ABB Robotics has partnered with Ford Motor Company to develop robots that provide real-time tactile sensing and feedback for advanced manufacturing. The robots make use of ABB’s Integrated Force Control (IFC), a combination of ABB hardware and software technologies specifically designed to reduce the complexity and cost of incorporating advanced force control functionality in robotic applications.
- Under Development – Integrated Force Control is the result of a decade of work that began at the behest of Ford. The joint effort began when Ford approached ABB to develop tactile feedback technologies that could support the automation of complex, often manual, assembly tasks. Much of the IFC software had been previously available (and proven) in separate ABB machining and assembly offerings.
- Real-Time, External Inputs – Robots employing Integrated Force Control can change the path and speed of their movements, as well as vary the pressure placed on their end-effectors, based on real-time, sensor-based tactile sensing and feedback.
- Simplified Programming – Once ABB engineers developed the real-time sensing and feedback capabilities, they abstracted much of the low level programming required to support force control in robotic applications. The result, according to ABB, are programing times shortened up to 70%
- Multiple Tasks - Integrated Force Control technology can be utilized in any number of applications, ranging from assembly tasks, to machining and polishing operations, and on to product testing and other processes.
- Enabling New Capabilities – ABB’s Integrated Force Control solution allows for the incorporation of advanced force control functionality in robotic applications without requiring either expensive, inflexible fixed automation or overly complex programming. This is accomplished through support for tactile sensing and feedback. IFC provides the hardware and software to support tactile sensing, but also abstracted software tools that make it easily to build applications that can take advantage of the new force control capabilities.
- Process Variation With Precision – Industrial robots have succeeded because they provide a great deal of precision (along with speed, reliability and repeatability). This precision, however, comes at a cost, namely a requirement for fixed automation and/or complex programming. Both are expensive and extends the time required to develop solutions. The resultant applications are often inherently inflexible. Modification are difficult to undertake, and if imprecision or uncertainty is introduced into robotics processes, failure and damage are often the result.ABB’s Integrated Force Control solution allows for the development of very intricate and precise robotic applications without requiring either expensive, inflexible fixed automation or overly complex programming. Deviation from programmed processes is supported, thereby reducing operational failure and damage, but not at the expense of precision. The result is reduced costs (elimination of automation infrastructure and excess programming), decreased failure rates, improved product quality, and more process flexibility.
- Vision and Touch – ABB’s Integrated Force Control, which was formally released as a product in the Fall of 2013, provides traditional industrial robotics systems with real-time tactile feedback, basically the sense of “touch”. In 2013, ABB also released Integrated Vision, a comprehensive smart camera system that that allows vision-guided robotics applications to be developed and deployed more quickly and easily than previously (the sense of “sight”). Individually, or working together, these products provide for a number of advanced capabilities (and new applications).
- Intelligent Industrial Systems - In one sense, ABB’s Integrated Force Control and Integrated Vision products provide industrial robotics with intelligence. Simple programmability has given way decision making based on real-time sensory input, making the systems more intelligent and allowing them approximate the actions of humans.
- New Applications – In the past, whole classes of manufacturing and assembly operations, particularly those that could benefit from vision and tactile sensing, were simply too complex or costly to automate using robotics technology. ABB’s Integrated Force Control and Integrated Vision solutions allow vision and tactile sensing to be easily and affordably incorporated into robotic applications. This provides a number of tactical business benefits for existing automated tasks, including cost savings and improved quality. Perhaps more importantly, these technologies open the door to a much greater range of robotic applications, particularly those requiring a high degree of fine manipulation and complex assembly that formally could only be performed by humans. In this way, ABB’s Integrated Force Control and Integrated Vision solutions provide strategic value.