Imagine a line of four injection-molding presses making different parts and running at different cycle times. Now imagine them running simultaneously 24 hours a day, seven days a week and just one employee per shift operating them.
What was once fiction is now reality as robotics moves into another age.
The new Kuka Jet robot, shown publicly in North America for the first time at NPE 2006, is part of the technological revolution in automation. The six-axis robot, which travels on an overhead linear rail, can travel over long distances and features a 66-pound payload capacity.
``It's simply set up to decrease cycle time and drive costs down,'' said Kevin Kozuszek, marketing manager for Clinton Township, Mich.-based Kuka Robotics Corp. (Booth E9220).
A developing theme at NPE is advances in robotic control systems. As robotic technology advances, the level of difficulty to operate them is decreasing.
Neither expertise in robotics nor maintenance is needed to operate the new control systems. The systems have a graphical, icon-based interface similar to Microsoft Windows.
``Manufacturers really need a shift in thinking,'' Kozuszek said. ``Advancements in robot software and robot technology really have to go hand in hand.''
Kuka officials believe in the flexibility of their product. They say there will always be a need for the more traditional two-axis linear robots for certain simple, high-speed applications. But because the new six-axis robots can not only mimic human movement, but perform duties impossible for humans, manufacturers must consider them.
Reduction in labor costs provide return on investments in as little as six months in certain markets like packaging, Kozuszek said. ROI rates vary from processor to processor, he added.
Two separate Kuka Jet robots can work on one linear axis. Cooperation between two robots, from Kuka's point of view, is the next step in robotic advancements. The range of motion between robots becomes virtually infinite with two robotic arms working together, plus it doubles the payload capacity.
``Cooperating robot technology is the future,'' Kozuszek said.