KUKA makes industrial robots for factory automation. Flex makes, well, lots of things, providing its services around the globe and offering customers sketch to scale™ capabilities – going from an idea or design, to engineering and manufacturing, through full-scale production and distribution of product. Its tagline is "Live Smarter" and its goal is to create a smarter more connected world. KUKA supplies the robotics for one of Flex’s European sites where the production line of the industrial internet is taking shape.
LBR iiwa lightweight robot at the forefront of human-robot collaboration
Located amid the Eastern Alps, the Flex Product Innovation & Design Center in Althofen, Austria, offers a range of services from research to prototyping, testing, failure analysis and production.
Manufacturing in the 21st century is being re-engineered by concepts such as Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, and the challenges are being explored at the Flex-Althofen facility with the help of an LBR iiwa robot loaned from KUKA.
The development of the industrial internet production line depends on humans and robots working together closely. This places the LBR iiwa at the Flex-Althofen facility at the forefront of human-robot collaboration and the payoff includes insights into integration, programming and configuring the production lines in the near future.
Self-optimization and machine learning
Roman Lobner, an engineer at Flex-Althofen remembers when industrial robots were encased in "big, huge cages." That was then. "Today, you're standing right next to them, and they interact with you," he says.
Siegfried Baumann, Senior Director at Flex-Althofen, welcomes the LBR iiwa. "What we are looking for is getting robots, or I'd say automation, in place which supports that paradigm change in manufacturing from front-end to the back-end," he says. Huge shifts in manufacturing require companies like Flex to adopt smarter, more agile and innovative ways to advance production in order to deliver superior customer value. One such technology is complementing and augmenting human labor with robotics.
The LBR iiwa lightweight robot used at Flex-Althofen is part of what KUKA engineers call the fourth revolution in robotics – Industry 4.0 – in which systems can work directly with humans, each augmenting the other’s best skills, and can self-optimize through Machine Learning. Because its software combines sensor data input and intelligence from the cloud, it is guaranteed a role in human-robot collaboration workspaces such as those at Flex-Althofen.