Robotic bin picking is an extremely challenging task for the teams of engineers who design, build and program this type of cutting-edge automation equipment. Their computerized electro-mechanical systems must identify, locate, grasp and accurately reposition objects that are randomly stacked within the reach of a robotic arm outfitted with a custom end effector. A relatively easy task for a human being, one that most people complete hundreds of times each day, is a very complex or impossible problem to solve with cameras, computers, software, servo motors and pneumatic devices.
Why do it then? What’s wrong with the traditional methods of presenting oriented parts to assembly machinery?
The answer is threefold, lead time, flexibility and cost.
For decades, designers of automatic assembly equipment have utilized dedicated devices such as vibratory part feeding systems, step feeders, magazines, rolls, conveyors and trays to supply a “pick and place mechanism” or a robot with a steady stream of the parts and materials that they are loading into the assembly machine. All of these solutions are relatively expensive, require additional labor for loading, or have a need for part specific customized tooling. More recently, simpler equipment would separate and spread parts onto a surface in a single layer, and a 2D vision system would recognize the part and guide a robot to grasp and orient it. A huge step in the right direction but still not the Holy Grail solution where a robot arm just grabs any part out of a pile, orients it correctly, and sets it down in the proper location.
Bin picking with 3D vision and machine learning is far more advanced and reliable than it was even just five years ago. Much progress has been made; however, each potential application being considered should be thoroughly vetted, tested and financially justified. Seek the advice and help of qualified automation integrators, robotics companies and machine vision experts to choose the solution that’s right for your business. As the different location and guidance technologies mature, 3D bin picking will evolve to the point where it is much more common, efficient and reliable.
Keller Technology Corporation has decades of experience in selecting the most effective technologies for use in industrial automation and robotic systems integration. Contact Keller Technology to find solutions to your most challenging manufacturing problems.