The "sighted" cobot: 2D position determination with robot guidance system

Apr 27, 2023

Mitsubishi Electric and SICK have worked together to develop a highly flexible and easy-to-use robot application. The key is a camera combined with special integration software.

In industrial manufacturing facilities, robots take on jobs that are either too arduous or too dangerous for humans.That allows people to focus on more complex tasks that require greater creativity and human intelligence. Automation systems of this type are becoming increasingly important, but small and medium-sized enterprises in particular often balk at the capital expenditure required, because the robots are rarely intended for flexible uses, are relatively expensive and involve time-consuming and complicated programming.

Things are different with the application that SICK and robot manufacturer Mitsubishi Electric recently developed on behalf of Wietec, a system integrator, for one of its clients. “Our mission was to give a robot the ability to pick up tiny dental implant bodies that fall out of the lathe and onto a plate and then to place it on pins on a tray,” explains Andreas Fritzsche, Technical Industry Manager at SICK AG.

The robot picks up tiny dental implant bodies and places them on pins on a tray.
The robot picks up tiny dental implant bodies and places them on pins on a tray.

Result of a close collaboration

The fact that the cobot – meaning a robot that collaborates with humans – can now do that entirely by itself is thanks to a camera from SICK combined with a function library developed by Mitsubishi to work with its engineering software. The camera is positioned directly on the gripper of the Assista, a MELFA robot (MELFA: Mitsubishi Electric Factory Automation). The cobot uses these “eyes” to see exactly where the workpieces are on the plate and in what position. The software ensures that it orients its end effector so as to pick up the implant body with exceptional precision and then place it on the pins on the tray. SICK and Mitsubishi Electric worked closely together in great depth to develop this system. The two companies have an existing partnership that goes back several years and have also accumulated experience with the SICK PLOC2D camera system on other joint projects.

That system is now being used in this application as well. The software – the first of its kind – has extra significance for Mitsubishi Electric. “The development of the function library has laid some important groundwork for the quick and easy connection of a PLOC2D camera to a MELFA robot,” says David Beuter, Team Leader for Application Engineering at Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V. The main benefit of this system is that thanks to its ability to “see,” the cobot can manage by itself to cope with the wide range of possible positions that the parts it needs to pick up could be in. Furthermore, the system is extremely easy to operate and can easily be set up to handle variations in its tasks, such as when there is a change in the size of the workpiece to be picked up. “This is done via a web graphical user interface provided by the camera, and thanks to ‘brush technology,’ it is a simple, quick and intuitive process,” explains Marcus Fuchs, robotics project manager at Wietec.

Robot guidance systems
Easy to use and flexible part localization sensor system
The PLOC2D robot guidance system is easy to use, which is a great advantage for the customers.
The PLOC2D robot guidance system is easy to use, which is a great advantage for the customers.

Ease of operation and setup

Björn Wied, CEO of Wietec, regards this as a pivotal selling point. “The fact that it’s so easy to set up the PLOC2D robot guidance system is great for our customers because they rarely have personnel with adequate automation skills.” In addition to the system’s ease of use and adaptability, it possesses a third characteristic that is sure to win over potential customers: Thanks to folding rollers, the cobot can be moved all around the factory floor. That means that it can be used wherever it is needed at a given moment. In the case of the manufacturer of dental implant parts, for example, it can be deployed at eight different stations in its production facility.

All in all, then, a highly flexible system that helps to cushion the blow of staff shortages in production and helps with scheduling working hours and any necessary additional capacity. Because of the way it simplifies things, the system has made entering the world of robotics a much more interesting prospect for manufacturing companies. “Camera guidance for robots used to be complicated and expensive, partly because it usually needed to be programmed by specialists. With our approach of making a robot that can ‘see’ userfriendly, we’ve made the barrier to entry a lot lower. In other words, our system is paving the way to flexible production,” says Fritzsche. It is conceivable that the application could be broadened in scope to allow the cobot to take on sorting work as well.

A strong partnership: Mitsubishi Electric and SICK

Mitsubishi Electric and SICK have been working closely together for several years now. SICK has been an official partner of Mitsubishi Electric’s e-F@ctory Alliance since 2021. This global network has more than 300 members and includes manufacturers of industrial components, system integrators and software providers. Partners in the e-F@ctory Alliance collaborate on optimized solutions to customer-specific requirements. SICK and Mitsubishi Electric cooperate on the development of innovative products in the fields of industrial image processing and safety technology in particular.

Momentum: Magazine from the 2022 Annual Report

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The articles in this magazine show that momentum is no coincidence and is more than just a chain of fortunate circumstances. Momentum comes from intuition, inspiration, experience, competence and passion.


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