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The basics of robotic motion

Robotic motions rely on electrical, pneumatic or hydraulic power, and digitl controllers.
here are all types of industrial robots, and most can be broken down into a handful of basic components. One of the most basic are the drives and the controls. The drive provides power and can be electric, hydraulic, or pneumatic, while the controller determines how that power is used to move arms and actuators which carry effectors or tools to the workpiece.
Lets step through the basics, taking a look first at controllers. Level II: Path Control: At this level, separate movements along the planes (determined in Level I) are combined into desired trajectories or paths. Level III: Main Control: At this level, written instructions from a human programmer defining the tasks required are interpreted and reconstructed so that Level II controllers can understand them. In other words, the instructions are combined with various sensory signals and translated into the more elementary instructions that Level II can understand and carry out. Robots can be further classified in a number of ways, depending on their size, tasks, industry, and use. For engineers and designers, robots are usually broken down into three classifications: types of control, types of drives, and the shape of the work envelope.

Controller coordinates all the movements of the robots mechanical actuators. They also receive input from the immediate environment through various sensors. Machine vision, for example, gives robots eyes to see objects, patterns, and whether an object is properly orientated for the next step in assembly. These days, controllers all contain a digital microprocessor linked to inputs and outputs, including monitoring devices. Commands issued by controllers activate motioncontrol devices consisting of various sub-controllers, amplifiers, and actuators. Actuator are motors or valves that converts power into movement of the robot. Movements are initiated by a series of instructions or program stored in the controllers memory. Controllers usually have three levels of hierarchical control. In a hierarchical-control scheme, levels of organization are assigned to various sub-controllers. Each level sends control signals to the level below while getting feedback and instructions from the level above. Levels become more elemental as they moves toward the actuator. T h e c om m on t h re e c ont rol l e ve l s are : Level I: Actuator Control: Heres where separate movements of the robot along various planes, such as the X, Y, and Z axes, are generated.

Type of control
Robots traditionally use one of two control systems: non-servo and servo. The earliest robots were non-servo, which are considered non-intelligent robots. Servo robots, however, are classified as either intelligent or highly intelligent, with the main difference between intelligent and highly intelligent robots being the level of awareness its sensors give it. Non-Servo robots, the simplest robots, are often referred to as limited sequence, pick-and-place, or fixed-stop robots. They operate in open-loop systems where there is no feedback that lets the ro-

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bot compare programmed (desired) positions to actual positions. A good example of an open-loop system is the operating cycle of a car-wash machine. At the beginning of the operation, the car is hooked up to a chain that moves the car through a tunnel of hoses, cleaning brushes, and soap spreaders. The machine stops when the car pops out the other end of the tunnel. Such a car wash is considered an open-loop system for two reasons: Neither cars or anything else is ever examined by sensors during the washing cycle to see if they are clean. In other words, there is no feedback. And cycle length is preset. It is not adjusted to compensate for the amount of dirt remaining on the car or exactly how large a car is going through the washer. The cycle and all it attributes are predetermined. Non-servo robots have limited number of movements, usually established by a mechanical stop. These types of robots do well at repetitive tasks, such as material transfer. In general, non-servo robots are: Relatively inexpensive compared to servo robots. Simple to understand, program, operate, and maintain. Precise and reliable. Capable of fairly high speeds of operation. Limited to relatively simple programs. Servo Robots use feedback so they are considered closed-loop devices. In closed-loop devices, feedback sent to the servo amplifier affects the output. Servo amps transA SCARA (selective compliant late signals from articulated robot arm), such as this controllers into electrically-driven one from Epson, motor voltages and uses a parallel-axis joint layout, making it slightly compliant in the X-Y current signals. direction but rigid in the Z direction. Servo amplifiAnd the articlated arm lets it extend ers in motioninto confined areas or retract or fold control application up out of the way. This can be an for robots provide advantage when moving parts from place to place and for loading or precise control of unloading in enclosed areas. position or veloc-

A six-axis articulated-arm robot from Epson uses a series of electric drives to move the various joints and give the robot its dexterity.

ity. In a sense, a servomechanism detects and corrects for errors. Servo robots are: Relatively expensive to purchase, operate, and maintain. Us e a s ophisticated, clos ed-lo op controller. Have a wide range of capabilities. Can transfer objects from one point to another, as well as along a controlled, continuous path. Can interpret and use sophisticated programming. Use a manipulator arm programmed to avoid obstructions within the work envelope.

