Two hands good, three hands better – especially if they are robotic

Universal Robots recently hosted Manufacturers’ Monthly at the Clayton offices of a local supplier. Brent Balinski spoke to the company’s Andrew Pether about the UR3 tabletop robot’s features.

Denmark’s Universal Robots’ most recent product aims to expand the automation options available to clients by getting small.

The company – currently in its 10th year in existence – unveiled its UR3 tabletop machine in March this year.

While its appearance has clear similarities to the two previous models, its reach (500mm), relatively low weight (11kg) and force-sensing limit (it can be set up to stop moving if a force as low as 50N is encountered in its route) are all noticeably smaller than previous offerings.

“Because it’s got such a small footprint it will fit onto a workbench,” Andrew Pether, Head of Regional Technical Support at UR APAC, told Manufacturers’ Monthly during a live demonstration this week.

“If it was a bit bigger it would be like an extra arm. This is really something for a small job you’d want to do with one hand.”

The company’s third robot, which it pitches as a “third hand” for workers, is described as an ideal solution for things like soldering, gluing and screwing jobs. It also has a payload of three kilograms, was released in the third month of the year, and was three years in its development.

Other changes from previous releases include a faster motherboard and infinite rotation in its end joints (at speeds up to 60rpm).

“On the rest of the joints on this robot, and all of the joints on the other models, we have a rotational range of minus 360 degrees to plus 360 degrees – essentially two full turns on any joint,” explained Pether.

“So it gives you a fair bit of flexibility, but by removing that limit on the final joint means we can do jobs such as screw things in for example.”

When we spoke to Pether, he was visiting Sensorplex – the company’s first partner in the local market – for training and certification of the Clayton company’s staff.

Since launching April last year, UR has expanded its number of local partners to three (also including Auto Control Systems and ADDE).

Demand within Australia has been creeping up, though elsewhere in the region it is more pronounced. Pether was one of the first two hires at the regional headquarters in Singapore, which opened in January. There are now three engineering staff on board as well as others and plans to hire more to keep up with brisk increases in business.

Local partners like Sensorplex are the frontline support, with the regional office handling more involved enquiries or requests for spare parts.

Pether would not discuss specifics regarding local applications and issues, but Australian clients include Boeing, who recently described “the continued introduction and application of light robotics in manufacturing to be critical.”

Competition within the local market for lightweight robots stiffened slightly last month with the Australian release of ABB’s YuMi robot.

Outside of Australia, the adoption by manufacturers of collaborative robots (a newly-recognised class which Universal arguably pioneered) is the feature of numerous articles. According to market research firm ABI, 1,781 units belonging to the category were sold in 2014, and this will rise to 40,036 in 2020.

For Universal, it has sold over 5,000 units, more than any other company, and is approaching “300 a month”, according to an interview with founder Dr Esben Østergaard in this magazine in August.

The simplicity of programming (line workers can learn how to show the robot a few tricks within a day) and affordability compared to earlier industrial robots are making collaborative robots like UR’s an appealing option for many SMEs.

Within Australia, the robust food and beverage sector is a big target for Universal, with its machines “smaller kinds of packaging of food”, said Pether.

“We can handle that very easily,” he suggested.

“And even on existing lines, with smaller footprint robots you don’t need to change the way you lay out the whole line. It’s very easy just to slot it into a spot. You don’t need to redesign the whole thing.”



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