Low-cost modular robotics kit makes automation easy


Cost-effective automation is the best possible solution for gripping, turning, pivoting and placing items and returning them to their initial position – especially in the case of simple pick-and-place tasks performed over a long period of time.

This also applies to small- and medium-sized enterprises that are becoming increasingly exposed to external competitive pressure. But how can entry into the world of automation be achieved easily and cost-effectively? This is exactly what motion plastics specialist igus makes possible with its robolink modular robot joint kit, available from Treotham Automation.

With its robolink range of igus products, Treotham has set itself the aim of offering low-cost components made of lubrication-free and maintenance-free plastics. With the modular kit principle of robolink, the user can create a simple automation solution in a short time. In addition, the user can put together systems individually with single components such as gearboxes, which can then be combined with pre-assembled articulated arms, whose lightweight construction and size make them flexible.

With the possibility of modular combination, the customer receives a system that can be used for a variety of robotics tasks. The advantage of robolink is that repetitive and time-consuming tasks that are mostly performed by hand can be automated easily.

Time saving with the use of low-cost robotic
The winning project of the Low-Cost Robotics Competition instigated by igus proved that robolink saves time and money. In the project, by MLC-Engineering, a robolink articulated arm was used in an optical measuring system. After a workpiece had been completed, this five-axis robot took the finished part from a production machine and carried it to an optical measuring device. It then positioned the work piece several times within the measuring area of the device in order to check all relevant dimensions.

The device sent the measured values to the specially developed control system, which then assessed whether the values were good or bad. Depending on this evaluation, the robolink robot placed the work piece on a conveyor belt or in a scrap box. The automation of small tasks had a good outcome for the company. It allowed employees to devote themselves to superior tasks and shorter cycle times were implemented. This was found to save 76 per cent of the time at the end.

Modular kit for an easy automation solution
For easy and speedy implementation of projects such as the one for MLC-Engineering, the robolink modular kit enables the user to individually assemble a system consisting of joints with different gearboxes, motors and connecting elements.
The robolink D joints are the moving connecting pieces that are located between the robot arm’s individual connecting plates and are operated with a direct drive and a stepper motor. Different joint sizes with worm gears or strain wave gears are available for the user to choose from. In the case of worm gears and strain-wave gearing, the motor is located directly on the axis and, depending on the application, can be installed as a waterproof motor – for example, where spray water occurs.

The joints can be operated with motors of other manufacturers, in addition to those obtainable from Treotham. As all robolink components are also available as individual joints, they can be combined with each other or special components as well as with drylin E kits for gantry robots. For example, a multi-axis articulated arm can move on a lubrication-free drylin E linear axis. The robolink D connecting elements link the robot arm’s individual joints to each other. They include the base with which the robot can be mounted on a surface and the connecting elements for joints. The robolink joint systems are available as ready-made robot arms with two to five axes.

Due to the modularity of the kit, however, they can be extended and adapted as often as required because all components are available as individual units. This provides maximum flexibility in the automation process and makes it possible to construct an articulated joint system according to individual needs.

Flexible addition of control unit, gripper or suction device
These robot arms can be supplemented with different control concepts. One such solution is the low-cost control unit supplied by Commonplace Robotics GmbH, which is designed to work with robolink D and is supplied with software.

With the help of the software, the motion sequences of the robot are displayed and can be programmed and controlled in a manner that is easy to understand. This control unit can be integrated into the base of the robolink. The modular principle of robolink also makes it possible to use the robot arms with a self-programmed control system, thus offering maximum modularity. In addition, it is possible to fit different suction devices, grippers and other tools on the robot arms. For example, igus itself uses a robolink fitted with a vacuum lifting device in the automatic assembly machine of the motion plastics specialist.

Best practice in the igus assembly machine
A robolink multi-axis robot and a drylin gantry robot with matching control unit are the main components of a machine that is used for energy chain assembly at igus. Two reciprocating table units guide the components into the assembly cell, the robolink RL-DC arm with lifting/suction gripper brings the chain links into correct alignment. The linear pivoted gripping unit then ensures that the e-chain links are placed in the correct position in the fully automated assembly machine. The ready assembled e-chain finally flows into a storage box. “This igus example shows how customers can also simplify their processes easily and cost-effectively,” said Martin Raak, product manager robolink. “The robolink multi-axis articulated robot makes it possible to automate processes with an externally bought-in low-cost control unit.”

This investment often pays for itself in four to seven months, depending on the control system used.

Online tool for fast robolink configuration
“Robolink Designer” online tool simplifies configuration of the low-cost robot. This tool has an intuitive user-interface, with which the desired robot arm can be designed individually – from the first axis to the individual tool. The software can also be used on a tablet and, among other things, enables visual simulation of the movements made by the rotating joints. After configuration, a parts list is generated and an enquiry is sent directly to Treotham.