Quality, productivity, efficiency: Smart Robots’ three-dimensional vision system, developed within the e-Novia Enterprise Factory, ensures the elimination of errors caused by human operators in manual assembly and fitting stations. The result is certified and standardised processes, a substantial reduction in costs due to non-quality, and increased efficiency.
High competitiveness, high quality and process standards, strong demands for flexibility: these are the current challenges facing European industrial manufacturing. They are being addressed by Smart Robots, a company set up in 2016 within the e-Novia Enterprise Factory, as a spin-off of Milan’s Polytechnic. Operating in the field of Humanized Machines, Smart Robots has identified a systemic and scalable solution to improve the productivity of operators in manual workstations. It is a vision system which uses artificial intelligence to acquire real-time three-dimensional images of the workstation, reducing the margin of error caused by the human operator. The latest studies by the McKinsey Global Institute confirm that by 2030, 95% of industrial activities will continue to require human intervention. To significantly increase its profitability, the manufacturing sector today needs to increase quality control in manual operations. This is necessary, on one hand, to maintain the competitiveness of their products and, on the other hand, to preserve the flexibility and attention to detail typical of non-automated processes. Today, the human error rate in repetitive processes related to industrial manufacturing is around 1%, with often serious repercussions on customer satisfaction, management costs and, more generally, on the efficiency of the entire production plant. This is the context in which Smart Robots operates, with a product which has a very precise objective: the reduction of direct and indirect costs associated with operator error. Among the most important are reworking costs, the management of returns following incomplete shipments or faulty items, the loss of new orders and, last but not least, a general loss of credibility of the manufacturing company’s brand.
Important for assembly and fitting
Thanks to the three-dimensional view of the workstation provided by its sensors, the Smart Robots vision system “guides” the operator through the assembly and fitting phases, ensuring the correct completion of manual sequences and speeding up the entire process. The system recognises in real time the hands (and therefore the actions) of the operator and the presence of any tools, verifies the precise progress of the operations by comparing them with a predefined sequence and ensures, at the same time, that each individual part has been inserted or assembled. As soon as it “recognises” an error, the system is able to provide different types of feedback: an intuitive visual signal sent out by a light tower, a laser pointer or a monitor; an acoustic signal, such as a siren; or, on request, a blockage of the working tools.
The solution designed by Smart Robots is therefore important in assembly and fitting operations, but also in those linked to packaging. In the latter case, if the operator forgets to insert an object in its container, the system detects it in real time and provides timely feedback before the package is closed.
The product developed by Smart Robots is 100% privacy compliant: once acquired by the system, the three-dimensional images of the workstation are immediately deleted.
Collaborative intelligence to improve the quality of the operator’s work
Launched in 2018, in little more than two years Smart Robots’ vision system has been able to create its own niche in the quality control sector of assembly, fitting and packaging operations in the industrial and manufacturing market, providing its customers with standardised and certified processes together with substantial savings on costs related to non-quality (with the ensuing elimination of complaints from end customers) and on the costs of installation and reconfiguration of test equipment. Today Smart Robots has among its customers innovative multinationals and SMEs, such as Whirlpool, Comau, Gruppo Cimbali, ABB and Officine Aiolfi, as well as a series of prestigious awards: the Innovation Awards Honoree at CES in Las Vegas 2020 and three Seals of Excellence from the European Commission, which represent the “quality labels” awarded to the best entrepreneurial projects submitted to Horizon 2020, the funding program aimed at supporting and promoting innovation in Europe. Today Smart Robots coordinates the development of the Collaborative Robotics and Ergonomics technological module of the WATCHMAN technological hub (which includes, among others, the participation of international companies such as Brembo and the University of Bergamo), the project financed by the Lombardy Region for the development of an experimental centre dedicated to the application of Artificial Intelligence to Machine Vision in the manufacturing field.
Thanks to Smart Robots’ skills in creating innovative solutions for the digitisation of manual workstations and collaborative robotics, the Hub will include robots capable of assisting human operators in positioning vision systems. While the machine will be “in charge” of moving the image capture system, the operator will be involved in its training and the management of artificial intelligence. The result of this collaborative intelligence will be an improvement in the quality of the operator’s work (who will be able to focus on more value-added activities) and an increase in efficiency levels in quality control processes thanks to a highly flexible and modular approach.