Process and control today | Bearings in small robots: thin section bearings help industrial robots adapt to small spaces

“Great things”, said Vincent Van Gogh, “are made by a series of small things put together.” This applies to industrial robots, which are becoming increasingly smaller and more compact, as are the companies that buy them. This is expected that Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be a major driver of the robotics market in the coming years. Here, Chris Johnson, Managing Director at Specialist bearing supplier SMB Bearings, explains why thin section bearings are essential to help SMBs leverage robots with improved maneuverability and precision.

Industrial robots will need to fit into smaller spaces as manufacturers become more concerned with robot “real estate” or as every square meter of factory floor space is used for production.

Smaller robots are more accessible to SMEs. Previously, the high up-front costs associated with automation kept small businesses from investing in robotics, while deterring large companies from taking the risk. Instead, more compact, versatile, and flexible robots can provide another solution by fitting more easily and cost-effectively into smaller spaces on manufacturers’ production lines.

Another argument in favor of small robots is safety. While giant robots typically operate in isolation, away from human workers, smaller robots – like cobots – can operate in open or semi-protected environments. According to a recent interview with Alex Megej, Chief Technology Officer at TE Connectivity, this combination of large and small machines will be crucial for robots to thrive in SMBs.

“In terms of collaboration between huge robots and small robots, this usually only happens in situations where smaller robots, or small cobots, in this case, pick and place material for further processing with bigger robots,” Megej said.

Expect to see a growth in smaller, faster robots that can perform more complex and precise tasks without endangering human colleagues, whether in surgical environments or warehouses. An example, reports Voice magazine, are Amazon’s Kiva robots, which follow workers around the warehouse and assist them with their tasks.

Finally, there is Industry 4.0. 2D and 3D vision systems and artificial intelligence (AI) are among the latest technologies intended to usher in a new phase of robotics. These technologies will require new levels of connectivity and controllability that fit quickly and seamlessly into the tight spaces of any production line, while being compatible with enterprise manufacturing execution systems (MES).

Speed ​​and precision

Robotic applications rely on high-precision bearings, including hybrid chrome and steel variants, as well as ceramic bearings and slewing bearings. Articulated robotic arms, for example, require robot bearings in the rotating joints.

Among SMB Bearings customers, thin section bearings are the most popular choice for robotic applications — which are particularly thin and compact as the name suggests. Thin-section bearings are essential for enabling robots to perform tasks with increased accuracy and precision. An example is EZO brand thin section ball bearings, which SMB Bearings supplies in open, shielded or sealed form in SAE52100 chrome steel or 440 stainless steel. radial loads as well as moderate axial loads in both directions.

Take, for example, Shadow Robot Company, an SME that makes deft robotic hands for academia and agile working. The customer wanted to branch out into industrial applications with its robust and reliable Smart Grasping System™, a system that relies on AI to recognize different objects and select the appropriate grip.

For the system to work, Shadow Robot Company needed specific bearings with very tight tolerances. Ease of installation and dimensional accuracy were also among the customers’ needs. In response, SMB Bearings recommended and supplied EZO thin type precision bearings. Every bearing that comes off the production line is always the same shape and size, which is crucial for maintaining precision and consistent overall behavior in the robot itself.

In the end, the customer reported that the bearings were very easy to install as a direct result of their quality, tolerance and consistency. This was essential for the repeated assembly of the Smart Grasping System™, but also vital for the precision of the movements of the smart gripper. With the precision afforded by thin-section bearings, the Smart Grasping System™ can grip many types of objects, reducing the need for multiple hands in a plant.

Robot bearings will be crucial in helping small businesses benefit from smaller, more compact robots and, to paraphrase Van Gogh, achieve big things by bringing together a series of small things.

For more information on SMB bearings and EZO bearings, smbbearings.com.

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