From Tim Schiller
The demand for robots that can work in extreme conditions is growing steadily. This is because robots are ensuring that fewer and fewer people have to work in dangerous jobs.
And not only that: there are fewer and fewer people willing to work under extreme conditions such as enormous heat or severe cold. In addition, it is important for many companies to reduce the costs involved. And let’s not forget the unmatched process consistency that robot-based automation brings. All of this is leading more and more companies to look into the use of robots, from palletizing in the food market to foundry applications.
Where Robots Excel in Extreme Environments
Robots can fill a variety of roles in harsh environments, allowing humans to avoid having to work in these hazardous areas.
For example, robots can engage in furnace tapping in temperatures hot enough to melt metal or construct batteries by handling heavy payloads and toxic environments and materials.
Essentially, robots excel in tackling jobs that require extreme precision, repetitive tasks or the handling of dangerous materials. In doing so, they help to close the skilled labor gap and keep pace with advancements and expectations of modern manufacturing.
Robots for Extreme Cold
Robots, for example, offer a pathway toward greater efficiency in the food industry. In particular, they excel at palletizing and picking product.
But it’s not as simple as throwing automation solutions in a super-cold warehouse and hoping for results.
This is because extreme cold conditions slow a robot’s movement and wreak havoc on its motor torque and current sensors, especially for robots that run grease instead of oil in their gearboxes.
When grease gets cold, it hardens and causes a robot to sense resistance for which it increases torque and current to motors. Oil, on the other hand, maintains its viscosity in cold conditions.
For those robots using grease instead of oil, some type of heated cover for a robot is an option, but they involve additional costs, may inhibit a robot’s motion, will eventually wear out and/or break, and can potentially introduce heat and moisture into a working environment meant to be keep cold.
In the case of robots that run oil in their gearboxes, special software, such as that from KUKA, can sense increases in torque and current output in cold conditions and will initiate a robot “warm up” cycle – one in which the robot runs at slightly slower speeds until natural friction raises the gearbox temperature to normal operating levels.
This is solved, for example, by the KR QUANTEC PA Arctic, which elevates a proven, standard palletizing solution from our KR QUANTEC series with cold-resistant adaptations.
The PA Arctic requires no additional protective “suit,” special heating, additional wrapping or downtime for exchange work, making it a standard option for automation efforts in extreme cold.
Robots for Extreme Heat
High heat conditions have the opposite effect on robot torque and current output – both the levels are lower.
However, other considerations come into play, including the protection of robot wrists and how long will they be exposed to the high temperatures. In these instances, robots may employ special seals and reflective coatings, as well as heat shields.
Perhaps the best example of robots that meet extreme heat head on are those being put to work in the foundry and forging industry, where awe-inspiring temperatures and molten metal are the norm.
KUKA’s foundry robots can handle everything from intricate light alloys to large-format steel parts, and they do so with excellent heat, corrosion, alkali and acid resistance that allows them to keep going in the face of difficult molding, casting and machining applications.
As is the case with the PA Arctic, these robots rely on a combination of low weight and volume, reliability in planning and execution, deep reach, and speed. To learn more about how even foundry applications leave our robots cold, contact us today.