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KUKA presents its automation portfolio for human-robot collaboration and the laser cutting of plastics

With the mobile flexFELLOW micro-system, the systems specialist KUKA demonstrates the advantages of human-robot collaboration (HRC) from 10 to 13 October at Motek, the international trade fair for automation in production and assembly.

13 September 2016

Besides applications from the automotive industry, the display includes a comprehensive range of services – from engineering to products and even entire HRC systems (including the expansion modules “flexLINE” and “flexFELLOW Ceiling”). The exhibited product series is supplemented with further components, such as HRC-enabled grippers, recording instruments as well as power wrenches for A-Class through C-Class screwed fittings. In addition to HRC assembly solutions, fiber-reinforced composite materials will play an increasingly greater role in the production of tomorrow. The company is presenting a corresponding system solution for processing fiber-reinforced composite materials using CO2 lasers in Hall 7, Booth 7214.
Mensch-Roboter-Kollaboration in der Produktion
Human-robot collaboration (HRC) at KUKA
For years, KUKA has been in the vanguard in the development of new solutions to enable human operators and robots to collaborate without safety fences. At the Motek trade fair, KUKA is displaying the mobile KUKA flexFELLOW robot unit as it is implemented, for example, in an engine assembly line for the automotive manufacturer VW. There, the flexFELLOW supports its human colleagues by tightening difficult-to-access screwed fittings on the underside of the motor. As part of this, the motor is delivered to the relevant workstation by an automated guided vehicle (AGV). Human-robot collaboration provides big advantages in terms of the ergonomics of the work station since employees would otherwise have to operate the power wrench at knee height.
The solution relies on the engineering of KUKA Systems and the seven-axis LBR iiwa lightweight robot. Thanks to its responsive properties, the KUKA flexFELLOW independently locates the position of the motor screws – even when the AGV does not stop precisely at the workstation. Using torque sensors, the robot detects if it is touched by a human and stops. The entire workstation – including the power wrench, the positioning devices (if necessary) and the platform with the human-machine interface – must be designed for use in an application for human-robot collaboration (HRC). This means that the components must meet the usual technical requirements, but, at the same time, be lighter, rounder and safer overall. To achieve this, KUKA offers a broad portfolio – from HRC engineering to HRC components through to certified overall systems – in the area of Advanced Technology Solutions for integrators and end customers.
The KUKA flexFELLOW integrates all the required components: the customer-specific robot controller, a power supply for the power wrench, a stack light to visualize the system state as well as the shutdown module. This makes it extremely compact. “In the automotive industry, there is no space for external systems with large safety fencing,” says Henning Borkeloh, Vice President of Advanced Technology Solutions at KUKA Systems. “A conventional industrial robot would require up to five times more space than the flexFELLOW – VW would have had to completely rebuild the entire line.” In this way, production becomes extremely flexible. The flexFELLOW can be moved to a new place of use at any time, and multiple units can be combined or quickly reconfigured to form entire systems. In this way, an ever greater variety of variants and even shorter production cycles are possible. “Versatile assembly systems with HRC as a ‘lean production concept’ rather than larger robots behind fencing – that is our vision,” enthuses Henning Borkeloh.
KUKA flexFELLOW  with A/B-class power wrench
KUKA offers suitable, HRC-compatible power wrenches to enable quick and easy automation of manual screw-fastening

The advantages of CO2 laser cutting – no wear

Another completely different topic displayed by the technology leader is laser processing. While the procedure is well established in the metalworking sector, there are only a few suppliers who tackle the topic for plastics. KUKA is one of them. For almost 20 years, the company has dealt with the laser processing of plastics: With the system integrator KUKA Industries, customers now have all their laser technology covered by a single source. At this year’s Motek, KUKA presents what such a solution might look like – for example, for the introduction of vacuum perforations for the airbag into a car instrument panel (“pitching”). The display includes a five-axis CO2 laser robot with integrated beam guidance for 3D material processing with a repeatability of +/ 0.05 mm and a laser power of 450 watts. A scanner can be directly integrated into the controller – in other words, the robot can introduce vacuum holes “on the fly”. The solution is thus 30 to 50 percent faster than with a separate scanner. At the booth, the robot “cuts” a component out of the interior of a car. In a production line, it could process thermoplastics as well as glass-reinforced and carbon fiber-reinforced plastics. The big advantage of CO2 laser cutting is that there is no wear (for example, on tools) when compared to conventional punching units. In automotive production, several vehicle cycles can thus run on the same line. Beyond this, laser cutting scores high with high cutting speed, as the components are not touched directly when processed by the robot. And even where flexible reaction in production is concerned, the laser beats the punching unit: the robot just has to be reprogrammed – without the need for a costly adjustment of a tool.

3-kg payload and a reach of 540 millimeters – the KR 3 AGILUS

The KR 3 AGILUS is the ideal solution for small cell concepts. The newest member of the KR AGILUS small robot family is also on display in a fascinating application. With a three-kilogram payload and a reach of 540 millimeters, it is tailor-made for the requirements of the 3C market (computers, communications and consumer electronics) and has the design and quality to fit perfectly into the system solutions from KUKA Systems.

At the KUKA booth in Stuttgart (Hall 7 / Booth 7214) from 10 to 13 October, KUKA makes system solutions and robotics come alive.

Components for HRC applications

To successfully implement HRC applications, components specially tailored to individual requirements are needed. The following can be seen at the KUKA trade fair booth:

  • KUKA flexFELLOW ceiling: In extremely confined spaces, the KUKA flexFELLOW can be expanded with the ceiling-mounted module. This consists of a floor platform with an adjustable column, a rotating bracket arm and a ceiling-mounted lightweight robot LBR iiwa 7 R800 or 14 R820. All electric components are integrated into the floor platform. The solution is height adjustable, can be rotated and is easy to move and transport.
  • HRC linear axis: A linear axis expands the work envelope of the KUKA LBR iiwa in applications designed for human-robot collaboration. Thanks to travel of up to 5 meters with floor or ceiling installation, the lean system can also fit into existing systems. The protective measures that are usually required are already integrated into it.
  • KUKA grippers: The special grippers developed by KUKA are designed so that injuries to human operators are avoided. They also offer a rounded design with no edges, which eliminates injuries from the housing. KUKA offers various types of grippers – such as the LBR sensitive gripper R801, which was developed in collaboration with the Zimmer Group – for a variety of different applications. In addition, it offers other diverse pneumatic HRC grippers, such as the two-jaw gripper, the expansion gripper, the two-jaw parallel gripper and the three-jaw gripper.
  • KUKA power wrench: The HRC-enabled KUKA power wrenches enable the quick automation of manual screw-fastening. They can be used in an existing production system without further modifications – thus reducing cycle times. They are suitable for safety-critical class-A screwed connections, function-critical class-B screwed connections and for simple class-C screwed connections.

KUKA components under