With 1. 4 million feet of exhibit space, there was almost oo much to take in at the
International Manufacturing Technology
Show (IMTS) in Chicago last month. By the
end of the industrial Iditarod, after walking
and talking nonstop for three straight days,
I was over it. Bored of all the amazing tech.
Sick of navigating mobs. And dead tired.
There was one type of technology that I
didn’t get enough of, and if I had any sort of
mechatronic acumen, would have retooled
to do my job for me: Mobile robotics.
I first started covering these plucky
go-getters exactly three years ago this
month, with the then still-unlaunched
KUKA Mobile Robotics iiwa. It’s a waist-high autonomous cart attached to a seven-axis
robot. KUKA’s vast orange emporium at the tradeshow featured one circling a car
chassis, its arm tooling closing in at certain spots to simulate a fastening application.
The chassis was on top of a flatter, slimmer platform, the KMR 1500.
The new omni-directional machine’s payload is a whopping 1,500 kg, or 3,300
lb. It measures 2,000 mm x 800 mm, with a height of 470 mm. An optional lift table
adds an additional 200 mm to place it at a more ergonomic height. Using the SLAM
(Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) method, based off data from safety laser
scanners and wheel sensors, the KMR 1500 can haul an entire car throughout a
facility without fixed infrastructure, stopping at predetermined points for the next
step in the manufacturing process.
This robot-on-robot concept provides a great visual for where mobile robotics
are headed, and could someday completely alter how an automotive OEM thinks
about factory design in the future. You could also imagine how useful this nomadic
production line could have served Tesla when they had to build Model 3’s in their
Fremont facility parking lot this past summer.
But what about today? What mobile robotic options are out there that any manufacturer or logistics operation use for their material handling needs?
The answer is plenty.
At their core, autonomous mobile robots aren’t radically different than the typical
AGVs that have been rolling along factory floors since the 1950s. Four wheels. Low
to the ground. Carry things from place to place. Of course, they are much smarter
and not confined to magnetic tape lines. However, as their intelligence has evolved,
they have become inextricably stuck to the digital transformation the industry is
undergoing. Every second their sensors collect more data—information that can be
Because of their usually low profle, you may have overlooked the impact mobile robots have
been having on manufacturing and logistics. With the next wave rolling out now, they will be
impossible to miss.
AUTO BOTS STEER
By John Hitch
The MiR500 is specifcally designed to replace lift trucks in plants across the manufacturing industry.