All manufacturing companies face the same challenge: How can they maintain or even expand cost-effective and efficient production with the same number of employees? Staff shortages have become the norm in all industries. That's why companies want to automate more and more production steps, especially physically demanding or monotonous tasks for which fewer and fewer employees can be found.
Fortunately, advances in robotics, AI and gripping systems continue to allow new, cost-effective applications for automation solutions. In the past, businesses usually had enough skilled personnel to install and operate automation systems. As a result, the systems gained more and more functions, but also became more difficult to operate. Today, this poses problems for small and medium-sized companies in particular. They are struggling with staff shortages that prevent them from automating their production and thereby future-proofing it. In particular, companies face a significant challenge when it comes to the handling of components by robots. When a camera system is necessary to achieve precise positioning for component gripping, many companies encounter limitations and must rely on external service providers for automation, becoming dependent on them.
To address this issue, SCHUNK introduced the 2D Grasping Kit, an application kit that enables swift, cost-effective and straightforward automation thanks to AI developed by SCHUNK in Germany. The kit consists of a camera with a lens, an industrial PC, SCHUNK AI software and the necessary cables. All components are coordinated with each other and, due to an open TCP/IP interface, can be combined with any robot or even a higher-level controller (such as a Siemens PLC). It allows handling and sorting of various components randomly arranged on a plane. At last, a solution for the kinds of tasks that were complex to automate but monotonous and unappealing for human workers.
For example, when turned parts come out of a machine in a contract manufacturing company, they usually fall into a box. An employee then sorts them by hand and places them in trays in the correct position so that subsequent processing steps can be automated more easily. However, in this process, it is easy for components to be damaged or mixed up. When the robot takes over, the employee is relieved of these tasks. At the same time, complexity and susceptibility to errors are reduced in subsequent automated processes.
SCHUNK uses the 2D Grasping Kit in its own production in Germany. Customers have the opportunity to validate their own applications in the CoLab robot application center and easily find out how the system can improve their own production.
If the system is mechanically structured, an average user would only need less than half a day to teach the system (new) components. The web interface of the software guides the user step by step to the result.
The camera looks down onto a conveying belt, tray or staging table from above. The AI software recognizes and differentiates the components based on previously trained images and outputs the optimal gripping position. To do this, the camera first captures the background on which the components will be placed. It then takes several photographs of the parts to be gripped. For example, if the robot's task is to grip components along with transparent packaging (such as screws and nuts in a plastic bag) for order fulfillment, the operator simply takes multiple photos of the components in various positions.
Lighting is an often underestimated challenge for camera-based automation systems. Depending on the installation site, selecting a suitable exposure can be difficult, especially since a number of different parameters must be considered (such as size, distance, wavelength or beam angle). The 2D Grasping Kit does not require a dedicated lighting source and, thanks to AI-powered software, is significantly more resistant to ambient light than conventional vision systems. The camera is designed to handle varying lighting conditions, including daylight changes based on the sun's position, and is also capable of adapting to different backgrounds. The color and reflectivity of the surface have minimal impact as well. The system reliably detects metallic components even on bright backgrounds.
In the next step, the operator simply marks and names the components. The SCHUNK AI software automatically extracts an object's contour from the background, isolates it and calculates variances for view angles, lighting conditions and other parameters. After only 10 to 20 images, the software already has a sufficient data set of the objects to be detected.
Once the first two steps have been completed, the AI trains itself entirely offline. The customer retains full control over the data at all times because it remains entirely within their company network. The training takes just one to two hours. Then the 2D Grasping Kit is ready to go.
The AI-assisted camera now recognizes the components in the bags based on characteristic features such as shape, size and color. The AI adjusts and compensates for any variations that may occur, such as reflections or deformations of the bags. The image processing software then communicates with the robot and tells it which components it recognizes, where they are positioned, how far the gripping system should be opened and at which angle of rotation it can best grip the components. The robot then moves its gripper to the component and picks it up, placing it in the correct position at a predefined location. During the gripping and moving process, the camera simultaneously detects the next object and calculates its type and gripping point. This takes about two seconds, enabling the robot to immediately grip the second object after it has put down the first.
What sets this system apart is that it not only detects objects but also automatically calculates the gripping points for the specific gripper being used. In addition, it transfers the parameters, such as angle of rotation and opening width, to the robot control system. If desired, users can manually store multiple gripping points very easily. In this example, the 2D Grasping Kit works with the universal gripper EGK. In the future, the kit will also work with pneumatic and mechatronic parallel grippers, as well as magnetic, vacuum and adhesive grippers.
The 2D Grasping Kit allows many companies to easily get started with automation:
• Thanks to its user-friendly web interface, the teaching process can be successfully completed within half a day, even by untrained personnel.
• Even difficult components (flexible or highly reflective) can be taught very easily and reliably detected with the use of AI.
• The SCHUNK AI software not only enables applications, it also ensures that the system is user-friendly and operates smoothly in the background.
Thanks to this software, many production steps, especially monotonous sorting tasks at production machines or at the interface to logistics (order picking), can finally be automated reliably and with minimal effort.