Julie Williams, EU marketing specialist industrial IOT, Advantech, examines the considerations needed for bin picking solutions in a changing world, with trends accelerated because of COVID-19.
As factory automation advances and the labour market changes, there are new pressures put on factory and manufacturing organisations to increase flexibility, reduce risks, and improve margins. This has gained world-wide attention with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The world watched as manufacturing transformed to meet changing demands. And automation professionals are looking for better ways to adapt their factories to address these challenges in similar situations in the future.
Orders are no longer stable, and production plans are not certain. How can manufacturers improve margins when market changes can quickly disrupt planning?
Flexibility is key. It is paramount to be able to switch production quickly, for example changing a beer plant into a sanitizer production plant within a week. Or starting to produce ventilators using car parts. How can this flexibility be achieved?
A new level of health and safety requirements also needs to be implemented. How can health risks be reduced?
Almost 40% of the manual labour in a factory is spent moving components that arrive at the factory in bins and boxes to feed the machines for the next production step. Some manufacturers have automated this with conventional feeders. Unfortunately, these are expensive, noisy, cannot be retrofitted, and still require a lot of attention from employees. Other manufacturers have introduced pick-and -place robots, but operators still have to spend a lot of time staging parts in a structured way in front of a robot.
However, there is a third group of automation professionals taking a different approach to automating machine tending.
These professionals already use robots and they want to have more flexibility in order to produce smaller quantities of a wider range of products. In addition to this, they want to be able to teach a robot to deal with new components on the factory floor with their own workforce – without the need for technical experts.
Pickit 3D was founded in 2016 to solve the challenges created by machine tending. Machine tending involves feeding parts to a production machine. Orientation and position mean everything. The performance of the application is measured not only by cycle time, but also by the position and the orientation accuracy when the part is placed by the robot.
This company saw the potential to simplify process automation with a single product – a 3D vision system for pick and place robots. Pickit guides robots to pick parts directly out of the bin, box, pallet or conveyor and place them with the required orientation into a machine. Changeover happens with a push of a button: instead of taking up space in a factory storing different jigs, fixtures and feeders, it is now possible to simply store the vision algorithms on a PC. 3D vision algorithms require complex calculations and iterations to detect parts in a scattered bin.
All Pickit software comes pre-installed on a powerful industrial processor from Advantech. Pickit is leading developments in the market of 3D vision guided robotics, with software updates released every three months. Pickit first reached out to Advantech because this system requires a higher core CPU with enough threads to deal with the information brought by the Pickit 3D camera. As the company continues to evolve the solution toward artificial intelligence, greater power is required. The Advantech processor is a trusted partner for Pickit’s solution.
“We used to finish 400 units a day with six people in a high-pressure environment; after automating with Pickit, we now easily finish 1000 units with only three people that are experiencing less pressure and are generally happier,” said managing director Roelof Talen of Talen Tools, who wants his employees to be content, but wants to see objective results as well.
The big advantage of 3D vision is its flexibility, it solves applications with overlapping parts which vary in shape and size. The system can be taught to detect and handle a wide variety of objects. Fast changeovers are made easy – when one part is done with, simply remove the empty bin and replace it with a new bin containing the next product.
As many Pickit customers have stated, they use 3D cameras to reduce the need for human labour while increasing output. Pickit went with an Advantech processor to support its key customer benefits.