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Autonomous Bin-Picking System Opens New Avenues in Automated Machine Tending

Universal Robots ActiNav system
Universal Robots’ new ActiNav system picks plastic and metal parts and places them where they are needed for further processing in an oriented, precise fashion.

Anyone who knows anything about automated bin picking will tell you that it is “hard, complicated, and risky,” said Eric Andersen, Product Manager at collaborative robotics company Universal Robots (UR) during a virtual press conference yesterday. Not any more, he added, with the introduction of ActiNav, a new UR+ application kit that accounts “not just for the ‘pick’ part but for the whole end-to-end navigation and placement of the part in an oriented, precise fashion.” The new kit specifically targets machine-tending tasks involving work-in-process plastic and metal parts, an occupation defined by the three Ds — dirty, dangerous and dull — and affected by labor shortages (at least pre-COVID-19).

A six-step, wizard-guided setup process integrated into the cobot teach pendant simplifies deployment of the ActiNav system, even for companies with little to no automated bin-picking experience. Image courtesy Universal Robots.

Most bin-picking products are solely focused on the vision aspect of the activity, and often require hundreds of lines of additional programming to bridge the gap from “pick” to “place” — especially if the “place” is accurately inserting the part into a fixture for further processing, said Universal Robots in its press release. By contrast, ActiNav Autonomous Bin Picking allows manufacturers with limited or no bin-picking deployment expertise to quickly achieve high machine uptime and accurate part placement with few operator interventions.

The ActiNav kit incorporates real-time autonomous motion control, collaborative robotics, and vision and sensor systems. The “teach-by-demonstration” feature uses a six-step, wizard-guided setup process for quick and easy deployment using in-house automation personnel or through assistance from a UR distributor or integrator.

Machine tending is a prime application for this system for several reasons, according to Andersen. As noted above, cobots are easy to prepare and train, and they are safe to position alongside human workers and occupy minimal floor space. While there are a number of ways to automate machine tending stations — implementing trays, bowl feeders, conveyors, and so forth — “most parts that are being moved around are already in bins,” said Andersen. “The ActiNav system is designed to navigate into deep bins and can be fitted with either suction-based, magnetic or gripper-style end effectors.”

ActiNav works with UR’s UR5e and UR10e e-Series cobots, a UR+ component or user-defined end effector, and application-specific frame or fixture, as needed.

Any manufacturer that deals with work-in-process plastic or metal parts sized between 0.5 and 5 inches would stand to benefit from deploying the ActiNav system, said Andersen. The price point puts it within reach of almost any size business: Sticker price is around $100,000 with an 18-month return on investment for a two-shift operation, he added.

The ActiNav kit is now available in North America.

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