In the development of assisting manufacturing companies in the Northwest, UCLAN and DigitME are continuing to develop and research a number of those areas that have been noted as important for advanced manufacturing. One of the highlighted technologies is the use of robotics.
Growing in manufacturing the world over, robots and robotic arms are becoming commonplace in large scale production lines, however as technology develops their entry into the SME market is also one of growing note.
At UCLAN Burnley the DigitME team have been working to advance the use of robotics in SMEs and allow a unit that has traditionally been put in place to repeat a task on a near continuous basis to become a tool that can perform variable tasks at speed, with accuracy and for long periods.
The start of this was to take the traditional method of pre-programming a robot at the outset of its working life and transform the process to a point where commands can be sent to the robot using that ever present medium we now know as the internet.
PC Based Robotic Control
Robots are traditionally maneuvered through the use of a teach pad or pendant. These positions are programmed in and the machine repeats this until the program is changed – often by robotic consultants and often at a high cost. The DigitME team have completed research to map coordinates in set 3d space and move the robot through these points through points which are sent from a PC and through the web. So how is this useful to manufacturing?
This process allows custom movement of the robotic arm to suit the product in production. It allows the invested machinery to produce a diverse number of products or produce specific 1 offs as requested by clients.
Once we have this ability to control the robotic arms through the web there is now a new dynamic to the use of the robots, custom remote operation.
Remote operation of robotic arms that are running custom programs is the product of being able to drive robots through PCs. When using robotics for machining or when using potentially hazardous materials the ability to relocate the human element can increase safety and reduce costs on a grand scale. The skills in place at UCLAN have now made this a possibility.
Using PC driven robotic arms combined with secure web technologies the DigitME team have successfully run on the fly tests to drive robots through custom programs from one UCLAN campus to another – a distance of almost 30 miles. This advantages of this remote operation are numerous, when combined with further advances in the field of kinematics – the movement of the robots those advantages can be multiplied near exponentially.
Forward kinematics is the ability to discover where the end effector – the tool of a robotic arm – is at the end of the movement. Knowing the angles of the joints of each axis allows the calculation of where the end is in the calculated space – a vital element that makes up the PC driven robots. The DigitME team are taking this concept and working in reverse with inverse kinematics.
Inverse kinematics is the calculation required for getting the end effector to a point when the joint angles are unknown – this process is one under exploration by the UCLAN team to allow robots to be sent automated scan paths and the ability to work on custom operations without human interaction.
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