The future in motion
One of today’s big topics of discussion is the rise of the robots and whether there will be any jobs left for us less-than-perfect humans in the future! For now, at least, robots are designed to be collaborative helpers, performing monotonous and repetitive tasks without breaks, sleep or even grumbling about the monotony.
RS visited MiR (Mobile Industrial Robots) in Odense, Denmark, to find out how its collaborative mobile robots are increasing the operational efficiencies of companies around the globe, freeing up workers’ time so they can focus their skills on higher-value activities.
Flemming Thinggaard, Supply Chain and Production Manager at Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR)
We spent some time with Flemming Thinggaard, Supply Chain and Production Manager at Mobile Industrial Robots, to find out more.
Solving customers’ problems
MiR’s collaborative robots take care of internal logistics, be it transporting items from A to B, process lines, or maintenance tools. This could be almost anything and anywhere. It’s not just a solution for industrial environments – in hospitals, medicines or lab tests could be moved around to different areas of the hospital for example. As Flemming Thinggaard told us “It’s only our imaginations that limit us, I would say.”
In Denmark, The Hospital of Southern Jutland uses a fleet of MIR100 robots for transporting cancer medicine and blood samples. Staff send for the robot using their phones and when it arrives, they simply load it and send it off again. Read more…
The company’s key products are the MiR100™ and MiR200™. Both models allow businesses to automate their internal logistics and transport processes easily and cost-effectively. The difference in models is to do with their payloads – 100 kg on top or pulling a 300 kg cart for MiR100™ and 200 kg on top payload or 500 kg pulled in a cart for the MiR200™. Both products are ideal in almost any situation where businesses still have employees pushing carts around the building or making internal deliveries. In lean manufacturing terms, minimising the transport, motion and waiting elements of non-value-adding ‘wastes’.
The modules on top can be fully customised to include racks, bins, conveyors, lifts or even a collaborative robot arm according to companies’ specific requirements. Modules can be easily switched for full flexibility.
Two MiR100™ bots – Scotty and Checkov – help Magna-Power improve global competitiveness
Enabling MiR’s mobile robot fleet is some high-level sensor technology. Thinggaard explains: “We use hundreds of infrared sensors in the robots enabling them to scan 360 degrees, all the time. We have a 3D camera in front of the robot scanning for obstacles. We also have ultrasonic sensors in front of the robot allowing it to see some things, such as glass, that cannot be picked up by infrared.”
In terms of safety, MiR uses laser scanners to effectively create different safety zones around the robot. So, for example, if you were to jump in front of the robot, the power to the motors is removed and it would stop immediately.
“That is the hardware layers. On top of that, we have all the software layers as well. That is where we continuously take the measuring data to navigate from, and also on the 3D camera in front. That way we avoid obstacles by continuously calculating different routes. This means that the robot will drive around you if you enter into its planned path. There are additional safety layers down to if something unexpected happens in the software, there are emergency stop zones that are completely built into the machinery.” MiR’s products are built to a number of EN and/or international standards:
- EN 60204-1:2006/A1:2009: Safety of machinery – Electrical equipment of machines – Part 1: General requirements
- EN ISO 12100:2010-11: Safety of machinery – General principles for design – Risk assessment and risk reduction (ISO 12100:2010)
- EN ISO 13849-1:2015: Safety of machinery – Safety related parts of control systems – Part 1: General principles for design (ISO 13849-1:2015)
- EN ISO 13849-2:2012: Safety of machinery – Safety related parts of control systems – Part 2: Validation (ISO 13849-2:2012)
- EN ISO 13850:2015: Safety of machinery – Emergency stop function – Principles for design (ISO 13850:2015)
- EN 60204-1:2006-6: Safety of machinery – Electrical equipment of machines – Part 1: General requirements
- EN 1175-1:1998+A1:2010: Safety of industrial trucks – Electrical requirements – Part 1: General requirements for battery powered trucks
The design of MiR’s collaborative robots is extremely simple, clean and smooth. They are really easy to collaborate with and wherever they have been installed, their human co-workers seem to enjoy the experience of interacting with them, often giving them affectionate nick-names in the workplace.
As well as the sensor ranges utilised in the robots, MiR uses wire harnesses and lots of connectors in its products. A key development tool for MiR is the much-loved Raspberry Pi because it’s easy to programme and provides a testing tool that is easy to set up.
Design Engineers at MiR work closely with RS Components during the product development phase of their products. The in-stock availability and next day delivery across a broad range of component parts enable MiR to move forward through product design and iteration quickly and seamlessly. Flemming Thinggaard told us: “we use RS as a component shop where we can get deliveries day by day. It’s easy to access and the web service is good.”
There are obviously technical challenges involved in implementing a robotic system for a customer, however, Flemming Thinggaard believes these challenges are the easiest to overcome: “The biggest challenge is getting the people ready for the introduction of this technology.”
You have to get past people’s initial concern that the robots might take their job. “It’s helping you with your work. That’s why we call it a collaborative robot. It has to collaborate with the operator, not take their job from them.”
To make it really accessible, MiR’s web interface allows for drag and drop programming, so that users can actually program the robot themselves.
MiR’s robots are essentially computers that can drive themselves about, so keeping them secure from hacking is essential. We can’t go into detail here for obvious security reasons, but security is an extremely high priority for MiR and it uses cryptography to secure the code and make access difficult.
In 5 years we should expect to see the integration of collaborative industrial technology. “In production environments, it will be quite normal to have a collaborative robot as your tool. Instead of using a hammer as your tool, you’ll use a robot as your tool. Operators will be planning what the robots will make today.
I hope in the future that when we talk about a new product we have to make on a production line, then it’s simply a matter of designing the product for production. After that, we don’t have to touch it again. It’s operated by manufacturing robots collaborating with logistics robots and built together so that we can use our time on things that are more innovative and fun, such as communicating and developing new features.”
MiR was founded in 2013 by Niels Jul Jacobsen who invented a robot for internal logistics. The business began commercial operations in 2014 when Thomas Visti joined as CEO. His background in universal robots helped to develop MiR’s go-to-market strategy. Today MiR employs around 40 people.
Find out more about MiR’s collaborative mobile robots and their uses at http://www.mobile-industrial-robots.com
Or, get in touch with MiR at http://www.mobile-industrial-robots.com/contact-us
CommentsAdd a comment
Although robotics and automation may render some jobs obsolete, it is offset by the increases in productivity. For example, automatic telephone exchanges rendered operators redundant, but ushered in the signal routing that made possible the Internet and therefore the millions of jobs made possible by that.