If you want to turn a robot into an expensive coat rack, just add too much complexity too quickly. Frustrated employees will push your automated baby into a corner, and the negative experience can derail your automation journey for years. For automation success, remember two words: start simple. We saw simplicity as a big theme at IMTS 2022. First-time exhibitor Productive Robots emphasized “No Programming!” as a key selling point for its OB7 seven-axis cobot, a made-in-the-USA cobot for machine tending, welding, deburring, packaging, assembly, metrology, lab work, and other industrial tasks. Teach pendants for cobot programing intimidate a lot of users, especially those used to complex control. The OB7 addresses this issue via an intuitive control tablet with visual tiles and a drag and drop interface. To position the arm, the OB7 uses “touch-to-teach” technology, which is basically manipulating a cooperative octopus. Pushing a button on a grip at the end of the arm lets you move the arm into position with a little “power steering” assist from the robot motors. Pushing a second button performs an action, such as gripping a part with end-of-arm-tooling, while touching the tablet records a start point. Repeat similar steps to record an unload point, add a quantity, and you’re up and running. Touch-to-teach cobot technology is now proliferating across cobot welding solutions for small shops, the epitome of a high-mix, low-volume manufacturing sector that is chronically short of skilled labor. Welding cobots from Trumpf, Vectis Automation, and ESAB all feature the Universal Robots 10e arm and some variation of touch-to-teach MIG torch positioning. Touch-to-teach cobots are so easy to deploy that if they hit your loading dock in the morning, you can be welding parts by noon. The ESAB cobot may herald another trend: ditching the control pendant and managing the cobot with software app that runs on a standard iOS or Android smart phone or tablet. Creating a weld sequence is not much harder than creating a song playlist (which should start with Slaid Cleaves’ cover of “Welding Burns,” a great song that illustrates the benefit of using cobots to perform hot and dirty tasks, but I digress). Whatever you choose to automate, start with a simple part that requires simple motions. For some bizarre reason, people want to automate the hardest tasks first. It’s like taking up running and targeting the Boston Marathon for your first event instead of a 5k fun run. Pick an easy job. If you get a quick win to boost confidence, ideas for other applications will proliferate. Your employees will thank you — and we’ll touch on that more in the next story.
Get ready for a proliferation of “touch-to-teach” cobot technology that revolutionizes programming.