A next-generation smart workbench to showcase the latest production technologies has been developed by IVS in collaboration with AMRC Cymru. The Smart Workbench combines a mixed reality headset, smart tooling, 3D and 2D machine vision, seven-axis robotics, intelligent projection, pick-to-light and automation into one complete demonstration cell. The bench is designed to showcase the combined use of these cutting-edge technologies in a cell which can be used for demonstrations, research and development at AMRC Cymru, which is part of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult cluster of research centres.
IVS combined the mixed reality environment with the various disparate tools and robotic assembly build, providing a step-by-step process control for an engineer to follow. With the mixed reality unit being an integral component, IVS has developed a template for an immersive inspection environment to assist users. AMRC Cymru will then use the data gathered from these processes to dig deeper into the potential applications of these tech combos in future manufacturing settings.
Earl Yardley, Industrial Vision Systems Director, said: “We’re very excited about the work we have completed with AMRC Cymru. We see the increased use of Mixed Reality combined with industrial automation and machine vision as a pivotal technology for next-generation factories. Imagine operators with physical items around them, such as components and assemblies, but with the ability to also interact with digital content, such as a shared document that updates in real-time to the cloud or instruction animations for assembly. That is, in essence, the promise of mixed reality. It’s an incredibly exciting technology for future production environments.”
The smart workbench also combines both 2D and 3D machine vision. By generating a point cloud of information, 3D machine vision enables the vision system to inspect and confirm positional off-sets with the robot, facilitating the automated inspection of complicated assemblies, subassemblies, and individual components. Together with a collaborative seven-axis robot arm, this enables the benchtop assembly of parts on the smart workbench. This is an essential area of research for future manufacturing settings since it can be paired with the pick-to-light system for full collaboration between humans and robots.
Andrew Silcox, research director at AMRC Cymru, said: “We are delighted to be working with IVS to develop SMART workstation applications for our industrial partners. AMRC Cymru believes that SMART workstations equipped with collaborative robot technologies will be a key component of our future factories as they enable us to merge the productivity and repeatability of automation with the adaptability and dexterity of a human.”
The smart workbench also includes operator traceability and security with RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tags providing the ability for the bench to adjust according to the operator’s height and store data against the operator ID. This is linked to the factory information system at AMRC Cymru, and, ultimately to AMRC’s bespoke Factory+ demonstrating how data exchange to factory information systems, and clear human-machine interfaces, are critical elements for the factory of tomorrow.
It is hoped the Smart Workbench can be utilised by all members and visitors of AMRC Cymru to research future ideas and concepts for manufacturing knowledge. Combining different production process elements in unique combinations, the smart workbench is seen as a modern tool for the future of manufacturing technology.