staubliSmart production in combination with HRC (Human-Robot Collaboration) and mobile robotics offers new scope for substituting rigid production concepts with intelligent, highly flexible processes. This enables manufacturers to manage production as it is forced to adapt to increased variation. In the future, users will be able to produce more economically, flexibly and efficiently than ever before.

It is, however, a prerequisite for the implementation of innovative production strategies that robot manufacturers respond in timely fashion to the demands of industry and resolutely pursue developments in the field of collaborative robots and mobile platforms. In recent years, Stäubli Robotics has been systematically working on the implementation of pioneering Industry 4.0-compatible solutions.

An outstanding example of Stäubli R&D in this area is the HelMo mobile robotic system, which enables companies from a variety of industries to realize a whole raft of applications – including HRC operations – more efficiently and economically than ever before. This mobile robot is already making a decisive contribution to the replacement of existing, relatively rigid production structures and to the facilitation of new ultra-flexible concepts.

Yet another plus point: HelMo is itself so versatile that, as a universal production assistant, it can perform a wide range of tasks under almost any environmental conditions. The only prerequisites for this are workstations that are adapted for HelMo use and that have the necessary calibration points for the self-adjusting system.

The mobile robot can take on an assortment of different tasks within a single shift. It independently approaches the individual workstations and, after a brief calibration, carries out its assigned task with an accuracy in the tenth-of-a-millimeter range. Able to perform all manner of duties – intralogistics, assembly, machine loading, cell linking, quality assurance – in an autonomous high-speed capacity or in a collaborative role alongside human employees, HelMo is a highly talented all-rounder. 

Versatility as the key consideration

In designing the mobile robot to be suitable for such a broad range of tasks, the versatility factor was a key consideration. In order to achieve the best possible outcome, the two defining features of HelMo – robot AND mobile platform – had to be made as adaptable as possible.
HelMo is also equipped with an automatic tool changing system from Stäubli Connectors, which enables the robot to select and fit the end effector required.

For the handling component, Stäubli decided on a standard TX2-90L robot with a payload of 15 kilos and a reach of 1,200 millimeters. This machine is equipped with numerous safety features for human-robot collaboration, but it can be deployed equally effectively as a conventional robot. For operations involving direct man-machine interaction, the robot has to comply with the very stringent safety regulations laid down for HRC scenarios. However, this requires only minor adjustments.

The most obvious modification is the optional Air-Skin cladding on the six-axis TX2touch 90L, which makes this version a fully compliant “cobot”, i.e. collaborative robot. Touch-sensitive Air-Skin, which complies with safety category 3 PLe, brings the robot to an immediate halt in the event of a collision. The response time of Air-Skin is just 10 milliseconds, 40 percent faster than safety sensors with a response time of 80 milliseconds. Unlike most lightweight robots, the stop function is PLe compliant. This level of specification makes the standard six-axis machine the world’s fastest and most versatile Safebot.


An AGV of the premium class

Just as important for the overall performance of the mobile robot is the second of the two main components, the AGV (Automated Guided Vehicle). To avoid dependence on standard platforms from external suppliers, Stäubli decided to acquire WFT, a renowned AGV manufacturer. As a result of this merger, the company is able to develop bespoke solutions in house; indeed, Stäubli is the only manufacturer in the world to combine the core competencies of robotics and AGV.

The benefits of this strategy are evident in the HelMo platform, which has three integrated laser scanners and is regarded as setting the benchmark in terms of maneuverability and precision. By virtue of its patented, technologically superior drive technology, HelMo can cope with different floor coverings, does not become disorientated when it encounters surface irregularities and is accurate to within a few millimeters. Moreover, it is unparalleled in terms of maneuverability, can rotate on the spot and is of such compact girth that it does not cause problems in even the most constricted production facilities. HelMo can maneuver autonomously and navigate within its production environment.

Machine loading is a prime example of the extent to which the mobile robot can replace obsolete production scenarios. Whereas forklifts, manual tool and workpiece handling, conveyor systems and fixed automation solutions were still used in the recent past, HelMo is now able to manage the entire task spectrum. It can network production, fetch tools from a magazine, bring them to the machine, manage the loading and unloading of machine tools and connect up the process as appropriate.

In the next step, multiple mobile robots can serve complete production lines by communicating with each other as well as with a higher-level ERP system. HelMo will enable users to achieve smart production in future Industry 4.0 environments, with a significant gain in autonomy, flexibility and productivity.

Text: Ralf Högel

Foto: Staubli