Have you ever seen a hotel ballroom filled with robots, conveyors and engineers? We had the opportunity to experience it first hand earlier this week when Robotiq asked us to sponsor their second annual Robotiq User Conference in Quebec City.
The conference included a challenge where eight teams of 12 engineers used their robots, conveyors, grippers, and sensors to build "pumps." They had 24 hours to design their system, program the robots and crank out pumps.
Here are six things we learned from watching them work.
1. Sometimes you have to imitate a robot
The winning team was able to get ahead in the challenge by having humans go through the tasks their robots would perform (thankfully there was no dancing involved!). Imitating the robots helped them identify bottlenecks in their process before they even started their first program. They were then able to rethink their process to eliminate some of the bottlenecks without any wasted minutes coding tasks only to find they wouldn't work.
2. Sometimes you have to imitate a human
Human intuition is always superior to robot intuition (for now, at least). When one team had trouble getting the cover to seat consistently onto a perpendicular rod, they found that all it took was an engineer tapping the top to get it to drop into place each time. Instead of having someone sit there and tap each one into place, they programmed a simple tap into the robot's routine after it placed the cover.
Humans instinctively knew how to fix the problem, so it was a simple step to teach the robot to do exactly what they were doing.
3. Keep it simple
One of the rules of the challenge stated teams needed to "use their conveyors." The winning team stretched that rule a bit. They used their conveyors… as tables.
The team determined that the robot arms had enough reach to pass parts to each other, so they simply placed the parts down on the conveyor within reach of the next robot, then had that robot pick them up from the known location. It saved the extra complication of programming the move and then locating the parts on the conveyor belt after the move.
4. Robots make nice end stops
One team attached some of the extrusion from their work benches to the conveyors to form end stops that stopped the pump parts at a specific spot for the robot to pick up.
Another team had an even better idea. Rather than build an end stop, they had their robot be the end stop, placing the gripper just above the conveyor belt to stop the parts. The advantage was the gripper was then pre-positioned to make a quick pick-up and they didn't need to use the robot's camera, which saved time in locating the parts.
5. Robotiq's new Skills shave time off the programming process
At this week's RUC, Robotiq announced their new Skills product. These are essentially apps that can be loaded on a Universal Robot to save time programming common and repeated tasks. Skills cover tasks like spiral searches, picking parts with a camera and even moving a conveyor. Rather than programming these tasks from scratch each time, engineers will be able to load them, set a few variables and add them to their robot's program.
The engineers who used them during the challenge said they saved significant time over programming those routines from scratch.
6. There's no right way and there's no wrong way
Perhaps the most important thing we learned at the RUC was that even the simplest tasks can be completed a wide variety of ways. Of the eight teams competing, none approached the task of building their pumps in the same way; there were eight totally different concepts.
Some achieved better results than others, but they all produced pumps. If the way you're tackling a problem isn't working out, take a step back and look at it a different way. You may find a completely different approach that offers better results.
Check out our Facebook photo gallery from the event and watch some of the highlights below: