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Are hybrid mobile robots the future of flexible production?

21 October, 2019

At the recent PPMA Total Show in Birmingham, UK, Omron demonstrated its vision of the future of manufacturing in which hybrid robots consisting of a cobots (collaborative robots) mounted on mobile, wheeled platforms move autonomously between production workcells, performing tasks such as machine tending, assembly, packing and palletising, automated pick and retrieval, as well as gluing and sealing.

Omron calls its hybrid device the Mobile Manipulator – or MoMa – and is hailing it as a new breed of robot with all the benefits and none of the limitations of existing collaborative and mobile robots. The robot, which incorporates machine vision, is designed to combine handling flexibility with mobility. When used as part of an integrated production line, it can be redeployed automatically to perform a variety of tasks as required.

Although manufacturers have been using robots on assembly lines for years, Omron argues that their use has been limited by their physical restrictions. And while cobots can remove the physical barriers of traditional robots and work safely alongside humans, they cannot move independently between different production cells.

“Today, collaborative and mobile robots can add value to a manufacturing process, but they both have restrictions,” explains Dan Rossek, Omron’s regional marketing manager for the UK. “This is problematic at a time of increasing personalisation and greater demand for customised products.

“Across the pharmaceutical, electronics, food and beverage industries,” he adds, “customer specifications are growing more demanding with short lead times. Manufacturers are under consistent pressure to make their production lines more agile and adaptable.

Omron’s MoMa autonomous robot consists of a mobile, wheeled base, a dexterous cobot arm, and an integrated vision system.

“Industrial robotics has so much untapped potential,” Rossek continues. “What’s holding it back is a lack of connectivity and flexibility. Manufacturers today may have production cells with robots performing their own individual tasks, but lack a way to easily connect different steps in the process.’

He believes that MoMa “offers a fresh way to sidestep this issue. It is able to handle tasks that have been challenging to automate in the past, and connect various steps in a production process into one. It’s all about creating a fully autonomous production line that’s agile and can adapt to any sudden change in the market, with robots working alongside people.”

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