The current smart industry is mainly characterized by low-volume, high-mix, high-complexity production that requires flexible and intelligent automation. This calls for robots that can collaborate safely with people, that can change over quickly, and that are fully integrated in process control systems in production. This type of robot is known as the connected collaborative robot, briefly referred to as cobot. In 2017, Innovation Cluster Drachten (ICD) set up a CCR project in which various companies investigate the application of cobots and AIVs (autonomous intelligent vehicles that navigate between employees and are in fact a type of cobot).
Earlier this year, the sequel to CCR 1.0 started. In CCR 2.0, six ICD members (BD, Neopost, Photonis, Resato, Variass and Ventura) collaborate with two applied science universities in the Northern Netherlands (Hanze and NHL Stenden).
The aim is twofold, says Joost Krebbekx, program manager of ICD. ,,We want to ‘cobotize’ various processes, focusing on safe collaboration between robots and people. Cobots are already widely used for pick & place tasks, but we now extend it to processes like soldering, screwing, bonding and assembly. I think the Northern Netherlands has a leading position in cobots. One of the companies is now also researching the use of cobots in its finished products. Secondly, we want to link the cobots to production control.’'
An enthusiastic participant in CCR is Variass, a systems supplier and a specialist in electronic manufacturing services (EMS) that develops and produces electronic and mechatronic solutions in Veendam and Drachten. The company uses cobots for tasks like soldering in the assembly of electronics. Jan Betten, Head of Variass Development Support (VDE) explains: ,,In CCR 1.0 we learned how we can make the cobot function as part of the factory and keep it safe. We also acquired insight into the business case. We are slowly moving towards the manufacture of unique products and single-piece flow, which calls for frequent changeovers. Changing over takes a lot of time with traditional industrial robots. We want to reduce the changeover time, first by having lower-skilled workers handle the changeovers and next by having robots that change over themselves. For electronics assembly this means that the robot can learn how to assemble different printed circuit boards and knows which solder joints to use.” For Variass, the starting point of CCR 2.0 is to arrive at a robot that is connected with the factory and factory systems. It must be able to read CAD/CAM drawings and must be connected to the factory’s ERP and MES systems. ,,The robot get sits work instructions from ERP and we can read the status of the orders the robot is executing and the capacity utilization rate of the robot in MES.”
What Jan Betten appreciates in the CCR project is the collaboration with the ICD partners, especially because they are working on entirely different processes in which robots are already being used. Moreover, they tend to look at matters from a different angle. ,,As ICD partners, we organize sessions at which we exchange knowledge on complex subjects, such as grippers, vision, deep learning, etcetera. Together, we also have easier access to knowledge institutes and suppliers, who like to give their presentations to several companies at the same time. Applied science universities have a lot of expertise in robot and sensor technology and vision.”
Applied science universities provide their expertise, but in CCR the companies mainly learn from each other, says Krebbekx. ,,Early next year, we are going to exchange experiences with companies at the Brainport Industries Campus in Eindhoven.”
This original article in Dutch was published in LINK Magazine from October 2019.