In today’s manufacturing processes, cobots are an essential part of the workforce. Collaborating closely with humans in most industrial settings, cobots can be used to perform some of the monotonous jobs, freeing workers from tedious repetitive tasks and allowing them to concentrate on more complex tasks.
As a software consulting firm, Vertical AIT’s main focus is to help clients bridge the gap between the data the business needs to run smoothly and the tools, systems, and equipment that are needed. A client from the manufacturing industry recently approached Vertical AIT with a unique problem requiring a part assembly system.
The application involves picking and placing multiple small parts, including pins, connectors, screws, dowels and more, after correct part type and orientation have been verified. Achieving the correct orientation was crucial as it would allow for flexible feeding options and would reduce or eliminate the need for pre-sorting and part collection. Once orientation is correctly identified, the identified parts are then placed or assembled into sleeves, through holes, or assembled into other parts.
The company tried using temporary labor to carry out a manual process where workers had to orient thousands of parts requiring high dexterity and an unwavering focus. But this sometimes resulted in proper steps not being followed. The inspection time of 4-5 parts per minute was also not good for the bottom line.
The use of a cobot looked like a promising solution to save time and money. It could also eliminate the risk of accidents as the environment was potentially hazardous for workers with the likelihood of being burned during the process.
The challenge, however, was in identifying the location and orientation of small parts for robotic pickup. Vertical AIT proposed a Teledyne DALSA GEVA 400 vision system, with Sherlock software, as well as a Genie Nano 5 GigE camera. The application requires a high-resolution camera with superior image quality to ensure the greatest possible accuracy to locate parts as small as a few millimeters in diameter. As the UR5e cobot places the parts, the part identification and location process via the vision system continues so more parts are ready to be picked when the robot returns.
The GEVA solution offered integration with external equipment which allowed for simple synchronization and built-in communication protocols with the UR5e. The process begins by using the high-resolution Genie Nano camera (4112 x 2176 pixels with a 16 mm lens) to capture images of the parts tray. Parts feeding to the tray are controlled via a custom scripted process in Sherlock that analyzes the image received and then turns the feeder on or off with a digital output through the Teledyne USB board.
After a part is identified by Sherlock’s edge search algorithm, Vertical AIT is able to obtain precise measurements so parts are easily identified by size and shape to ensure only the correct parts are selected. The identified part’s location and orientation are transferred via Modbus TCP to the UR5e cobot for selection. When the cobot has completed the pick-up, it sets a Modbus value that the Sherlock script reads to know when to resume feeding parts. This process repeats until all parts have been processed.
Vertical AIT selected Sherlock because it offers the flexibility to seamlessly integrate with the GEVA 400. In addition, Sherlock offers built-in support for the external USB control board to. enable digital input and output to be easily synchronized with the camera’s operation and processing.
Properly gripping parts to ensure precise alignment was a critical piece of this project. The Teledyne DALSA vision system played a critical part in properly identifying the position and orientation of the parts; however, the gripping of the parts remained a challenge. To address the challenge of properly picking up parts Vertical AIT created patent-pending gripper fingers that allow for part pick-up that also aligns the part for precise placement without the need for repositioning parts between pick-up and placement.
“The combination of the high-resolution Genie Nano and our newly designed patent-pending gripper fingers enable us to meet critical dimension standards for precise part selection that is pushing the limits of cobot capabilities,” said Allen Biehle, Co-founder and CEO of Vertical AIT, LLC. “Teledyne DALSA’s high level of support during the integration process ensured we have the right solution and support necessary to get the project completed quickly and accurately,” he continued.
For Vertical AIT’s client, the solution proved to be efficient and effective and the overall system setup is estimated to have an ROI of about 3,000 operating hours, while freeing employees for more important activities.