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Monday, April 21, 2014

Automate 2013: Universal Robots Introduces Low-Cost, Quiet Robotic Arm

Kristian and UR-10 small

Universal Robots Area Sales Manager Kristian Hulgard and the UR-10 at Automate 2013.

Anyone who hears the word “robot” and thinks of cheesy sci-fi buckets rolling around or flailing hooks would have been in for a big surprise at Automate 2013 at McCormick Place in Chicago. Time after time, the robots I was able to see in action were designed for efficient machining, materials handling and supply chain tasks as well as a “softer” approach to human-robot interaction. These robots featured safety controls and interactive, collaborative characteristics that made them easier to use, program and work with.

Case in point was Universal Robots‘ newest offering, the UR-10, the bigger, stronger cousin of the company’s previous UR-5 robot. The UR-10 robot, named after the 10-kg (22 lb) payload the unit can bear, is a 6-axis robot arm with a radius of 1,300 mm (51.2 in). The low-cost, quiet robot arm weighs 29.9 kg (63.7 lb) and can operate its joints at speeds up to 120/180 deg/s for and its tool at 1 m/s (39.4 in/s).

I met the UR-10 and had the chance to see it in action. Universal Robots Area Sales Manager Kristian Hulgard walked me through a programming session in about three minutes. An operator can program movements using a mounted tablet that relies on a 12-in polyscope graphic interface touchscreen, or the user can dismount the screen, hold a button, and move the robot’s arm as desired.

Universal Robots

The UR-10 in a production setting. Source: Universal Robots

Seeing Hulgard manipulate the UR-10 was one thing, but what happens when the robot is released into the real world? Hulgard explained that Universal Robots’ distributors provide training sessions to customers around the world. After a one-day session, any employee on the line can program the UR-10 to perform any function they need. To become a true expert operator on the unit, users get an extra three days of training by distributors.

The fast training time with the UR-10 is one characteristic that makes it easier to implement into a production line. The collaborative aspect heightens this element. The robot is compliant with European ISO standard 10218 governing industrial robot safety requirements, meaning it is safe to work side-by-side with human employees. Hulgard himself demonstrated this to me: after programming the robot arm to swing wide, he stood directly in its path. When the arm hit him, he stepped back no worse for wear and the arm halted in mid-air.

Further, I asked Hulgard about some of his language choices, as when he said he “met” the robot, or when he referred to the UR-10 and its UR-5 sibling as “he” or “him.” He explained that growing familiar with the robot personalized the experience and the collaborative and safety features of the UR-10 helped him, and many of Universal Robots’ customers, grow more comfortable working alongside the machines. The comfort zone helps managers introduce the UR-10 into their plants and realize cost savings in approximately six months.

Universal Robots began distributing its equipment in the United States in September last year, debuting at IMTS, in this same convention venue. You can the company’s products in action here on its YouTube page.

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