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Robots Partnering with Humans

"What will the factory of the future be like? How will it be organized? To answer these and many other questions about the Industry 4.0 production model, all it takes is a trip to the FPT Industrial Driveline plant in Turin, Italy, dedicated to the production of transmissions and axles for heavy equipment," said a Comau spokesperson.

Here, in the department dedicated to assembling spindles for heavy equipment axles, the Advanced Use Robotic Arm (AURA) operates. This is a robot designed and built by Comau and used in the Human-centered Manufacturing System (HuManS) project, launched in the area of the Piedmont Region tender dedicated to the Intelligent Factory Platform and with which FPT Industrial, Comau and another 17 companies specialized in the sector participated. It is a project that places humans at the center of the production system, surrounded by machinery that helps and shares the space with them in complete safety.

Almost three meters (9'8") high and weighing about three tons (374 lbs.), AURA is a collaborative industrial robot capable of working alongside humans, without barriers and in the same work station, to help them and perform the most tiring and repetitive tasks and, where necessary, it is ready to be manually guided by the human operator. Specifically, AURA retrieves a part from the supply cart in complete autonomy and hands it to the operator it shares the station with. At this point, the human operator takes control of the operations, guiding the robot using a specific handle so that the mechanical arm takes the part to the work bench, where it is coupled with a lever.

"The robot, which performs the heavy work methodically and effortlessly, is the only collaborative machine on the market capable of lifting up to 170 kg," said a spokesperson. "The delicate assembly stage is controlled by a human, thereby using human skills to adapt to operational situations and assembly strategies that vary from model to model."

AURA, in its role as a collaborative machine, must be able to perceive a presence, whether it be other machinery or a real person, in the space where it operates and consequently modulate its behavior. In order to do this in the best possible way, it uses its "senses."

A "sensitive skin"-soft and inspired by human skin-allows it to decide whether to reduce its speed or stop entirely. The robot uses a 3D camera to scan the piece being retrieved in order to perceive its position. The gripper is capable of lifting the component with a firm but delicate grip. In order to work without any barriers alongside a human on the FPT Industrial driveline assembly line, AURA was outfitted with a "sixth sense": an advanced and complex laser scanning system that investigates and monitors the work space when the arm is in operation.

FPT Industrial and Comau actively participated in the HuManS project from the preliminary stages of defining the requirements and the areas of application in 2017, with the goal of improving processes and making them more efficient due to the implementation of new technical solutions expressly targeted at factory ergonomics. As an end user, FPT Industrial and Comau consistently monitored the actual industrial validity and the results, thereby streamlining their transition from the scientific area to the application area.

Giuseppe Daresta, Manufacturing Manager for FTP Industrial, said, "The configuration created at the Turin Driveline plant represents significant innovation, as it improves the ergonomics in manual assembly operations of heavy elements due to the support of robots capable of safely sharing the spaces with the human operator. It also represents an important vehicle to spread new technologies developed due to their application in a real production setting."

Pietro Ottavis, Chief Technology Officer for Comau, said, "Cobots and digital instruments are just some of the main technologies that Comau has developed following its own approach to Industry 4.0, called HUMANufacturing. The goal is to create complete and safe collaboration between humans and machines in production operations that require greater speed, strength and repeatability, as well as in dangerous operations."

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