Automate 2023: First Glimpse From the Show
It’s the first two days of Automate 2023, and the Control Automation team hit the streets to learn about the latest and greatest technology rocking the world of robotics and industrial automation!
The Control Automation and EETech team arrived in Detroit, Michigan, this week, ready to check out all of the newest technology: from IPCs to sensors, motion, robots…and Automate 2023 has not disappointed!
The largest automation trade show in North America boasts over 700 vendor companies and 25,000 visitors this year, one of the largest in history. Since this is the showcase for the most exciting, modern capabilities of control technology, every booth is packed with motion, lights, and sounds that draw attention to the technology that will be shaping the future!
The Control Automation editorial and engineering team was able to meet with a number of exciting companies in the first couple of days to learn and share some highlighted product updates and company news.
Mobile Industrial Robots, or MiR, is a pioneer of autonomous mobile platforms. These mobile platforms require very mature mapping and navigation software to transport heavy loads. particularly useful in warehousing and logistics applications, but quickly gaining footholds in medical industries (hospitals), retail (inventory), and even restaurants!
A recent development from MiR is the inclusion of AI processing for vision, using camera image processing to determine the location of objects and surrounding pallets, reducing the need for securely placed sensors and sensitive positional placement.
FANUC is well known around the world as a leader in industrial robots, and not just the yellow 5 and 6-axis arms but also its lineup of white and green CRX collaborative (cobot) models. These cobots are easier to program, simpler to integrate into existing systems, and consume a smaller footprint than traditional robots. This makes them a great choice for augmenting some manual processes.
FANUC, with its own line of vision capture and processing equipment, demonstrated a set of applications involving object tracking using only visual detection. Object position and velocity can be measured with multiple images, allowing the robot to precisely follow another object, such as mounting a tire on a moving hub (above) or painting an object moving along a conveyor.
Control system processors have come a long way since the 1960s with the development of early PLCs. Modern CPUs are capable of handling massive system control, but most computers simply aren’t durable enough to withstand the extreme conditions of manufacturing. Additionally, they don’t usually contain connectors or protocols that allow them to communicate with industrial controllers and I/O devices.
ASRock Industrial presented its lineup of industrial PCs (IPCs) with the necessary ports and protocols to adapt not only to industrial channel protocols, but serve as a gateway to allow both edge and cloud computing for advanced control applications.
Another leader in the field of robotics, KUKA, presented a unique solution to the challenge of allowing robotics and human workers to accomplish tasks side-by-side.
Usually, this process involves designing a special collaborative robot or adding hardware (such as an area scanning sensor) to slow or stop motion if a person gets too close.
KUKA’s solution is a bit different with the Airskin padded surface, currently designed for KUKA’s industrial robot line. These soft modular pads are magnetically attached to the robot surface with both pressure and temperature sensors to detect the light press of any person or object. I tried it out myself, and it was indeed a very soft touch required to activate the sensor and stop the robot.
In a trade show with a heavy emphasis on vision and camera systems, Cognex is one of the proven leaders. Cognex provides an extensive lineup of handheld and fixed scanning systems, with many recent advancements in edge image teaching and processing.
One of the highest-speed demos used the In-Sight 3800 to scan the labels and lids of a rotating table of small vials, each being checked for quality control and even the slightest defects being quickly identified on a screen.
Some companies specialize in a product line, championing the development of motors, or controllers, or sensors. However, as end users find themselves requiring interoperability and ‘turnkey’ style installations, it can be important to become a leader in multiple control product verticals.
Two of the product lines demonstrated by Beckhoff included the MX cabinetless system, which was discussed in a news article from Control Automation in 2022. This was my first chance to investigate the MX-System in person, with power supplies, IO modules, relays, contactors, and motor controls all integrated into a single backplane equipped with EtherCAT communication.
The other interesting innovation is the modular robotic system, Atro, allowing a completely customized robot to be assembled and programmed in mere minutes, allowing many configurations in number and type of end tools, number of arms attached to the base, and many other options. Ultimate robotic flexibility!
Keep An Eye Out For More!
There is, quite simply, too much technology to thoroughly learn in just one short week at a trade show. Some of the meetings over the next few days will introduce the Control Automation team to sensors, integrator/engineering firms, robot grippers, as well as more IPC and robotic manufacturers.
Stay tuned for more, and let us know if there’s a booth you really want us to check out!