‘Cobot’ showcase introduces Ramco clients to collaborative robotics

It is not so surprising to see the descendant of iRobot’s Roomba roaming the floor of a collaborative robotics showcase. Yet the Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle (AIV) – and the seven other fixed, collaborative and mobile robots showcased by Omron on April 4 – show how far industrial robots are coming on the facility grounds.

“[The Roomba] wasn’t preloaded” to understand the boundaries of the room it was working in, Omron regional manager Michael Frommelt said. “This [AIV], you can preload and then configure. So the software will give you a map and you can go, ‘okay, in that hallway, I want you to stay to the right so that pedestrians can go up and down on the left hand side.’”

That sounds like a small adjustment, but in an industrial setting where humans and robots work to operate as efficiently as clockwork, the humans are seeking much more path control than an early Roomba ever gave.

Omron has acquired five companies over the past four years as it builds up its robotics division. Based in Japan, it is distributed by Ramco Innovations in Iowa and Nebraska.

“What’s really exciting is that we have developed a portfolio of products that can be tied into a complete solution,” Frommelt added. “We’re not just robotics, we’re not just controls, we’re not just motion or vision. All of these products converge together into one software suite.”

Omron’s showcase last week highlighted the mobile, fixed and collaborative robotics working their way into industrial facility floors over the last few years. Ramco Innovation’s open house was the first showcase by the company for clients, Ramco CEO Hank Norem said.

“It’s a really hot topic for the industry right now,” Norem said. “Collaborative robots are still gaining acceptance. Robotics aren’t intended to displace workers directly. Most of the robotics are intended to bring automation into an unsafe environment, in a highly repetitive environment .. to gain speed, accuracy and volume.”

Across the room, an Omron representative showed visitors how to program the six-axis ‘cobot’ arm, sitting on a mobile cart, to follow a task map. Only two of the six robot units on display, both fixed robots, are enclosed in safety cages.

“It is designed to comply with .. a collaborative safety code, to be able to work in the proximity of or in conjunction with a person without safeguards,” Frommelt said.

That means when a cobot bumps into its human colleague, it shuts down, said Joe Stoltz, business development manager for Omron.

“The other nice thing with the cobots is you can put them on a cart, roll them up to do one job, and then you roll them up to do a different job,” Stoltz said. “The cobots are fairly low-speed, like you would think of how a person would do something.”

“We give you the mobility part, and then you as an [original equipment manufacturer] come up with what you want to do with it,” he added.