Networking is the common thread in the development of the Smart #1 SMT Factory. Since this also applies to the relationships between technology leaders, robot maker KUKA and ASM, a leading equipment supplier for the electronics manufacturing industry, are enhancing their cooperation. The result is a true win-win situation. While KUKA contributes knowledge and solutions from the robotics field, ASM supplies its extensive experience in the field of SMT manufacturing and coordinates the integration process. The ultimate beneficiaries are the electronics manufacturers.
KUKA considers robotics applications for electronics production to be a strategic growth area. One of the reasons is the fact that the loads being lifted are relatively light so that mobile robots can work next to the line operators without the need for special protective measures (collaborative robots, or cobots for short). Heinrich Munz of KUKA already stressed this aspect at last year’s Productronica show.
Where do we stand today and what is possible? The ASM’s person in charge of the cooperation with KUKA I would like to give you a short overview.
To realize a highly flexible and efficient production environment, operators in the Smart #1 SMT Factory must be able to focus on monitoring and control tasks. This means relieving your staff from routine operations and unnecessary trips, and this is precisely the point where robots can enter the picture. Both KUKA and ASM have identified material logistics as a primary target for their cooperation. One of the reasons is the fact that robotics can be implemented rapidly in this field as a result of parallel basic technological developments.
It is pushing the development of technologies that allow mobile robots to determine their position and take on high-precision handling tasks in changing locations. KUKA is also working on sensors and systems that enable robots to work directly beside humans without endangering them through their movements.
ASM is developing the next generation of SMT-specific materials management solutions that are not inventory-oriented but process-oriented and can use all electronics production systems (ERP systems, software, warehouse systems, placement machines, scanners, etc.) as a source or destination of information (schedules, inventory data, schedule changes, malfunctions, etc.). Such a solution would also be able to integrate the KUKA robots in order to receive information on pending tasks and/or send status messages to the materials management solution. With its SIPLACE Material Tower, for example, ASM offers a software-controlled component supply solution directly adjacent to the line that is fully integrated into the materials management solution.
At this time, the joint development projects of KUKA and ASM aim to collect practical materials management experience through studies and pilot projects. We have already run initial tests on SMT lines and in realistic process at ASM’s SMT Center of Competence in Munich. This video provides an initial look at early results.
For tasks like integrating the robots into the Material Manager software, traveling to defined positions in the factory (Material Tower, lines, etc.) and providing correct information on the withdrawal and return of component reels from/to the Material Tower, initial results have been very encouraging.
The progress that has already been made on both sides was readily apparent. Only a few years ago, such items would have required months of development and programming effort – today everything goes much faster, which is a positive signal with regard to the investment required for realizing the Smart #1 SMT Factory.
The tests also highlighted the potential for additional application scenarios. For example, an initial step could be a stationary or somewhat mobile robot near the SIPLACE Material Tower that handles only withdrawals and returns of component reels which are then picked up by humans or taken by automatic transport systems to the respective lines.
A test demonstrated that human operators get used to new robotic “coworkers” quite quickly, because the robot “accepts” the human as a superior and gives him or her the right of way at all times.
As the KUKA and ASM teams continue to work on such systems, I will keep you informed about the progress they make. For an overview of KUKA’s activities in the Industry 4.0 field, click here.