Top tips for choosing a mobile robot

Bruno Adam
Written by

Omron Mobile Robot Business Director Europe and General Manager Omron Adept Technologies.

In an age of short product lifecycles and an increasing demand for customised solutions, if you’re a manufacturer, you need to be very agile to remain competitive. For instance, you might need to make products down to a lot size of one as simply and cost-efficiently as in mass production; or to change or update your production line at short notice. One key solution is a greater co-operation between people and machinery, leading to improved efficiency and more flexibility in the design of the production line.

At Omron, we’ve been focusing on how robots and machines can interact seamlessly. This will enable production runs to be altered quickly and easily to allow for fluctuating lot sizes, and will also reduce the need for workers to carry out repetitive tasks and heavy lifting. Simple tasks, such as transportation of materials, can be left to interactive machines that can understand (and therefore avoid) people’s movements. One example is a robot that can deliver packages to a fixed location whilst avoiding people or obstacles in its path. It identifies its own position by comparing the results from a laser scanner with an onboard map.

So, if you’re considering tapping into the benefits of a mobile robot, what are the key issues you should consider? Here are five important questions you should ask:

  1. Can it be rapidly installed and adapted?

Conveyors have been used for transporting goods at factories and warehouses for over 100 years. That was a great help when manufacturers were producing a large number of identical products every day for a long period. However, in today’s faster-paced markets, they are expensive to install and very difficult to modify when products or processes change.

About a decade ago, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) were introduced as an alternative to conveyors for material handling. However, these still need a predefined path, using either magnets, lines on the floor, or beacons on the walls.  Now there’s a more flexible solution, which uses the latest mobile robots, called Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle (AIV). These robots can move about more freely and can be easily reprogrammed for different tasks.

  1. Can it work safely with people?

It’s essential that your mobile robot can work in the same environment as your workers and can even collaborate with them on tasks. You therefore need to ensure that it has the most advanced and appropriate technology, so that it can move safely around people. You should also check whether it complies with domestic and international safety regulations.

  1. Can it work collaboratively in a fleet?

In most cases, several mobile robots will be working within a production facility. They must be able to work together well – so you’ll need a fleet management system that will automatically allocate tasks to each robot in the most efficient way to maximise your investment. This should enable you to minimise the number of robots needed by coordinating them so that they share the tasks.

The fleet management system manages two key elements:

  • It controls the traffic so that the mobile robots don’t block each other’s paths or wait too long for another robot to pass them.
  • An effective system will allocate the tasks efficiently and can even plan ahead and predict which nearby robot will be available to work on the next job. It’s important to manage the time needed for each robot to recharge its battery, to ensure that the work isn’t interrupted during peak times.
  1. Can it be easily adapted to meet your specific needs?

Mobile robots must be able to be adapted for different types of jobs. For example, a robot might be used to move items from a pick-up location to a drop-off location. It might then need to attach itself to a movable cart and transfer that from one place to another. Similarly, if it has a collaborative arm, it might be used to pick up individual items. Or it might be deployed so that it can receive items and load them onto a conveyor belt.

Therefore, it’s important that it can be easily customised to meet your differing needs.

  1. Can it run reliably worldwide?

Once you’ve successfully installed a mobile robot system at one of your facilities, you might want to duplicate this in other worldwide locations. If so, you might want to purchase the robots locally and get professional help with their implementation and with technical support after the installation.

Your vendor can play an extremely valuable role in helping you to combine their mobile robots with other automation equipment – such as arm robots, controllers and switches. This will enable you to create a total solution for your company.

Conclusion
The world of manufacturing continues to change. We’re now entering a new phase in which machines are working more interactively with people. At Omron, we’re therefore developing solutions that involve greater collaboration between machines and people. The new generation of mobile robots will enable production sites to be much more agile and flexible, with the ability to adjust rapidly to meet changing consumer needs. This in turn will enable manufacturers to be more responsive, more productive and ultimately more profitable.

See our Factory Harmony demonstration at Hannover Messe, Hall 9 – Stand F24, where you can see Omron’s mobile robots in action in a flexible production environment.

Bruno Adam
Written by
Bruno Adam

Partner in Intelligent visionguided robotics

Bruno Adam, Omron Mobile Robot Business Director Europe

The word robot comes from the Slavic word robota, which means labour. Although the Chinese already philosophized about mechanical replacements of people in the third century BC, it has only been a mere six decades ago that the first industrial robot was introduced. Bruno Adam, Omron Mobile Robot Business Director Europe and General Manager Omron Adept Technologies, has witnessed the recent rise of intelligent robots and has contributed to its development in his rich 30 years of experience in industrial robotics.

Bruno graduated in 1986 in Industrial Automation Engineering from the University of Savoy. Soon after completing his study he was involved in the first robotics applications addressing production processes using 6-axis poly articulated robots. The robots were designed to combine artificial Vision Systems and Motion Controllers that made use of adaptive algorithms. Bruno than moved on to continue his career in the United States. He took on a position in Silicon Valley at Adept, a global, leading provider of intelligent vision-guided robotics systems and services, that in 2015 became part of Omron.

In America Bruno was in charge of OEM Motion Control activities and participated in the development of the last generations of multiple kinematics robot controllers. This resulted in opening new application opportunities, such as ultra-high-speed manipulation. Another opportunity that emerged was real time trajectory modification based on data coming from different types of sensor technologies. In 2003, Bruno founded Cerebellum Automation specialised in the development of customized Robots Control Solutions.

Since the commercial launch of Omron Mobile Robots in Europe in 2013, Bruno manages a team in charge of the identifying the main markets and applications that require flexible and adaptive transport and conveyance. The unit is supported by a team of Applications and Software Engineers to deploy the technology in the manufacturing industry in Europe. Bruno regularly represents Omron as a key-note speaker at various industry summits and seminars.