MAJAtronic – a manufacturer of kinematic systems for platform-agnostic delta and DuoPod robots – has added articulated arm systems to its portfolio. Machine builders can now seamlessly integrate functions such as loading and palletizing into their preferred machine control system. A 6-axis articulated arm demo robot from MAJAtronic shows how this can be done particularly fast and easily with B&R controllers thanks to mapp Technology.
When machine builders need a delta or articulated arm robot for a new machine or plant, their first instinct is to turn to one of the big names in the robotics industry. They offer a large selection of universally applicable industrial robots, specialty solutions (such as for welding, gluing or dosing applications), dedicated robot controllers and accessories. Usually, there is no way to order the robot mechanics separately from the robot controller.
More and more machine and plant builders, however, do not want to buy mechanics and controllers in a bundle – and are looking for alternatives. The reason is simple: Having separate controllers for robotics and machine control adds time and cost throughout engineering, commissioning and maintenance, as well as spare parts storage. In addition, latency times at the interface between robot and machine controller can make it more difficult to synchronize robot movements with machine processes, such as the movement of a conveyor belt.
Suppliers like MAJAtronic are stepping up to fill this gap in the market. A subsidiary of MAJA, a German manufacturer of machinery for the food industry, the company has developed a portfolio of around 150 different delta and DuoPod systems since it entered the market in 2010. These feature working areas ranging from 20 to 200 centimeters and handle nominal payloads from 0.5 to 350 kilograms – including a delta robot with a 50-kilogram payload capacity. The special feature of all MAJAtronic robots: The robust robot mechanics are offered without a controller, drive or other accessories under the brand name Autonox24.
To make it as easy as possible for their customers to integrate "Made in Germany" robot mechanics into their machines and systems, MAJAtronic works closely with control suppliers like B&R with years of experience delivering controllers with the necessary performance. The robot manufacturer recommends motors for each controller. That way, users don't have to lay out the motors themselves or can start with a tested combination and make optimizations from there.
This offer has already gained traction amongst quality-conscious machine builders, as MAJAtronic managing partner Hartmut Ilch proudly reports: "Today, more than 700 of our robots are at work in our customers' machines." A large portion of these are packaging machines used in the food industry.
That's where Autonox24 has its beginnings. The first robot developed by MAJAtronic on behalf of its parent company was a delta robot with a hygienic design. "It soon became apparent, however, that machine builders were enthusiastic about our controller-agnostic concept and also wanted robots for packaging and sorting in environments that did not require hygienic design," says Ilch.
In recent years, there have been increasing calls for the company to expand its controller-agnostic concept to include articulated arm robots. The aim was also to be able to incorporate operations such as palletizing into the machine control framework. MAJAtronic took these requests to heart, and – with the support of four well-known pilot customers who had previously used robots with separate robot controllers – tackled the development of 6-axis articulated-arm robots.
The first two members of the resulting "articc" family are a 6-axis robot with a 20-kilogram payload and a 4-meter working area, as well as a smaller version with an 8-kilogram payload and 2-meter working area.
B&R has been on board with these new developments right from the start. Waldemar Salzsehler, application engineer at B&R's technical office in Heilbronn, Germany, programmed an endurance test for the first prototype of the 20-kilogram robot and an exhibition demo for MAJAtronic, with the help of B&R's Automation Studio engineering environment. The core of the robotics application was implemented using mapp Robotics, part of B&R's modular mapp Technology software framework. The mapp Robotics library comprises modular function blocks and data structures for robotics programming as well as predefined kinematic models. These contain all the information required for reverse transformation.
To create new kinematic systems, the B&R Scene Viewer tool provided in Automation Studio can be used to generate a model from the CAD data of the robot mechanics, including the transformation parameters. Users can perform virtual commissioning using this model in advance – observing and recording the movements of the robot – without any actual robot mechanics.
mapp Robotics provides many of the core functions needed for a robotics application – such as starting the program, executing a linear movement, switching on all the controllers or homing the axes. Users without any special robotics know-how are able to implement these functions without having to program them from scratch.
Corresponding mapp components are also available for most other elements of a (robotics) control application, such as user management, alarm handling, a state machine or HMI application – the overall programming effort is substantially lower than with a conventional approach to programming.
Building on this foundation, the B&R application engineer began by modeling the kinematic system, creating the basic control and HMI applications and putting the robot into virtual operation – all in just under a week.
Once the prototype was ready at MAJAtronic – featuring the MAJAtronic robot mechanics and a B&R controller like the one used in one of the pilot customer's machines – the second step was to perform the actual commissioning of the robot. "The robot was up and running in only four hours. It was absolutely amazing," says Ilch. "We were immediately impressed by the short commissioning time and the quality of the path control. B&R clearly occupies a leading position among control manufacturers."
Including the NC programming of an endurance test, in which all positions are traversed and all axes are moved at maximum speed and acceleration, Salzehler spent a total of only three days doing on-site commissioning. He was able to reuse the modular solution he created to implement the 6-axis demo robot in only one day. The modular structure of mapp Technology makes it easy to expand the application as required and integrate things like conveyor belts or other machine components on the same control platform.
"Such tight integration of robots and machine components offers the ideal foundation for implementing Industry 4.0 concepts. It also has a positive effect on the performance of the entire machine," explains Ilch. "In a benchmark demonstration, we were able to show that users can increase the performance of an existing system by a good 50% with our concept." As a result, both the standard control manufacturer and the standard robot manufacturer were no longer involved. "Because of the impressive advantages of a controller-agnostic robot, we're going to be seeing this approach from more and more machine and plant builders," says the MAJAtronic manager, optimistic about the future.
Co-founder and Managing Partner, MAJAtronic GmbH
"Our new articulated arm robot was up and running in only four hours. It was absolutely amazing. B&R clearly occupies a leading position among control manufacturers."