American aircraft manufacturer Boeing is the first customer for a novel robot manufacturing cell developed in a partnership between three European automation companies.
The cell, being evaluated by Boeing, does not rely on the usual lengthy set-up procedures or need costly jigs and fixtures to position the workpiece accurately in respect of the cutting tools.
Instead, it relies on a camera to provide accurate positioning of the tool relative to the workpiece. This is irrespective of changes to the work piece’s shape or size or changing workshop conditions such as temperature fluctuations that affect thermal stability.
The Engineer believes this to be the first industrial robot to use vision to enable it to move and respond to changing situations in a real factory environment.
The TI2 cell name reflects the major components. Swedish developer Neos supplied the Tricept industrial robot. The camera system comes from Swiss company Imetric and Finnish developer Tehdasmallit provides the Igrip computer simulation program.
Together the camera and computer simulation program provide the robot with vision, equivalent to eyes and a brain, ensuring the robot locates the workpiece accurately irrespective (within limits) of its actual position.
Measurement points applied to the workpiece are identified and read by the CCD camera and compared with the correct dimensional values in a CAD file downloaded to the cell from the drawing office.
Corrected and thermally compensated data provides the robot with the information it needs to position the cutting tool accurately.
Operating in real time, the cell provides a flexible manufacturing environment for bulky workpieces where machining precision is required over large metal areas and thermal distortion is likely.
Truck chassis are one application where the cell can be used for drilling holes, as hole patterns can vary. Riveting of large components is another target application, while the ability to cater for a limited series production of wings should interest makers of executive aircraft.
The Tricept robot has a positioning accuracy of 0.20mm repeatable to 0.02mm.
Although the design is not new, it is based on unusual triangular kinematics which give the robot inherent stability necessary for accurate machining work.
In the early 1990s Tricept inventor Karl-Erik Neumann, who heads Neos Robotics, turned to automation company Fiat Comau to develop a suitable control system as well as market the robot, which Comau still does.
Since then Neos has spread its wings, developing its own robotic controller for the Tricept which has become the focus of the company’s drive to become a key provider of solutions to manufacturing industry.