Actuator drive types

Another common way of classifying robots is by the type of drive used by its actuators. Most robot use ether electric, pneumatic or hydraulic actuators. Electric drives encompass three kinds of motors: ac servo motors, dc servo motors, and stepper motors. Many newer robots use servo motors rather than hydraulic or pneumatic ones. Small and medium-size robots commonly use dc servo motors. Larger robots rely on ac servos for their high torque capabilities, Stepper motors are incrementally controlled dc synchronous motors. They are rarely used in commercial industrial robots, but are commonly found in educational robots. Robots that use electric drives take up less floor space, and their energy source, electricity, is readily available compared to hydraulic and pneumatic power. However, conventionally geared drives suffer from backlash, friction, compliance, and wear. These problems reduce accuracy, torque control, and dynamic response, while increasing the need for regular maintenance. They also limit the top speed on longer moves. And heavy enough loads will stall (stop) the motor, which can cause damage. Electric motors have relatively poor power-to-wight ratios, compared to hydralulic and pneumatic drives. This means a bigger, heavier motor must be mounted on the robot arm when a large amount of torque is needed, even if its needed for just a small portion of the total movement. The rotary motion of most electric drives must be geared down so that they can provide the speed or torque needed by the arm or effector. However, manufacturers are now offering direct-drive motors on robots, which


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eliminate some of these limitations and problems. These high-torque motors drive arms directly and do not need reducer gears. The basic construction of a direct-drive motor couples the motor with the arm segment being moved, and this eliminates backlash, reduces friction, and increases the mechanical stiffness of the drive mechanism. Using direct-drive motors in robots lets engineers come up with more streamlined designs. Maintenance is also reduced. Robots using direct-drive motors can operate at higher speeds and with greater accuracy than conventional electric-drive motors.

The market for robots

In a recent market-research study, Global Industry Analysts Inc. San Jose, Calif., reported that the worldwide market for industrial robotics will hit 143,000 units by 2015 and that most of the growth in robots will come from expanding application possibilities, technology developments, rising value propositions, demographic shifts, and ensuing labor shortages. In 2008 and 2009, a drop in manufacturing and industrial production limited demand for new robots. This was particularly noticeable in the automotive, consumer goods, semi-conductor and electronics, and rubber and plastic industries. For example, there was a major drop in new vehicle sales in the automotive industry, one of the largest user of robotics. But the precipitous drop in robotics growth in the auto sector turned out to be largely temporary. And the recession has not changed the economic fundamentals of robotics. In other words, robots still give manufacturers advantages in terms of production and labor cost efficiency. The report credits the quick resurgence in spending on robots to the accumulation of postponed and deferred orders, as well as manufacturers increasing their investment in plant renovation, modernization, and capacity expansions. The growth in high-volume toy manufacturing and medical and healthcare should also build demand for industrial robots over the next few years as these sectors look to benefit from increased automation. And demographic trends, especially the aging populations in most western countries as well as Japan will spur growth in robots as companies strive to maintain production with smaller work forces. Assembly-line tasks represents the largest application market for robots worldwide. Welding, however, remains a key contributor to volume sales for robots in North America and Europe. Technological advances in robotics in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine vision, and distributed motion control will let robots perform a wider range of tasks independently. These advances will make industrial robots useful and economical, boosting demand for them. According to GIAs report, Asia-Pacific will be the fastest growing regional market, with sales of industrial robots growing at 9.6% annually for the next five years. The markets in that area pushing demand will be countries such as South Korea and China, which host some of the leading electronics manufacturers in the world. Increases in outsourcing of manufacturing to low-cost locations such as China and India will also build demand for robots in the region. Major players in the market include ABB Limited, Adept Technology, Inc., American Robot Corp., Denso Wave Inc., Evolution Robotics, Inc., Fanuc Corp., iRobot Corp., Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc, Kuka Roboter GmbH, Panasonic Welding Systems Co., Ltd., Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp.n, RoboGroup Tek Ltd., Rockwell Automation Inc, ST Robotics, Staubli Corporation, and Yaskawa Electric Corp.

Hydraulic drives
Many early robots were driven by hydraulics. A conventional hydraulic drive consists of a pump connected to a reservoir tank, control valves, and a hydraulic actuator, as well as a working fluid. Hydraulic drives can generate linear and rotary motion using much simpler arrangements than conventional electric drives. One advantage of hydraulics over electric drives is that the storage tank, in effect, can supply a large amount of instant power, which is not available from electric drives. Other advantages include precise motion control over a wide range of speeds and the ability to handle heavier loads on the end of the manipulator arm. They can also be used around explosive materials and are not easily damaged when quickly stopped while carrying a heavy load. However, they are expensive to purchase and maintain, and are not energy efficient. Hydraulic actuator drivers are also noisier than electric drives and are not recommended for clean-room environments due to the possibility of hydraulic fluid leaks.

Pneumatic drives
Pneumatic drives use of air-driven actuators. And because air is a fluid, many of the same principles that apply to hydraulic drives apply to pneumatic drives. For example, pneumatic and hydraulic motors and cylinders are very similar. Most industrial plants have compressedair pipes running throughout assembly areas, so compressed air is not only economical, it is readily available. This makes it easier and less costly to install robots that use pneumatic actuator drives than hydraulic robots. Pneumatic actuator drives work at high speeds and are most useful for small-to-medium loads. They are economical to operate and maintain and can be used in explosive

atmospheres. However, since air is compressible, precise placement and positioning require additional components to achieve the smooth control possible with a hydraulic system. It is also difficult to keep the air as clean and dry as the control system requires. Robots that use pneumatic actuator drives are noisy and vibrate as the air cylinders and motors stop. For lightweight pick-and-place applications that require both speed and accuracy, a pneumatic robot is potentially a good choice.


