’s high resource, energy and employment costs, means that staying competitive in a global marketplace necessitates extremely high quality manufacturing output, delivered in a resource-efficient way. Smart manufacturing built around innovative ICT like automated robotics, RFID and digital innovations such as data capture, cloud computing and big data analysis is helping to bridge this gap. In addition, products are becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex. Many, like wearable technology and portable devices, require manufacturing precision and accuracy that exceeds human capabilities.
Autonomous dual-arm robots that ‘listen, see and think’
Epson has broken new ground by developing autonomous dual-arm robots that see, sense, think and then work. Ordinary robots require specialist installation on production lines. By contrast, users of Epson’s autonomous dual-arm robots will simply need to instruct them on the parts or other objects to be handled and the work scenarios. If commanded to fit two parts together, the autonomous dual-arm robot will first capture a three dimensional image of the individual objects with cameras installed in its head and arms. It will ‘see’ the shape much like a person would. It will then grasp the parts with multipurpose end-effectors, which, like hands, sense the right amount of force to apply. Finally, using information from the cameras and sensors, the robot will ‘think’ about the best movements needed to complete its work. Also, like a person, the robot can use ordinary off-the-shelf tools. Epson is shaping a future in which using autonomous dual-arm robots will be cost-effective in short-run production and other challenging areas. More self-sufficient robots will negate a manufacturer’s need for expensive peripheral equipment or complex programs to automate their operations. Instead, robots can be quickly and easily repurposed for different products and processes.
Built from experience
At Epson we’re always looking to build on our core strengths and expertise to ensure that the products we bring to market are best in class. The development of the autonomous dual-arm robot combined both our technical and manufacturing experience, to great result. One of Epson’s three core proprietary technologies sits at the heart of this product – the QMEMs sensing technology that has helped Epson achieve a unique position in a number of B2B component markets. These extremely responsive force sensors act like human sensory perception, enabling them to automatically modulate the force they apply to objects, adding to their adaptability on the manufacturing floor. At the same time, Epson is of course also a leading global manufacturer of printing and projector technologies, with sales and service sites in 53 countries. To service the demand for our products, Epson employs many people in manufacturing sites worldwide, so when we set about designing a robot for the production line we have many millions, if not billions, of man (and robot) hours of know-how to build into our designs. This experience has been used to develop manufacturing solutions packages that include robots, peripheral sensing technology, robotic vision systems, professional advice, and much more.
Where we go from here
Epson sees great opportunities in both smart manufacturing and the internet of things (IOT). We want to help free people from menial labour and enable them to use their time more creatively and productivity. As such, Epson ultimately wants to provide robotic solutions to automate the entire manufacturing process from raw materials to shipment. In other business areas, we have already identified rapidly expanding electronics, automotive, and medical robotics markets. They require smaller, smarter, technically sophisticated products – ideal applications for Epson’s compact, lightweight and very shiny precision robots. And then, of course, we shouldn’t forget about domestic robots – but perhaps that’s a story for another day… For more information please click here.