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Robotic Automation Modules for Production

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - RAMPup (Robotic Automation Modules for Production)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2019-12-31

RAMPup enables automation of many currently non-automated processes in low-volume productions using Robotic Automation Modules, which encapsulate a robotic process in a single self-contained unit, including both hardware and control software. The modules are generalized and flexible such that they can be reused for the production of multiple various products and potentially future products, thus the return of investment for the production facility is minimized.

RAMPup matures state-of-the-art research results into a flexible automation platform, which is extensible through a standardized interface. The platform enables easy reconfiguration of the modules for rapid setup (plug-and-produce) and switchover of workstations, and the ability to ramp up production based on customer demands.

RAMPup will also supply a System Developer’s Toolkit (SDK) to enable any manufacturer to develop their own modules which comply with the RAMPup interfacing. This will enable any specialist to become an Original Equipment Manufacturer. Many systems integrators already develop their own partial solutions which they reuse for their own customers – by complying with RAMPup’s specifications the potential customer base for their product becomes much broader. RAMPup will include the development of a central database and sales channel where module developers can advertise their modules and interested parties can see all the modules that are available.

It is vital that systems integrators and end-users are involved in designing and testing all project elements, so that real-world usability is credible and there are stakeholders with experience and a vested interest in RAMPup’s success and market introduction after project end – therefore the consortium consist of 8 industry partners and 2 RTOs.

Eight real-world industrial use cases are to be solved using RAMPup modules. Across the use cases, six different types of processes use most of the time: handling, screw-driving, force-controlled fitting, dispensing, riveting, and pressing. RAMPup will develop at least one module for each of these processes. Via the EC, RAMPup funds solution development to TRL7, but these solutions are intended to be matured to commercial standard in side-agreements using private funding after project end.

The objectives of RAMPup are:
• 50% increased productivity per worker for each of the eight use cases.
• 25% reduced total cost of ownership of robot workstations and process modules.
• 50% increased reusability of software and hardware in system integration.
• At least six different types of process modules compliant with the RAMPup interface specifications developed to TRL7.
From the beginning of RAMPup to the end of the first reporting period (Jan 2016 to June 2017, M1-- M18), all setting up activities have been completed and the development of modules is progressing well.
• The RAMPup web site keeps interested people informed about the project objectives.
• Different types of physical interfaces have been considered and tested and a final version specified.
• The SDK has gone through several iterations with the system integrator partners, resulting in a menu-driven developer’s interface which meets general approval. All major elements of the SDK have been demonstrated – there will be further iterations but these are expected to be primarily minor additions and visual improvements.
• All use cases have been analysed in terms of the current manual process and initial designs for the automation process have determined which RAMPup modules to include in the solutions for each use case.
• Module development is well begun:
o An early prototype dispensing module is being tested and given more capabilities.
o A complete prototype force/torque based insertion module is under test and should be completed by month 24.
o A complete prototype screw driving module is being integrated with the platform, tested, and completed by month 24.
o A complete press module is being manufactured, after which it will be integrated and tested, and completed by month 24.
o The riveting module has been designed and its main functional component determined.
o The handling module has been put aside and will be revisited later. Having analysed the use cases we now expect to need different versions of this module and have not yet decided which version to develop as part of RAMPup.

We are happy to report that all deliverables and milestones have been achieved and the consortium is working well together. The work carried out to date has caused some rethinking but the project is on track and looks set to achieve the objectives and commitments set out in the DoW.
RAMPup has devised and implemented a hardware and software interfacing system that is available as an Open specification that any potential robot manufacturer may use. Existing prcoess equipment can quickly be brought into the RAMPup ecosystem by wrapping them into the Open specification. Small manufacturers could become OEMs by developing modules encapsulating their expertise and know that these are compatible with other modules by other manufacturers. The number of modules will continuesly increase along with the demand for new process capabilities and increase the variety of possible solutions. A solution may be created from a combination of modules from multiple developers, providing top-class solutions that are faster, more reliable and cheaper for the end-user. This will in turn mean that specialist, cost-effective robot solutions are available for increasingly complex automation challenges.

RAMPup provides a common platform supporting and enabling the process modules to communicate with each other. A process module may depend on another module to enable its capability. E.g. a screw driving module will depend on a robot arm module -- the screw driving module encapsulates the relative motion skills to apply the screw, but it depends on the robot arm module to position the screw driver correctly. These inter-module dependencies are completely independent of proprietary hardware interfaces and brands, thanks to the platform and standardized interfaces already built.

The RAMPup project provides a major impact in the robotic automation business and may disrupt the traditional automation industry. System Integrators have traditionally excelled in providing custom solutions – but they reduce the amount of effort in producing such solutions and improve their margin by developing central elements that can be reused in several solutions. RAMPup formalises these reusable elements and enables their conversion into generic process modules which can be advertised, distributed and sold to similar enterprises, so the systems integrator also becomes an OEM. The margin of a modular solution may be less than that of a custom solution, but less time is needed to produce it.

There are many end-users who are reluctant to automate because they are constantly upgrading their products and reviewing their product portfolio – product lifespan is short. The reconfigurability of a RAMPup system will ensure a better RoI as most modules can be reused despite changes to the product. This reusability also reduces the number of robotic elements that need to be scrapped when an automated system is upgraded, contributing to the circular economy.
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