25 Jul 2024


‘New approach to automation’ uses robots to control cells

Rethink Robotics, the US company behind the Baxter and Sawyer collaborative robots, has developed a new software platform that, it says, can co-ordinate an entire work-cell from a single robot. A team of about 30 engineers has spent two years developing the Intera 5 platform, which reduces the need for conventional PLCs and for integration, allowing manufacturers to deploy automated work-cells in a matter of hours, rather than weeks.

Rethink says that Intera 5 is much more than the latest version of its software; it’s a new approach to automation that can control robots, orchestrate work-cells, and collect data. It adds that the technology will allow manufacturers to build connected work-cells, without disrupting production.

“We’ve created the world’s first smart robot that can orchestrate the entire work-cell, removing areas of friction and opening up new and affordable automation possibilities for manufacturers around the world,” says Rethink Robotics’ president and CEO, Scott Eckert. “Intera 5 is driving immediate value, while helping customers to work toward a smart factory, and providing a gateway to successful Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for the first time.

“By implementing our robots equipped with Intera 5,” he adds, “manufacturers will have unprecedented work-cell co-ordination, greatly reducing the need for complex, time-consuming and outdated automation options.”

Intera 5 supports:

♦  embedded vision, allowing robots to perform tasks in a similar way to humans, and reducing the need for expensive part-presentation fixtures as well as integration costs

♦  adaptive force-sensing, allowing users to set the amount of force required, or allowing a robot to feel and respond to a specific force and to make adaptive decisions while performing a task; and

♦  an intuitive tool for deploying automation simply and effectively, thus providing “a gateway to the factory of the future”.

The platform draws on a concept used by developers of video games, called a “behaviour tree”, which depicts tasks graphically, making it easier to understand what a robot is doing at each step in a sequence, and to examine and adjust every parameter.

Some of Rethink’s customers have already been using Intera 5 in a pilot programme.

For example, a US injection-moulding specialist called Tuthill Plastics is using a Sawyer robot with Intera 5 to improve production quality and efficiency. The robot, which operates 24 hours a day, five days a week, picks up parts from a conveyor belt and communicates with a CNC machine to place the part precisely into the machine, using Intera 5’s force-sensing capabilities. By applying a precise level of force when placing the part, quality and consistency have been improved, cutting length defects by 98%.

“Sawyer with Intera 5 is a major step forward in manufacturing automation,” says Tuthill’s president, Richard Curtain. “Part placement is extremely critical to our machining process. Sawyer is able to effectively ensure product quality and consistency, handle the variability of the production line, and automatically re-register to the environment in the event that any parts move.”

A German magnet manufacturer, MS Schramberg, is using the new technology to improve deployment times. It has six robots operating on three machines, one of which selects parts from a series of patterns and loads the part into the machine. A second robot removes the part from the machine and places it into a tray.

The company has found that, after less than a day of training, its engineers can deploy and train robots in just over an hour. They can configure complex logic tasks, minimising the need for human interaction, and freeing up employees for other tasks.

“We’ve cut our deployment times by hundreds of hours with Intera 5, and are able to easily deploy our Sawyer robots on an extremely complex task in just over an hour,” reports Schramberg’s general manager, Norman Wittke. “The ease and speed of deployment is extremely valuable for our company, and is helping make our manufacturing processes more efficient, while improving our ROI.”

From March of this year, Intera 5 will be available to download for all existing Sawyer robots, and will come as standard on all new robots.