For the first time, KUKA Systems’ LBR iiwa “Knight” mobile concept robots are being put into production. Siemens AG is employing the systems in mobile robot cells at its Bad Neustadt electric motors manufacturing facility.
- High Precision Manufacturing – The LBR iiwa systems will be used for high precision material handling and inspection work. Specifically, they will be employed for a five step CNC machining process working closely with humans to 1) load blanks, 2) removing them from the CNC machines, 3) cleaning the pieces, 4) inspecting the pieces, and 5) placing the pieces into the appropriate containers for further work.
- Sensitive Automation – The LBR iiwa was engineered as a standard solution for what Kuka describes as “sensitive robotic assembly”, including the ability to work cooperatively with humans (human robot co-operation or HRC). A number of force and torque sensors are incorporated into the LBR iiwa eliminating the need for external sensing systems. The internal sensing systems, coupled with the highly flexible, lightweight arm, allows the LBR iiwa to perform tasks that formally could only be accomplished by humans.
- Spontaneous Automation – According to Kuka, the LBR iiwa systems were designed to support “Spontaneous Automation”. Unlike traditional fixed robotic systems, the LBR iiwa is highly flexible, and can easily be moved and reprogrammed to take on a wide range of tasks including acting as a helpmate to human co-workers.
- New Co-Worker – Kuka formally launched the LBR iiwa at the Hanover Fair in October 2013. Described as an “intelligent industrial work assistant”, the 7 axis LBR iiwa was purposely engineered to be human scale and to mimic the movement of the human arm. The arm itself is softly rounded and sports a buffed, light grey finish. The LBR iiwa is also lightweight, thus easily moved, and the whole system exhibits a relatively small profile overall. These attributes are by design. Kuka’s strategy is for the system to be highly mobile and appear non-threatening so as to be in keeping with the LBR iiwa’s role as a co-worker and helpmate. More importantly, the LBR platforms are made to be quickly, easily and flexibly repurposed, providing an automation workcell and a helping hand as need dictates, and supporting the strategic goals of Agile Manufacturing in the process.
- Sensitive, Flexible Yet Strong – While the LBR iiwa is lightweight, it is not a lightweight system. The motors and drives systems are industrial class (strong, precise), and the chassis ruggedly constructed. The LBR iiwa systems also have torque sensors in each of its seven axes, making them inherently safe, as well as suitable for applications requiring tactile feedback.
- New Applications – Integrated tactile sensing allows for the development of applications requiring high precision and advanced force control functionality, without requiring expensive, inflexible fixed automation or overly complex programming. “Hard” programming is replaced with decision making based on real-time sensory input, making the applications more intelligent and allowing them to approximate the actions of humans (high degree of fine manipulation and dexterity). For existing tasks, such capabilities provide the tactical benefits of cost reduction and improved quality. But more importantly, tactile sensing and precise force control open the door to a much greater range of robotic applications, and in this way the LBR ii systems are a strategic investment.
- Partnership and Machining – The LBR ii installations at Siemens’ Bad Neustadt manufacturing facility is the result of a partnership announced in September 2013. The agreement calls for the companies to work together to develop integrated solutions leveraging the strength of KUKA in robotics and Siemens industrial machining. Initially the robots will be used for machine loading operations, but eventually they will provide additional CNC functionality, including the ability of the robot to machine workpieces themselves. The companies believe that over time the fruits of their work will reduce the discontinuities in the process workflow for machining. Under the agreement, joint solutions will be developed and made available to the global market.
- New Manufacturing Era – According to Siemens and KUKA, this linkage between robotics and classic automation will continue to evolve to more fully support the tenants of Industry 4.0, a German government initiative designed to bolster the country’s industrial sector. Industry 4.0 emphasizes the integration of information technology (IT) with machines and processes on the factory floor (Cyber Physical Systems). In this way, Industry 4.0 is similar to the approach taken by the Smart Manufacturing Coalition in the United States. The overall goal of both initiatives is the development of a new manufacturing era characterized by software-optimized, highly flexible manufacturing processes that can rapidly respond and react to changing customer demands.
Kuka Systems – Website
LBR iiwa World Premiere (Kuka Systems) – Press Release
Siemens and KUKA Announce Cooperation (Siemens) – Press Release
Siemens and KUKA announce cooperation in CNC Solutions (Siemens/Kuka) – Video
Industry 4.0 – Website
Smart Manufacturing Coalition – Website