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Reconfigurable UK robot targets SME batch applications

05 March, 2020

A British start-up company is developing a modular collaborative robot (cobot) that can be adapted, by adding or removing extension modules, to handle a variety of payloads and reaches. Guildford-based Inovo Robotics is targeting, in particular, SME (small and medium size enterprise) manufacturers with limited production runs, which may need to reconfigure their robotic systems from one production run to another.

The modular design means that users can adapt the robot to suit an application simply by adding or removing extension modules in the arms. So, for example, by adding two expansion modules to an arm capable of handling 10kg payloads with a reach of 650mm, it can be extended to provide a reach of 1.3m, but with a smaller 3kg payload capacity. The number of axes can also be varied from two to 12 to suit the application, with six being used in a typical configuration.

The Inovo arm has a repeatability of ±0.25mm and a tool speed of up to 1m/s, depending on the configuration. The IP54-protected arm weighs around 24kg and has a 190mm-diameter footprint.

There are 15 safety functions built in and torque-sensing in the joints is used to detect any collisions. The robot uses an external controller with eight inputs and eight 2A, 24V outputs, as well as two inputs and outputs at the tool. Inovo is talking to a controls manufacturer about possibly adopting an EtherCat-based slice I/O design which would allow more I/O to be mounted on a rail.

Inovo has attracted £1.5m ($1.94m) of funding from the Williams Formula 1 team’s investment arm and £180,000 ($232,000) from Innovate UK. It is looking to raise a further £2-4m to take its system to market.

Innovo was founded by a pair of engineers, Jon Cheung and Henry Wood, who met when they were working together on a bomb disposal robot. They felt that there was a need for a type of robot that was not being met by existing robotic suppliers which were mainly targeting mass-production applications.

Inovo Robotics co-founder Henry Wood at the recent Southern Manufacturing exhibition in the UK where he was demonstrating the robot assembling rows of “dominoes” before knocking them over

“There’s a lack of good robots for batch applications that may only run a few weeks,” Wood explains. He believes that the potential market for robots tailored to handle these batch duties is “huge”.

As well as being reconfigurable, the Inovo robot has been designed to be easy to program (and reprogram) by non-experts using drag-and-drop software techniques.

At present, the robot is being trialled in a pilot installation at a logistics company whose operations and workloads change seasonally, requiring it to take on expensive agency staff from time to time. The reconfigurable cobot will allow it to use automation to adapt to its changing demands.

Inovo is hoping to launch its cobot commercially later this year. It is expected to cost less than £20,000 ($25,800). It will be competing with cobots such as Universal Robots’ UR5 model but, as Wood points out, adding a £1,000 extension tube with a quick-release coupling will give it a similar reach to Universal Robots’ UR10 arm.

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