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Confirm smart manufacturing research Centre at Limerick University, utilizes KUKA industrial robots

Robotic technology assists in areas of research, such as advanced robotics, simulations and modelling in Confirm's advanced robotic joining suite

08 February 2022

Confirm has nine different Research Performing Organizations (RPO’s) strategically positioned across Ireland, and this particular project being undertaken at Limerick University is funded by sfi. The KUKA advanced robotic joining suite consists of a six-axis KUKA KR210 robot with a seventh axis positioner, or linear track.

Confirm is a smart manufacturing Research Center, which is funded by the Science Foundation Ireland that undertakes research and development initiatives in the areas of Advanced Robotics, Cobotics, Simulations and Modeling. Many projects are delivered in partnership with major Med Tech companies, Pharmaceutical companies and also SME’s.

As part of their research activities, Confirm utilises industry-leading ultrasonic welding equipment, to support their advanced joining development. They are also advancing their latest and greatest safety arc composite materials and as part of their development, there exists the need to understand how these composites can be joined. The KUKA industrial robot within the joining cell is used by Confirm to join composite aircraft materials that could be utilized by major aircraft manufacturers.

Eoin Hinchy, Lecturer in Digital Manufacturing and Automation at the University of Limerick said of the joining suite: “KUKA France developed the advanced, multi-function end of arm tooling that is used within the cell, which enables the efficient application of drilling and fastening. It also has an integral vision system, developed by KUKA Aerospace, France. The whole project offering in terms of the KUKA robot and the multi-functional end-of-arm-tooling is something that was very valuable to Confirm, and that's why we partnered with KUKA on this project”.

Brian Cooney, Managing Director, KUKA Ireland added: “KUKA are very much a company that is at the leading edge of the digital transformation, and because we're leading in that area and those technologies, research centres such as Confirm can take our learning, can join with us and can work with us on taking some of those learnings and applying them to the research that they're undertaking on-site in Limerick”.

Confirm - Smart Manufacturing in the Digital Age

Collaborating with developing new processes and new products not yet available on the market, but that is very much leading the way within R&D such as state-of-the-art research within new fields and new sectors, is an integral part of KUKA’s activities in Ireland.

“It’s very much at the lower TRL (technology readiness level) where Confirm sit” said Brian, adding: so when Confirm approached us and asked would KUKA be interested in being part of the Confirm journey, and a partner with Confirm, it was an automatic Yes! This is without talking about product, this was just what they wanted to do in terms of low-level TRL which are exactly the kind of areas that we want to support: with our people, with our expertise, with our knowledge, to be able to share that with them and help them along their journey”.

“When considering Smart Manufacturing as a whole, the area is moving towards advanced simulations, artificial intelligence and machine learning, Eoin says. What Confirm are doing here is we are developing a digital twin of our KUKA robot, then we add a layer of machine learning to it. With that layer of machine learning, we're able to look at our sensing data. We're going to essentially make decisions based upon that data and control the robot using those data-based decisions. We're developing safety systems that will allow the robot to detect if it's working with a human, or if it's an autonomous vehicle and how we can essentially control the behaviour of the robot accordingly”.

KUKA as a robotics and automation house possesses a plethora of information and experience and is very much a research house itself. But as a brand, KUKA are very much focused on what is going to be the next product that is taken to market, not developing the next blue-sky thinking. Those research centres that are in the low TRL level, that focus on the blue-sky thinking and the technologies that shall come to fruition in 10 or 15 years’ time, are best placed to take KUKA’s knowledge and expertise, what we've learned through our research and development, take it and apply it to their research.

There's never an expectation within research in the lower TRL levels that in three years’ time you're ready to go to market with a product, it very rarely happens like that. Nuggets of research are created that will be taken and applied within real-world applications. So if KUKA works in partnership with the various Irish research agencies and institutions, we can take the learnings from their research and identify where that ‘product’ might apply, or be a perfect fit within the technologies that we are developing, that will be available on the open market in two to three years’ time.

Summarizing, Eoin said: “It's very useful having KUKA Ireland on-site here at Limerick. As they are only a couple of hours away from us if we do encounter any challenges we can contact them. We get a great response from them and to be able to send an engineer down to us in a matter of hours is a fantastic resource to have”.