Spring is the time for showers, flowers, and open house tours.
When April rolls around, technology developers and service providers open their doors to supply chain partners, customers, and even employees. It's a cost-effective way to reach out and share knowledge about what's happening in the marketplace and what's coming down the pike in terms of new products or services.
It's also the time of year for me to hit the road. I'm kind of like the weird uncle you have to invite. He makes most people uncomfortable, but if he's not there, then grandma is really going to be mad. Yes, most people feel obligated to invite the industry press.
I don't mind being the weird uncle. It allows me to see some of the new technology hitting that has the potential to help out the metal fabricating community.
So that's how I ended up at the ABB Robotics Technology Days in Auburn Hills, Mich., on Wednesday. The three-day event enabled sales representatives and customers to take in training seminars and see the latest product introductions, such as the company's new IRB 4600 robot and the FlexWasher cell, designed to deburr parts without the use of detergents.
I saw a lot of robotic applications, which makes sense considering I was visiting a robotics company, but it actually was a couple of the nonrobotic developments that really caught my eye.
First was my introduction to the Dynamic Drive Chain (DDC) technology for mechanical stamping presses. ABB's engineers in the press automation business unit finally realized that there was only so much it could do to quicken the delivery of blanks and removal of parts from a press. Many times the robots were at the mercy of the press's pacing. As a result, ABB research engineers started looking at the press.
Their first thought was to look at the latest servo technology, which basically replaces the need for a clutch and a brake in a mechanical press. The thinking later evolved into servo technology that could increase strokes per minutes, but still utilize the press's mechanical attributes.
Once an upgrade has been made to a mechanical press, the servomotor controls and quickens the descent and ascent of the ram. Mechanical braking is not needed, and the clutch is not used to bring the press up to speed prior to forming. The traditional flywheel of the mechanical press is relied upon to provide peak power during the metal forming cycle.
The technology is currently used by Gestamp in Spain and holds promise for those metal formers looking to squeeze more production efficiency out of their big jobs.
The second item that caught my interest was SafeMove, an electronics-based safety technology that gives manufacturers the chance to program safe zones to ensure that the robot stays out of them. The zones can be programmed offline, can have complex shapes, and can be adapted to specific installations.
For example, if an observer wants to get closer to a robot, he might enter a secondary zone, which slows the robot without stopping it. If the same observer gets too close, the robot stops. During the demo, all of these types of movements were tracked with a camera attached to the ceiling above the robotic workcell.
The wheels of research and development keep turning. It keeps manufacturing exciting and gives this weird uncle a chance to make some new friends.