Closed system function kits vs. open system cobot application kits – which is best for high-mix manufacturing?
Smart mechatronic systems help manufacturers automate and drive towards industry 4.0. Mechatronics are systems that combine mechanical and electrical components to solve a specific problem. Adding sensors, an operator-friendly controller platform, and communication interfaces give the systems the “smart” moniker.
Manufacturers can choose a closed systems approach, building automation systems using a single supplier’s platform. Or they can choose an open systems approach, leveraging an open platform and a robust ecosystem of suppliers providing best-in-class tools.
Robotic system manufacturers in both camps are working to make system specification and implementation easier.
In a June 2021 article in Design World magazine, Bosch Rexroth senior automation engineer Richard Hansen describes the first approach. He explains how to configure a single-task mechatronic system, such as Cartesian robot, pressing machine, or joining machine, using a “mechatronic function kit.” The emphasis is on making it easier to specify and purchase a closed system from a single, very large supplier.
Open systems using open platforms
Collaborative robots offer a more flexible and sustainable approach. In this world, the future is open source. All mechatronic subsystems connect seamlessly with other smart systems using “no-code” programing. Kits accelerate system configuration and implementation for specific tasks.
An example is the Universal Robots (UR) “application kit” concept for collaborative robots (cobots). Application kits are developed by UR partners. They seamlessly connect to the UR cobot using the URCap platform, an open software control platform.
Each application kit brings a set of specialized end effectors, sensors, and robot programs to accomplish a specific cobot task, such as metrology, welding, surface finishing, or screw driving.
The cobot approach adds a level of flexibility, in that the cobot can be quickly reconfigured for use with many different application kits as needed.
Cobot application kit for automated dimensional gaging
The Q-Span Workstation Kit is the first UR Application Kit to automate dimensional gaging. It automates part handling and gaging of critical dimensions on small parts. Each kit combines:
- A UR3e cobot with no-code operating systems and teach pendant.
- New Scale Robotics smart gripper/calipers, with URCap installed, to operate seamlessly on the teach pendant.
- Other gages that can be integrated into the workstation using the Q-Span System’s open-source gage interface.
A major difference between fixed mechatronics systems created from mechatronic function kits, and mechatronic systems created using a UR Application Kit, is flexibility.
The UR cobot can be deployed and redeployed throughout a factory to accomplish many different tasks depending on need. This is a key benefit in high-mix, small- batch manufacturing, where the product mix changes rapidly. It enables rapid return on investment as well as long-term sustainability in smart automation.