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Working envelope

Here is an example of a working envelope for an articlated-arm robot. It shows the maximum vertical and horizontal reach of the arm as well as areas the arm will sweep through.

The work envelope

Another way to discriminate between robots is based on their work envelopes or the volume of space that can be reached by the robots effector. In general, the envelope shape and size is a function of the coordinate system used by the robots arms and manipulators, and the arrangement of joints and length of the manipulators segments. Work envelopes also vary from one manufacturer to another, depending on type of manipulator or arm used. And combining different configurations in a single robot can also create new working envelopes. Engineers should know the application and the exact work envelope before choosing a specific robot configuration. Some work envelopes are geometric,

while others are irregular, and some robots may have several different work envelopes. The four major configurations that determine work envelope shape are: revolute, Cartesian, cylindrical, and spherical. Heres a look at each: Revolute configuration (articulated or jointed arm): This is the most common. These robots are often referred to as being anthropomorphic because their movements resemble those of a human arm and upper torso. Rigid segments take on the roles of the forearm and upper arm while various joints mimic actions of the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. A joint referred to as the sweep represents the waist. A revolute robot generally has an irregularly shaped work envelope. Revolute configurations can be further broken down into two formats: vertically articulated and horizontally articulated. Vertically articulated robots usually have five rotary joints. Horizontally articulated configuration generally has one vertical or linear joint and two rotary joints, and are commonly called SCARA (selective compliance assembly robot arm) configurations. SCARA robots are fairly yielding in horizontal motions, but rigid in vertical motions. SCARA robots are well suited for operations in which little vertical motion is needed, but significantly more horizontal motion is required. Such operations include assembly work where parts are taken from one location, perhaps a bin, and moved nearly horizontally to the product being assembled. The revolute configuration is far and away the most flexible in terms of operations and has the largest work envelope of all traditional configurations. However, revolute robots need sophisticated and more expensive controllers. Programming is also more complex. Other considerations engineers must taken into account is that the revolute robots positional accuracy, load capacity, dynamics, and repeatability vary with the location in the work envelope. The robot can also becomes less stable as when the arm extends to its maximum reach. Cartesian configuration: Arm movements of robots using the Cartesian configuration can be described by the three traditional axis: X, Y, and Z, giving them a rectangular work envelope. Movements of the arm and its joints can start and stop simultaneously along all three axes, so motion at the tool tip or effector is

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smooth. This lets such robots move directly to specific points instead of following trajectories parallel to each axis. One advantage of robots with a Cartesian configuration is that their totally linear movement This single-stage allows for simpler pneumatic robot from controls, They also Max Robot was built have a high degree to support injection molding. A special arm of mechanical rigid- lets it remove runners ity, accuracy, and re- and sprues. It can carry peatability. They can up to 4.5 lb carry heavy loads, and this weight lifting capacity does not vary at different locations within the work envelope. As to disadvantages, Cartesian robots are generally limited in their movement to a small, rectangular work space. Cylindrical configurations: Cylindrical robots consists of a vertical post with a sliding arm mounted at 90, making it parallel to the ground, The stationary post is often mounted so that it can rotate. The sliding arm robot moves in and out, and can move up and down on the carriage that attaches it to the vertical post. Movement along the three axes traces out the cylindrical work envelope, which is usually larger than the envelope of Cartesian robots. Cylindrical robots are well suited for pick-andplace operations. The downside of cylindrical robot includes reduced mechanical rigidity due to the rotary axis needing to overcome inertia when rotating. This gets amplified when the robots is carrying a heavy load and the sliding arm is fully extended. Repeatability and accuracy is also reduced in the direction of rotary movement. Cylindrical robots need more advanced controls than Cartesian robots. Spherical configuration (polar): These robots resemble turrets on military tanks. A pivot point gives the robot vertical movement, while a telescoping boom (the gun barrel of the tank) provides variable reach by extending or retracting the effector. Rotary motion results from the turret or base turning. The spherical configuration generally provides a larger work envelope than Cartesian or cylindrical configurations. The spherical design is also simple and provides good weight-

lifting capabilities. Spherical robots are well suited to applications in which only a small amount of vertical movement is needed, such as loading and unloading a punch press. Its disadvantages include reduced mechanical rigidity, limited vertical mobility, and the need for more sophisticated control systems than either the Cartesian or cylindrical robots. These robots also suffer form the same problems with inertia and accuracy cylindrical robots. Many industrial robots are hybrids of these four basic types. Robot designers can always make the base rotate or vertically collapse and expand, or add additional joints and wrists to make the robot more nimble, tailored to a specific task, or to the amount of space needed to install a robot. And for even more flexibility, industrial robots can be mounted on walls and ceilings, as well as floors. MD

This hydrualically driven servo-robot has a rotary arm with two degrees of freedom.


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