New Collaborative Robots for Industrial Markets

April 2015
Original Source: Automate 2015 Portal

Image Source: Universal Robots A/S

Coinciding with Automate 2015 taking place in Chicago, two of the principal makers of collaborative robots have presented new models. Universal Robots is adding the UR3 to its UR family. And for its part, Rethink Robotics has launched the Sawyer, a 1-arm robot, heir of the Baxter from the same company.

Salients

  • The UR3 from Universal Robots:
    • is a 6-axis, collaborative tabletop robot featuring a payload of 3 kg and weighing only 11 kg (24.2 lbs). The robot allows for ±360° rotation on all wrist joints and infinite rotation on the end joint.
    • finds applications in gluing, painting, tightening screws, soldering, pick and place operations, laboratory work, fume hood tasks, and in operating hand tools.
    • will ship in the US from April 1, and will launch in Europe on April 13, at the 2015 edition of the Hannover Messe. It has also been unveiled in China.
    • sells for $23,000.
       
  • The Sawyer from Rethink Robotics:
    • is a single-armed, more compact and more accurate version of the collaborative robot Baxter. The actuator’s design and general shape are the biggest improvements in the redesign of the platform. The robot has a bigger payload and an enhanced repeatability capacity.
    • is targeted at machine tending, circuit board testing and material handling applications.
    • will initially be available in North America, Europe, China and Japan, to a limited degree over the summer of 2015. It will be more generally available later in the year.
    • sells for $29,000.
       

Insights

  • Extrinsic or Intrinsic Collaboration - The ISO 8373:2012 standard defines a collaborative robot as one which works in direct cooperation with humans within a defined workspace, in both industrial and non-industrial environments. For more than a decade now the majority of industrial robots have usedextrinsic safety mechanisms to ensure, for example, that the robot slows down or stops if a human being enters the shared workspace. As distinct from these, the new generation of collaborative robots have been specifically designed to work in cooperation with people and use safety mechanisms in their operations which are intrinsically safe. Although conventional industrial robots can be equipped with power and force sensors, the new generation of collaborative robots is characterised by “out of the box” power and force sensing allowing obstacle detecting and collision avoidance, and compliance with security regulations allowing operation without safety guarding alongside human operators.

  • Portable Robots - The new robots presented at Automate 2015 are examples of how manufacturers are introducing smaller and smaller robots into their range of products. In the world of collaborative robots, where robots and humans work shoulder to shoulder without safety barriers, smaller robots can fit more easily on work benches, and can operate in tighter spaces, even under fume-extraction canopies. They are also easier to manipulate, which facilitates a more fluid interaction between the human operator and the robot itself. However the fact of being smaller does not necessarily mean that they are cheaper. Their technological endowments are superior to those of bigger robots, which makes them dearer to buy, but they do extend the range of tasks that may now be automated in industrial manufacturing, and thus the size of the global market for industrial robotics. What’s more, the saving on safety barriers and the ease of programming of the new generation substantially reduce the installation costs. If industrial robotics has seen the evolution towards collaborative and mobile robots, then now, at a mere 11 kg (24.2 lbs), the UR3 is ushering in a whole new category: that of the portable robots.

  • The Strategy for Success of Universal Robots - The development strategy pursued over the last number of years by the Danish company Universal Robots is a real success story. The numbers confirm it: in its continuing expansion, with more than 2,000 robots sold last year, it has hopes of placing 4,000 units this year, and for this purpose has more than 250 distributors spread across 50 countries. With an expected turnover of $100 million in 2015, Universal Robots has consolidated its leadership in the emerging field of collaborative robotics. At the same time, its UR5 and UR10 robots offer a good ratio between profitability and affordability, with one of the shortest return on investment periods on the market, at an average of 195 days. But, even so, the era of collaborative robots is only starting. The UR robots are at the forefont of a market where there is, as yet, little competition, and which is, in any case, a very small part of the overall industrial robotics market. This market segment will however grow exponentially over the next years, since collaborative robots are bound to get cheaper and cheaper as they are used in more and more new applications across many industrial sectors. As time goes on the competition will become more diverse, with the appearance of start-ups promoting their devices, and the launch of new models of collaborative robots by the bigger players in the industrial robotics field, which have been slow enough to appear so far. We envisage that the market for collaborative robots could be worth $3 billion by 2020.

  • The UR3: a “Big” Little Brother - At first sight, the UR3 could seem like a smaller version of its big brothers, with whom it shares its external look, 6 axes, a repeatability of ±0.10 mm and a rotation de ±360° on its axes. In addition, the UR3 incorporates infinite rotation on its end joint, a characteristic which greatly widens the range of applications to which it might be put. The robot also has a new functionality for following the outline of a piece by means of touch, identifying the outline without having had to be previously programmed with all the points that compose the route its touch mechanism covers. Such lightness, versatility and ease of programming will be the common basic characteristics of the collaborative robots of the future, which will revolutionize manufacturing in the medium term.

  • Sawyer and the Future of Baxter - Rethink Robotics has made it known that it intends to use the Sawyer robot to supply new manufacturing markets, outside the United States. Lighter, more compact and with better payload and repeatability capabilities than its predecessor, the Baxter, the Sawyer could well end up replacing this latter robot, which didn’t quite match up to the expectations of success that were created by a powerful marketing campaign. With the Baxter, Rethink Robotics had bet on not comparing it with other robots according to the usual profitability parameters, such as its capacity for repeatability, and on creating its own quality parameters, in more conceptual terms, such as the improvement of the output of the robot by means of new versions of the software, the screen as an additional safety element, or the availability of an open platform for developers. Even with all that, sales of the Baxter are estimated at 1,000 units (since 2013), to universities and research institutions all over the world, and to companies in the United States. It remains to be seen if the Sawyer, with better functionality than the Baxter and at a price similar to that of the UR5, will be the key that opens the door to the international market for Rethink Robotics.

  • The Robot as a Swiss Army Knife - The new models of small, polyvalent collaborative robots offer such a varied range of applications that in many instances they could truly be called multi-purpose. Esben Oestergaard, founder and CTO  of Universal Robots, recently said that he and his colleagues were the first to be surprised when they found out some of the purposes to which their customers were putting their robots. If the makers guarantee the safety, versatility, precision and ease of use of their products, they will be turning their “robots” into “useful tools,” for which the creativity of the end-users will find all kinds of applications, beyond those described in the manufacturers’ catalogues. In this way the customers themselves will help to grow the robot manufacturers’ businesses.