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Sustainable Manufacturing through Advanced Robotics Training in Europe

Final Report Summary - SMART-E (Sustainable Manufacturing through Advanced Robotics Training in Europe)

SMART-E: Sustainable Manufacturing through Advanced Robotics Training in Europe (http://smart-e-mariecurie.eu/)

The SMART-E project involved 13 Early Stage Researchers (ESR) and 3 Established Researchers (ER) working on the development of ground-breaking advances in the vast subject of advanced robotics for sustainable manufacturing. The objective of SMART-E has been multifold:

1)- Deliver a globally leading, sustainable doctoral training programme; 2)- Provide researchers with complementary business, leadership and interpersonal skills; 3)-Develop innovative solutions for industrial applications in advanced robotics and intelligent automation for sustainable manufacturing across a broad range of areas in: 1. Dexterous, soft and compliant robotics in manufacturing; 2. Reconfigurable and logistics robotics; 3. Safety and human robot interaction and cooperation; 4. Provide hands-on experience of robotics research through experiments across European platforms; 5. Promote European–wide collaboration on robotics for sustainable manufacturing.

Research in the above scientific areas was underpinned by the knowledge and expertise of the academic and industrial partners of SMART-E who are world leaders in the fields of Embodied Intelligent, Soft and Compliant Robotics, Smart Materials, Safety Human-Robot Interaction, Autonomous Systems and Dexterous End Effectors. This has allowed for fellows to easily cross-pollinate their research, thanks also to the numerous common training and dissemination activities that they have carried out together. Examples of dissemination events are: Factory 2050, Research for Industry, Human Friendly Robotics, Soft Robotics Week and SMART-E conferences and workshops.

The research carried out in SMART-E is perfectly aligned with the challenges posed Industry 4.0. The research they tackled problems ranging from the development of bio-inspired manipulators, synthesis of modular robots, design of exoskeletons to control of flexible and rigid manipulators and occupancy estimation for industrial robots. The results obtained by the SMART-E research fellows during the 4-year project duration have greatly contributed to the knowledge advancement in those areas. The work has resulted in significant achievements in both the interdisciplinary and complementary training of the fellows, and in scientific advances in robotics. Throughout the Fellows published 2 patents and 40 papers – 11 in scientific journals and 29 in proceedings of international conferences (with awards) and 75 posters. Of those, 7 papers were published in journals with the Impact Factor ranging from 0.987 to 8.649 including the highly influential journals such as Soft Robotics (IF: 8.649) IEEE Transactions on Control Systems Technology (IF: 3.882) and IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering (IF: 3.502). Over one third of the conference papers were presented at the leading conferences International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) and American Control Conference (ACC).

The researchers activities have produced world-class results and exploitable foregrounds and have included collaborations with additional industrial partners who joined the Network. SMART-E was also an open network, external researchers were invited to SMART-E summer schools and final conference and also were encouraged to participate in the training events. Regular updates on fellows' research, publications and dissemination activities have been reported on the SMART-E web site. The project had a strong socio-economic impact described below for each workpackage:

WP1 Dexterous, soft and compliant robotics in manufacturing - Two main areas were developed under this work package: a) Manipulators based on soft robotic technologies, results consist of a soft manipulator, learning-based control schemes and soft sensors. They highlight the usefulness for tasks ranging from high-precision ones for assembly lines to more general operator assistance. The advancement of knowledge is proven through publications and a patent. SSSA is exploring licensing this technology. Further funding has been secured by a company to take this technology forward. This, however, is just the first stepping stone and there remains a large scope for research and development to take advantage of this research field on factory floors. Furthermore, this technology is expected to advance not only manufacturing but also provide assistive technologies in healthcare, marine, and the nuclear sectors. b) Intelligent, interactive and compliant grasping which allows for a robot to pick objects with a wide variety of shapes, weights and hardness. Applications of the SMART-E Gripper are numerous and vary from industrial (pick & place without the need to reprogram the robot) to medical ones (prosthetics). The UK nuclear industry has recognized the potential of the Smart-E gripper and the University of Salford has been funded -to develop the prototype- as part of a recent project from Innovate UK, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Sellafield on nuclear decommissioning.

WP2 Reconfigurable and logistics robotics - This has produced important socio-economic impacts in the following areas: a)-Quickly deployable, flexible automation systems for sustainable manufacturing by advancing the control-system-related technology of compliant and modular reconfigurable robots. These systems are quickly and optimally adaptable to frequent changes in production. This may be required as a response to unexpected market variations particularly for SMEs. For the above reason, this technology reduces the risk of investment in automation. Currently, an EU company has shown an interest in this research which is also part of the toolbox CORA; b) More flexible, capable and reliable machining using robots instead of expensive CNC machines. Thanks to an iterative learning approach, the system has the ability to be trained in-line without interruption of the production cycle for gathering the training data. The results of this research will allow EU manufacturing companies to adapt their production according to the new trends in the Industry 4.0 therefore allowing them to remain competitive and create more jobs for high-level skill operators; AMRC is exploiting this research with a company which will save millions of pounds in capital and operational costs over the coming years; c)-Improvement to the maintainability and monitoring of complex mechatronic and robotic systems through advanced machine learning techniques. This has major impacts when considering human robot interactions and the economic impact and sustainability of a manufacturing process. d)- low cost and accurate multirobot localization prototype delivered for AGCO GmbH. This technology will reduce production cost for farmers and improve quality in precision farming.

WP3 Safety and human robot interaction and cooperation - The most important socio-economic benefits of this work package are: a)-The development of a human-robot co-working platform with verifiably safe trajectory planning for robots. A company has already shown interested in commercialising this platform. Human-robot interaction capabilities could also be increased by using an artificial skin developed as part of this WP activities. The skin acts as a soft and flexible sensor able to detect the exact point of contact and being made with stretchable material it doesn't interfere with a robot's mechanics; b)-A user-friendly programming paradigm which makes robots more accessible to non-expert programmers. This allows SMEs to employ robots more flexibly, without requiring expert programmers; c)-New more robust control techniques for wearable assistive robots (exoskeletons). This research is being further developed through ongoing industrial collaboration and an upcoming testing campaign. Exoskeletons have the potential to reduce the physical strain experienced by workers in many industrial sectors during demanding tasks. Reduced physical strain will translate into decreased risk and incidence of injuries, which will not only improve the quality of life of many workers but also reduce the industrial costs associated with injuries.