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Robotics as a Service Eliminates Barriers to Automation

Human brains excel at recognizing patterns, and some find it challenging to concentrate on repetitive details, leading to complexities in inspection tasks. Learn how using “robots-as-a-service” offers a solution in Season 2 of “Smart(er) Shop" on IMTS+.
Dec 05, 2023

A custom-engineered automation cell can be complex, costly, time-consuming, plus it is designed for a specific application and challenging to redeploy. As a result, many companies have hesitated to automate, but now “robotics-as-a-service” (RaaS) offers a game-changing solution.  

The IMTS+ Original Series “Smart(er) Shop,” brought to you by Autodesk, features Ryan Kelly, the general manager for AMT’s San Francisco Tech Lab, and Adam Allard, senior manager of technical environments at Autodesk Research, who oversees Autodesk Technology Centers in Toronto, San Francisco, and Boston. Its mission is to provide low cost, easy-to-deploy tech and ideas for small to medium-sized job shops. Season 2, Episode 3 features solutions such as those created by Rapid Robotics for customer Topcon Position Systems, a leading global manufacturer of positioning systems for construction and agricultural equipment. 

At Topcon’s manufacturing facility in Livermore, California, final inspections of an antenna were causing major snarls. Barcodes had to be placed with sub-millimeter precision. The company had explored traditional robots for inspection, but the capital expenses and deployment time were not attractive. Further, the antenna line was a lower volume item, so the desire to redeploy any automated solution was also an issue.  

Fortunately, Topcon engaged with Rapid Robotics, which is pioneering the RaaS business model and offers solutions especially suited for low-volume, high-mix manufacturing. 

The cell designed by Rapid Robotics featured a standard six-axis cobot arm and off-the-shelf components, including a vision system from Elementary used for inspection (Elementary cameras “program” using a no-code solution). Using additive manufacturing to create end-of-arm tooling and fixtures helped reduce deployment time to weeks. The best part: RaaS moved what is typically a six-figure capital expense cost to a smaller monthly operating expense, and the customer didn’t pay until the system was operational. The second-best part: 100% yield, zero returns and a very happy customer. 

After the Topcon plant visit, Kelly and Allard then explore how a “smart setup” tool enables rapid robot redeployment. By reading a fiducial (like a QR code), the robot understands its orientation to the part, so the entire cell can be redeployed in minutes.  

For those who hesitate or are contemplating automation for the first time, Kelly and Allard leave viewers with some essential advice: automate now (your competitors already are), use automation to attract the upcoming generation of workers, and don’t try to automate everything. Pick the appropriate application and go for the easy win. 

In addition to RaaS, Season 2 of “Smart(er) Shop,” brought to you by Autodesk, offers solutions for cybersecurity in Episode 1, Part 1 and Part 2, while Episode 2 explores the benefits of a connected shop. Watch all episodes at IMTS.com/SmarterShop. 

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Author
Ryan Kelly
General Manager, San Francisco Tech Lab
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