How we enable flexible manufacturing and the smart factory
Our mission here at Mapvision is to be the Eyes of Smart Factories. We give robots eyes.
One recent step towards the goal is the flexible welding cell pilot that we just launched with Valmet Automotive (you may have seen the recent news about it).
In this article, we will explain in more detail how the Mapvision Smart Eye Cell solution works, and how it will in practice enable restructuring of the manufacturing industry.
How flexible should a flexible manufacturing cell be?
Before we define the future of manufacturing, we need to discuss the meaning of flexible for a moment.
There are welding cells that include a shelf of fixtures from which a robot arm can pick the right one for different parts. It is an improvement over a single-purpose cell, but the solution is still rigid and hardware-bound, and all the flexibility needs to be planned beforehand.
The fixture clearly is limiting the flexibility. What about a fixtureless or jigless welding cell, then? A welding cell without a part-specific fixture certainly adds some more flexibility. The issue then becomes how we get the parts to the right position for the welding. The solutions we have so far seen depend on pre-defined physical holes for grippers for alignment.
The ultimate flexibility would come with a system that operates in a single coordinate system. When you can check the position of the part and provide instant error correction instructions to the robot, the robot arm could pick up any part, with for example suction cups or magnets, and all robots in the production cell will know what the part is, where it is and what to do with it. Only with this kind of a closed-loop system the cell really becomes hardware-independent.
Creating the all-new measurement-aided multi-purpose manufacturing cell
At Mapvision, we are experts on machine vision and quick fully digital measurements. Some time ago. We started wondering, how we could we use that expertise to create a self-adjusting multi-purpose manufacturing cell that would allow us to break the chains of traditional production lines.
Why don’t we create a system that checks the coordinates inside the production cell and gives the gripping arms the immediate feedback and positioning guidance they need?
This was the starting point of the project we originally called The Measurement-Aided Welding Cell.
The measurement-aided welding cell required a completely new kind of Mapvision solution. We took the advanced multi-camera technology of our 100% x 100% in-line inspection solution and applied it to a totally new hardware format that can be the focal point of the flexible welding cell.
In addition, we had to create interfaces for giving the manufacturing brain visual feedback and test the communication veins that provide the instant feedback for error correction of the arms. The robots are blind, but the cell needs to see, you see.
Fixtureless. Tick. Closed loop. Yes. It is all here now.
That is what we call a flexible manufacturing cell. The Mapvision Smart Eye Cell.
Mapvision Smart Eye Cell – enabling the factory of the future
Now, we have run the first pilots with our proof-of-concept cell and are ready for more.
When you replace the rigid and underutilized production lines of the past with a network of these cells, you not only get huge floor space savings, but you will also have a factory that can adjust according to the changes in production requirements and volumes. This is not just about precision positioning for robots either, we can expand this machine vision concept to guide any manufacturing system that requires exact shared coordinates.
As a bonus – a massive bonus, if we may say so – you get instant integrated quality inspection in the same cell (every cell!) after each process step, so that waste is minimized.
That factory of the future offers ultimate capacity optimization for the world where changes in production plans are a given. In that factory, the promises of Industry 4.0 become real.
Factories finally become smart.
We provide the eyes.
P.S. If you want to witness with your own eyes the manufacturing cell that can see, we will be happy to organise a visit with you to the Valmet Automotive’s Innovation Lab in Uusikaupunki. Just click on the link below and get in touch.