23 Jul 2024


Motor modules create multi-axis robots of almost any shape

Beckhoff’s Atro modules can be used to create almost any type of robot

At the Automatica exhibition in Germany, the automation specialist Beckhoff has unveiled a new concept for creating robots of almost any type – from simple single-axis rotary indexing tables to multi-axis articulated arms – simply by connecting a series of motor modules that serve as active joints.

Each module in the Atro (Automation Technology for Robots) system forms a complete drive system for one robot axis. The only external components needed are a power supply and a controller, sthus aving considerable space.

Media such as data, power and fluids are fed internally through the modules, allowing all axes to rotate endlessly.

The modules are available as I-shaped straight modules, or L-shaped angled modules, and come in five power ratings. In addition to the active modules, there are drive-less connection modules including:
• base modules that incorporate media feeds;
• link modules in I, L and Y shapes for implementing a variety of robot configurations; and
• system modules that can add functions such as vision systems.

The modules are interconnected via a standardised interface that guarantees rigid connections and also houses the media that transmit data and power, and carry fluids such as compressed air, vacuum or water. Most conventional robot systems route these media externally and are thus limited in their rotation and their use of the workspace.

Beckhoff claims that its design eliminates these limitations, allowing each axis to rotate endlessly. It adds that this approach will allow better Cartesian accessibility and short positioning paths. The design also avoids interfering contours caused, for example, by external cables, and – especially in the case of cobots – interfering torques. Beckhoff says that almost any robotic tools, such as sophisticated gripper systems, can be integrated easily.

Commissioning and handling are said to be easy, because the assembled robots are integrated with Beckhoff’s PC-based control technology and TwinCat automation software. This reduces the number of controllers needed to a single industrial PC, even for multi-robot installations.

The TwinCat software can be used, for example, to process images for sophisticated applications such as bin picking, to improve motion performance through machine learning, or to integrate installations with the cloud for analysis and maintenance. The use of open interfaces and universal standards enables plug-and-play configuration of the created robots, as well as simplifying their engineering.

The variety of functions performed in a single controller cuts hardware costs and also helps to synchronise components and to reduce data communications delays. The assembled robots can be combined with Beckhoff’s production transport systems such as XTS and XPlanar.

Communications, functional safety and applications can be created with little effort. This not only allows powerful systems with high outputs to be set up, but also shrinks machine footprints.

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