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Self reconfigurable intelligent swarm fixtures

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Swarm manufacturing is shaping up

Researchers have developed a new concept for manufacturing units able to set and readjust themselves automatically for shaping thin metal sheets. The innovative system uses groups of mobile platforms with attached robots that are able to work together.

Industrial Technologies

In manufacturing, a fixture is a work-holding or support device that ensures all parts have a high degree of conformity, enabling smooth transition between parts. But today's smartest adaptive fixtures have limited adjustment capabilities and are mainly set up offline with the help of lasers. Meanwhile, the use of components based on thin sheets with complex 3D geometries is growing due to trends in life-cycle design, alongside aesthetic and quality issues. These types of parts imply that manufacturers need to be increasingly adaptable. The EU-funded 'Self reconfigurable intelligent swarm fixtures' (SWARMITFIX) project aimed to design manufacturing equipment able to meet these demands by using groups of robots — known as swarms — with embedded network control. SWARMITFIX's system consists of self-adaptable swarm fixtures based on mobile agents that can freely move around a workbench and work together without re-positioning the part. The main advantages are the replacement of very expensive single-use moulds and fixtures by flexible, adaptable fixtures which can be dynamically reconfigured for a wide range of different workpieces whilst still online. A major project innovation was the introduction of a phase-change fluid in the head of each swarm agent. This enabled perfect geometrical adaptation to the local shape of the supported part, whilst also ensuring stiff support and clamping. Complementary aspects of the system include an intelligent control system relying on high-level intelligent organisation and low-level agent behaviour, plus a virtual environment to design and test new fixtures. SWARMITFIX can improve the efficiency and flexibility of manufacturers, helping them to deliver the products demanded by the market place.

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