Europe is experiencing a return of production facilities that had previously been offshored to emerging markets. The manufacturing sector is experiencing a paradigm shift in how things are produced, moving away from a traditional high-volume/low-mix set-up and towards a low-volume/high mix of products. As a result of this shift, factory workers are facing increasing pressure to keep up – pressure that increases the risk of error and injury. One possible solution is found in greater human-robot collaboration (HRC). “Working alongside humans and performing some of the more challenging and risky manufacturing tasks, robots have the potential to revolutionise manufacturing, making factories both safer and more productive,” says Matteo Zanaroli, group innovation funding manager at Datalogic. Before humans and robots can start collaborating, they first need to learn how to get along. This is where the EU-funded project ROSSINI (RObot enhanced SenSing, INtelligence and actuation to Improve job quality in manufacturing) comes in. The project is working to design and develop factory-safe robots that can increase job quality, achieve production flexibility, and improve productivity. “This project systematically addresses the obstacles preventing the large-scale uptake of HRC systems, including safety concerns and employee concerns about job security,” notes Zanaroli, who is the project’s coordinator.
A seven-layered solution
At the heart of the project is an advanced, automated and collaborative platform. The platform consists of seven layers, including a sensing layer that can scan a scenario and identify any potential dangers, and a perception layer that notes which working areas are safe. “There’s also a cognitive area that serves as the robot’s brain, optimising its movements and tasks while also allowing it to recognise and take into account human factors,” remarks Zanaroli. “This is followed by the control layer, which executes the optimal course of action as identified by the cognitive layer.” Because these robots are intended to work alongside humans, the platform has a human layer, which allows it to understand the preferences of their human co-workers. “This layer ensures the robot knows that it is meant to perform complex, repetitive and risky tasks, leaving the higher-level work for the humans,” adds Zanaroli. “As such, this layer aims to address the very real concerns of employees about having their jobs automated or replaced by robots.” Last but not least are the actuation layer, which allows the robot to quickly start, move and stop and accurately use its arm and joints, and the integration layer, which ensures safety even when an accident is unforeseen. “All of these layers are integrated into the ROSSINI platform and are scalable to robots of different sizes and complexities,” explains Zanaroli.
The ROSSINI platform is currently being validated at three real-world industrial sites. According to Zanaroli, partial demonstrators are already running with promising results. “Preliminary results represent a significant step forward for the HRC paradigm,” he concludes. “For instance, we’ve already shown that the collaborative range around the robot can be enlarged using the safety layer controller.” Following the completion of the tests, the project will turn its attention towards standardisation. The project is due to conclude in March 2022.
ROSSINI, human-robot collaboration, robots, manufacturing, factories