Seventh Axis Gives Robots Freedom to Roam
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Seventh Axis Gives Robots Freedom to Roam

By Rüdiger Knevels, CEO & President of Rollon Group, a part of The Timken Company

Rüdiger Knevels, CEO & President of Rollon Group, a part of The Timken Company

Robots are helping to move the world forward. And we, at Rollon, are helping to move robots forward, up and down, and side to side.

These days, more and more companies are relying on robots to perform repetitive tasks like spot welding, assembly, and moving materials. In fact, according to the International Federation of Robotics, more than 400,000 robots will be installed this year alone in factories around the world to help increase efficiency and productivity and promote a safer work environment. While most of these robots will be fixed in one place, our market analysis concluded that around 5 percent of them would be put in motion on a seventh axis.

"According to the International Federation of Robotics, more than 400,000 robots will be installed this year"

The addition of the seventh axis allows a robot to move from side to side and significantly increases the number of tasks it’s able to perform. At Rollon, a subsidiary of The Timken Company, we work directly with leading robot manufacturers and our customers to design seventh-axis systems to meet whatever needs they might have.

Picture a typical robot arm. It rotates, moves up and down and bends at the elbow and wrist. Now, put it on an actuator – the seventh axis – and you’ve given that robot the ability to “walk” from one point to another across varying distances. We’ve made seventh-axis systems up to 31 meters in length, and we’ll likely make longer ones in the future. In many cases, the seventh axis increases efficiency and replaces multiple static robots with one mobile robot, which can reduce your capital costs.

Many of the seventh-axis systems we’ve designed are mounted on the floor. These systems are used to do things like picking up boxes and moving them on and off of pallets to other parts of a factory floor. For leading automotive manufacturers, the seventh axis expands robots’ capabilities, giving them the ability to load and unload machined pieces across production lines.

They’re also used for assembly, moving parts from station to station along the line. For instance, one of our automotive customers utilizes a seventh axis to move metal sheets between workstations. Given that this is an area with high dynamics and heavy payloads, the seventh axis takes people out of a dangerous equation when moving hot sheets from an oven to a metal press.

Another benefit of the seventh axis is that it’s not limited to the floor. We also design wall- and ceiling-mounted systems. For example, some customers use our wall-mounted methods for painting their products and materials. Others use ceiling-mounted methods for applications in need of a birds-eye view, such as machine feeding.

If you’re thinking about employing a seventh-axis system, many factors go into making sure your setup is the right size and meets the correct specifications. Here some questions you’ll want to answer first:

1. How much are you asking it to lift?

Determining the robot’s load capacity is an excellent place to start. In doing so, you’ll want to look at what it’s lifting while in place (static) and while in motion (dynamic). For static loads, you need to determine the robot’s center of gravity. Is it picking material straight up or does it have to reach out? You’ll want to make sure it’s sturdy enough, so it doesn’t tip over when picking up the load.

For dynamic loads, you’ll want to consider the size, speed, and position of the robot along with the payload you’re asking it to carry. You’ll want to ensure it can start and stop precisely where and when you want it to.

Additionally, you’ll need to know the ability of your mounting surface – be that a floor, wall or ceiling – to support the weight and movements of a robot on an actuator.

2. How fast do you need it to move?

It’s vital to know how fast or slow you expect your robot to move. How quickly do you need it to decelerate or accelerate from station to station? We design actuators for a variety of applications that require varying speeds. Knowing this information will help match the right robot with the proper actuator.

3. How precise and accurate do you need it to be?

Precision and accuracy are probably your most important considerations when selecting rail hardware for your seventh axis. To achieve the best results, you need a reliable and repeatable motion. If multiple robots are sharing a rail, you might need extra support beams. The rack-and-pinion and belt-driven actuators we manufacture provide the right amount of precision for most applications.

4. How hard are you going to work it?

As you consider the right actuator for the job, you should have a good handle on how much stress you intend to put it on it. If you plan to have it running 24/7, you’ll want to place a premium on durability.

You’ll also want to consider the environment and how that will impact maintenance. If you have a lot of dust, debris, and fragments floating around, you’ll want to make sure your seventh axis is equipped with much higher protection than it might have in a clean environment.

The seventh axis is revolutionizing the use of robotics in a wide range of applications. The market for the seventh axis is growing by greater than 10 percent a year as more industries and companies realize the added benefits of putting their robots in motion.

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