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Symbiotic Human-Robot Collaborative Assembly: Technologies, Innovations and Competitiveness

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SYMBIO-TIC (Symbiotic Human-Robot Collaborative Assembly: Technologies, Innovations and Competitiveness)

Période du rapport: 2017-10-01 au 2019-03-31

The European robotics industry is moving towards a new generation of robots, based on workplace safety and the ability to work alongside with humans. This new generation is paramount to making the factories of the future more cost-effective and restoring the competitiveness of the European manufacturing industry.

However, the European manufacturing industry is facing the following challenges:
• Lack of adaptability – dynamic changes or deviations on shop floors require real-time monitoring and adaptive execution control with smart sensor networks for context-aware information sharing and task planning as quickly as possible;
• Lack of flexibility – manufacturing complexity and dynamism demands responsive human-robot interactions to address increasing diversity and speciality of production equipment and processes in difficult working environment as flexibly as possible; and
• Lack of vertical integration – today’s global competition pushes for much quicker time-to-market by vertical integration between task-planning computers and task-execution robot controllers with zero tedious programming as seamlessly as possible to increase manufacturing throughput.

The SYMBIO-TIC project addresses these important issues towards a safe, dynamic, intuitive and cost-effective working environment: immersive and symbiotic collaboration between human workers and robots can improve this situation and bring significant benefits to robot-reluctant industries where current tasks and processes are perceived to be too complex to be automated. The benefits include lower costs, increased safety, better working conditions and higher profitability through improved adaptability, flexibility, performance and seamless integration.

The ultimate goal of this project is to contribute with innovative technologies to factories of the future where European manufacturers can compete effectively in the global market. In order to implement such a human-robot tight collaborative system, four challenges are addressed: (1) how to safeguard human workers at all time when interacting with robots in a shared fenceless environment; (2) how to generate who-do-what work plans on the fly suitable for the human-robot mixed tasks; (3) how to adapt dynamic changes and control robots quickly and correctly with zero programming for robot users; and (4) how to interface with robots via multimodal interfaces efficiently as well as to instruct human workers on what-to-do and/or how-to-do effectively, especially for human-robot complex assembly/packaging tasks.
In the reported period the project industrial impact is supported by large industrial partners (VCC, ABB, ACI, IDK) and SMEs (PRO, PRD, SAN, AMS, ROB) that allocates substantial resources to market dissemination (WP6) and exploitation (WP7) activities.

The project supports widespread adoption of robots by SMEs resulting in productivity improvements and therefore provides a competitive advantage to the European economy as a whole. This competitive advantage supports the re-shoring of industrial activities to Europe and contribute to Europe’s job creation and economic recovery: the technology developed in the project contributes a rebalancing of world manufacturing economics, enabling traditionally higher labour rate countries to compete in world markets. Greater competiveness results in increased sales of manufactured products leading to increased number of manufacturing jobs and creates higher paying support jobs.

This project also contributes to the development of a regulatory framework around human-robot collaborative systems and provide input to European Technologies Platforms and PPPs such as EURobotics PPP.

The project scientific impact is supported by the academic and research partners (KTH, MTA, LMS, HIS, VTT, IPA) and rests on a rich set of scientific dissemination activities. This project influences the robotics research community by focusing attention on human-robot interaction and fenceless environments (and away from traditional safeguarding and clearance aspects). Specifically, it is expected that the project key innovations (programming-free methodology, safety policy-guided sensor-driven task planning/re-planning, active collision avoidance supported by sensor-driven 3D models) have a durable impact on robotics hardware and software research. The project also influences the legal framework of human-robot workplace collaboration. As current standards are insufficient (ISO and safe-regulation norms do not have legal character), compliance with safety measures does not provide protection from legal risk. Also, the more autonomous a robot is, the more its actions are unpredictable, which raises concerns about the foreseeability of the robot’s behaviour in certain situations and dangers arising from it. Human-robot collaboration therefore requires new legal options for employees (refusal to work or right for hazard pay), new methods for the protection of workers and in general, new regulations.

The project societal impact results from addressing specific challenges such as health & safety (H2020 societal challenge No. 1) and resource conservation (H2020 societal challenge No. 5).
Many production jobs in manufacturing involve repetitive, physically demanding work, which could be effectively fulfilled by robots. Workers are highly susceptible to repetitive-strain injuries to their hands, wrists, and elbows . Production workers often stand for long periods and may be required to lift heavy objects or use cutting, slicing, grinding, and other dangerous tools and machines. To deal with difficult working conditions and comply with safety regulations, companies have initiated ergonomic programs to cut down on work-related accidents and injuries. This project demonstrates that the development of lower cost, safer and more flexible automation technologies such as collaborative robots can lower worker injuries while increasing productivity and cost-effectiveness.

Robots have the capability to perform tasks more accurately than their human counterparts, therefore reducing waste in the manufacturing process (more efficient use of feedstock, lower rejection rate of manufactured parts). For example, high-pressure painting using industrial robots has enabled office and kitchen furniture manufacturer Spartan (an ABB customer in Slovakia) to reduce the amount of paint they use by 15 percent. Their goal was to meet the increased quality requirements of their clients, to become more environmentally friendly and to boost production capacity. Similarly, this project demonstrates the sustainability impact of automation in industries that have traditionally had to relying on manual processes such as aeronautics.
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