By Bobby Carlton
Industries are looking to robotics to provide innovative solutions that improve upon the speed and accuracy of manual-based applications while maintaining the same level of flexibility. Robotics and robotic sim play a big role in this approach.
Due to the fast-paced nature of many operations in industries such as agriculture, food processing, and waste processing, machine builders are looking to develop solutions that can improve the accuracy and speed of their manual-based applications. While this may not be a major issue for most fixed machinery solutions, flexibility is often lacking.
Despite the various concerns that people in these industries have about the potential advantages of robots, they are still not able to fully understand their capabilities. For instance, many professionals still believe that robots are too expensive and cannot handle complex tasks. However, with the emergence of robotic technology, these same concerns no longer exist.
Today’s high-speed pick and place applications rely on a conveyor belt to move parts or products from one point to another. In some cases, a product may need to be packaged in a single box to accommodate multiple types. This configuration can change daily due to the number of variants offered by the manufacturer. New ones are often needed to accommodate the changes in market conditions.
The use of fixed machinery can prevent the system from adapting to the changes in the product or the assortment. This can be a costly strategy as it requires separate machines to process different types of products. In addition to this, the setup may also occupy a lot of floor space.
When machinery offers flexibility, it can be a complex mechanical system with numerous failure points. While operators swap out parts, they have to adjust the setup to run the next variation.
A pick-and-place application that uses manual sorting may involve a large team of individuals who stand next to the conveyor belt. They pick and place products into boxes. This type of work is very taxing on the employees and can lead to high turnover and low employee satisfaction. Due to the lack of skilled workers, the pressures of maintaining these types of applications are becoming too high.
The advantages of robots in terms of their performance are numerous, such as their ability to seamlessly integrate with other automation systems. As opposed to having employees do manual tasks, robots can perform better in terms of accuracy, speed, and work around the clock. Human workers may have a hard time keeping up with the speed of the conveyor belt, and they may make mistakes as a result.
To help with bringing robotics into these types of environments, industries count on robotic sim work to improve robotics in in several ways:
- Development and testing: Simulations provide a safe and controlled environment for developing, testing, and optimizing robotic algorithms and systems before deployment in real-world scenarios.
- Training and validation: Simulation can be used to train robotic systems and validate their performance before deployment, ensuring they operate as expected in real-world situations.
- Cost savings: By allowing for virtual testing and validation, simulation can reduce the cost and time associated with building and testing physical prototypes.
- Improved safety: Robotic simulation allows for testing and evaluating robotic systems in hazardous or difficult-to-access environments, improving safety for both humans and the robotic systems themselves.
- System integration: Simulations can be used to test the interaction and integration of multiple robotic systems, which can be difficult to test in physical environments.
Overall, robotic simulation provides a powerful tool for improving the design, development, testing, and deployment of robotic systems. The repetitive nature of some tasks, such as handling dirty and otherwise unsavory materials, can also be a factor that drives people to look for new jobs. In addition, robots are designed to endure harsh environments, which are not ideal for human workers. In terms of their labor-related benefits, such as the reduction of turnover, robots can provide continuous operation.
With the ability to easily adapt to different product configurations, robots can provide a new level of flexibility. For instance, they can switch between different programs with just a touch of a button. This eliminates the need for developers to create new programs and allows them to quickly change the system’s overall design. The software’s modular process architecture also lets users easily change the configuration of the pick-and-place procedure.
Although robots can be easily added to any production line, they can also be used in combination with other technologies to provide a fully integrated solution. This includes the ability to monitor and control various aspects of the operation.
One of the most common technologies that can be used with robots is a vision system. This type of system allows them to easily identify and categorize products. In addition, it can perform inspections on a variety of products to detect defects.
A vision system can also help ensure that all of the products in an assortment are present and accounted for by capturing the bar codes on individual products. In dynamic applications, such as picking from moving parts, it can help the robots determine which parts are ideal for picking next by displaying the optimal position on the screen.
Although robots can run at high speeds, some applications require them to perform at a high rate of throughput. This type of system can be used with multiple robots to share the load and ensure that the tasks are completed efficiently. For instance, if a combination box-packing operation requires a high throughput, a second robot can help manage the tasks that the first one cannot handle.
An increase in the number of robots can help improve the efficiency of your pick process and increase the flexibility of your operations. In addition, they can help each other gather information in order to ensure that all of the items are picked correctly.
Caio Viturino, who is a simulations developer at FS Studio, and has done an extensive amount of work in robot sim, said “Robotic simulations are being used more frequently as a means of training and testing mobile robots before deploying them in the real world. This is known as sim2real. For instance, we could create a 3D model of a warehouse and then train various robots in that environment to plan routes, recognize objects, and avoid collisions with dynamic obstacles.”
One of the most important advantages of integrating a parallel robot with other automation technologies is that it can be controlled completely by a single PLC. This type of control allows the robots to adapt to the changes in the flow of products. If a conveyor is driven by a servo motor, its motion can be synchronized with the robots in real time. This type of control can also help the automation technologies adjust their own motion depending on the changes in the throughput.
Viturino explains “Robots will not be a replacement for the human labor force but will aid in difficult or repetitive tasks.” To help him with his work Viturino focuses on the following tools:
Pybullet – An easy to use Python module for physics simulation, robotics and deep reinforcement learning based on the Bullet Physics SDK. With PyBullet you can load articulated bodies from URDF, SDF and other file formats.
Isaac Sim – A scalable robotics simulation application and synthetic data generation tool that powers photorealistic, physically-accurate virtual environments to develop, test, and manage AI-based robots.
Isaac Gym – provides a basic API for creating and populating a scene with robots and objects, supporting loading data from URDF and MJCF file formats.
For end users who are looking to move beyond traditional fixed-machine solutions and implement a high-speed picking and place operation, robots can help them improve their efficiency and increase their flexibility. Most of the time, robots are designed to work at high speeds with stable components.
As part of a factory’s connected technology, today’s most advanced robots can communicate with various devices, such as vision systems and conveyors, to respond to changing configuration needs, and robotic sim provides important information on making all of this work.
“There are other technologies, particularly in autonomous vehicles, such as passive thermal cameras. Despite it, the technology is restricted by armies and governments, and the cost is high. However, it may be a promise for the future.”
As we come to the end of our conversation one thing Viturino brings up is he believes that simulation allows us to develop, test, and go beyond imagination, without fear of damaging robots and stuff, which can cost a lot of money or dismissal and an unpayable fine, depending on the damage haha. After we’ve tested our ideas in the simulation, then we’re ready to deploy the software in the hardware.
As for Viturino and his work in robotics and AI, and closing the gap of what’s possible now and the future of what we hope for, he believes that NVIDIA is working to develop ever-more accurate simulations through the use of their PhysX library, which is now available as an open-source version 5.1. As a result, the gap between simulation and reality will close more and more, increasing the reliability of robotic applications.
“We are in an era where we must be bold and creative to overcome the limits already reached, with agility and teamwork.”
You can learn more about Caio and his work by checking out his Github page.