Munich. Since introduction of their use quite a few years ago, it has become hard to imagine industry without robots. Their strengths: power, quickness and stamina. Their limitation: they can only flex their muscles in separate cells for safety reasons in most cases. The future: an increasing number of safety barriers will fall. The reason is that modern technology is providing such a high degree of safety that people and robots can work hand in hand. Visitors to AUTOMATICA 2012 can obtain an overview of the far-reaching perspectives provided by “safe man-robot cooperation”. The 5. International Trade Fair for Automation and Mechatronics will take place on the grounds of the New Munich Trade Fair Centre from 22 to 25 May 2012.

The further development of “safe robots” enables a space-saving cell concept without rigid barriers on one hand. On the other hand, it opens the door to new applications involving people and robots, for example, in installation, medical technology and the service sector. Various colleges and institutes have worked out basic principles for this over the years, which link sensor technology with control and process control engineering as well as mechanics and consequently create new automation possibilities. The way into industrial practice is also being smoothed by the norm ISO 10218-1 with respect to the safety aspects of man-robot cooperation (also referred to as human-machine collaboration). It contains safety requirements for industrial robots, so that people and robots can work together in a defined work area without spatial separation using safety barriers or light grids.

Research results improve processes that can be automated

The Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology and Automation (IPA) in Stuttgart is most of the most active research institutes dealing with the safety aspects of man-robot cooperation. Martin Hägele, Department Head of Robot Systems, believes that enormous potential has become available with the standard: “Man-robot cooperation makes it possible to combine the strengths of people and robots and consequently to automate processes, which were previously not economically feasible. People have high cognitive skills, are creative and can adapt quickly to complex situations. On the other hand, robots have untiring repetitive accuracy, even when there are heavy loads. Thanks to cooperation, workplaces can be designed ergonomically and costs can be reduced overall thanks to higher degrees of automation.”

People and robots work together

The German Center for Air and Space Travel (DLR) is also putting this principle to work. The institute is leading worldwide in the area of safe man-robot collaboration. For example, they have conducted biomechanical / medical injury investigations with the goal of developing a “standardized crash test procedure” for robots similar to the automobile sector. One highlight of the institute is a lightweight construction robot, which represents successful technology transfer. KUKA developed it further to become a product for the research world. It was also able to demonstrate the benefits of its special skills impressively in an industrial environment in a pilot application for axle gear mounting at Mercedes-Benz. Dr. Sami Haddadin, head of the group “Human-Robot Interaction“ at DLR, explained “In the development of lightweight construction robots, KUKA and DLR bet not only on robot engineering, but also based their work on the idea that “people and robots work together”. As a result, we redefined robot requirements, which are implemented best with a light-construction design and integrated force-torque sensors.”

Higher degree of safety possible

It is absolutely clear for KUKA that the limits of safety concepts customary on the market today must be overcome with new solutions involving specific, proprietary hardware for the future of robots. This especially concerns the required safety control technology. After all, reliable transfer of complex data structures such as sensor values and positions provides unexpected possibilities compared to conventional, parallel-wired safety systems.

Another pioneer in the area of safe man-robot cooperation is Reis Robotics, Obernburg. The company already applied for a patent at the end of the 90s, which involved using software functions to reduce speed safely as well as restrict work spaces for the safety of persons without the installation of separating safety barriers. Various projects in this area have already been implemented over the years. Reis Robotics also puts a lot of emphasis on control in safe man-robot cooperation.

AUTOMATICA 2012 – innovation platform of the robot industry

The fact that “Man-Robot Cooperation” is not just a slogan can be experienced at the stands and special exhibits at AUTOMATICA 2012. The CEO Round Table on 23 May 2012 promises to be an especially interesting event for visitors, to which the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) is inviting people to attend. The initial results of the global market of industrial robots will be presented there. Leading managers of robot manufacturers and robot users from Europe, Asia and America will discuss the challenges of the worldwide robot industry.

Announcement of the prize-winner of the IERA Award 2012 is also eagerly anticipated. The award, previously presented eight times worldwide, will be presented on 23 May 2012 at AUTOMATICA 2012 by the two largest robot organisations: the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) and IEEE Robotics & Automation Society (IEEE-RAS). In a series of talks, the nominated finalists from robot and automation technology will present their innovative solutions, which are already in use on the market and have proved their worth in actual practice.

Additional information about AUTOMATICA 2012 at

www.automatica-munich.com.