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IMTS 2022: Robots Aim to Help Manufacturing Tasks


September 19, 2022

By Keith Shaw

Last week in Chicago, thousands of people attended the International Manufacturing Technology Show 2022 (IMTS 2022), including companies that produce industrial robots, cobots, software and other robotics accessories. The presence of robots was not dominating like at other trade shows (such as Automate), but did represent a growing interest from attendees that were interested in supplementing their processes through the use of robots.

At the major industrial robotics booths, including Yaskawa, Kawasaki Robots, ABB, FANUC and Universal Robots, attendees could not only see robots in action, but more importantly they could see them performing machine tooling tasks, or specific processes integral to manufacturing operations. Around the show we saw robots performing welding, machine tending (loading and unloading), grinding, palletizing, 3D printing, and operating a press brake machine.

The ongoing themes around robotics are no longer about speed, optimization, accuracy and their ability to perform tasks better than human workers. The message of “robots will take jobs” is but a relic of the past, given ongoing labor shortages in almost every conceivable market, paired with continuing escalating demand for consumer products from the rest of the world. The key word mentioned by almost every robot vendor was “augment”, as how robots can support and enhance the work that human workers are performing.

Given this major shift change in theming, it’s no wonder that manufacturers continue to be interested in robotics. The question for them is now about how they will implement these systems, as that task is still pretty complex. Work with integrators? Do it yourself? Pay outright or use robots-as-a-service? What is the easiest way to program a robot? Those are the big questions that robot vendors now address with a variety of solutions and offers.

Here, in no particular order, are some new offerings that we saw at the IMTS 2022 event.

Universal Robots showed off its recently announced UR20 cobot (IMTS 2022 was the North American debut for the robot), which boasts a 20kg payload (44.1 lbs), and a 1,750-mm reach (68.9 inches). Key applications for the UR20 include palletizing, welding, materials handling, machine loading and machine tending. The UR20 is the first of the company’s next-generation high-performance cobots, which were redesigned from the ground up to provide up to 30% more speed and torque, advanced motion control capabilities, and a better experience for users. Additional models within the series are expected to come out in 2023 and 2024, Universal said.

At the booth, Universal had additional partners showing off specific applications, including welding (Hirebotics), laser welding (Cobot Systems), Kane Robotics (sanding, grinding and finishing), Mid Atlantic Machinery (press brake operation), PCC Robotics (parts handling), Robotiq (machine tending), Vectis Automation (cutting), and VersaBuilt (milling operation).

UR pressbrake800px

Mid Atlantic Machinery showed off a UR20 performing press brake operations at IMTS 2022.

ABB demonstrated a number of its most recent industrial and collaborative robots designed to help manufacturers of all sizes. Systems demonstrated included:

  • The GoFa Collaborative Robot Welding Cell, which is designed to safely work directly and continuously alongside human workers. Visitors could use ABB’s customizable two-button Lead-Through Programming function to tack and weld small parts, creating their own weld program and watching GoFa replicate the path in a live weld.
  • A live 3D printing demo featuring an ABB IRB 4400 robot equipped with a MDPH2 end-of-arm tool, featuring a direct pellet-to-print large-format extruder from Massive Dimension.
  • MiniMAC Grind Robotic Deburring Cell from MESH Automation, featuring an IRB 2600 robot and multi-tool end-of-arm tool mounted to the robot to eliminate the need for tool changes. The system automatically removes excess material from recently cast metal parts.
  • FlexLoader Machine Tool Tending Cell, aimed at low- and high-volume production, tending vertical lathes, horizontal and vertical machining centers, five-axis machines and grinders.

ABB GoFa Welding800px

ABB demonstrated its GoFa collaborative robot in a welding scenario.

Yaskawa demonstrated several applications with their robots, but also showed off new welding systems – the ArcWorld HC, ArcWorld RS and ArcWorld HS, designed for robotic welding applications. The ArcWorld HC is a complete robotic welding solution for the fabrication of small- to medium-size parts, and is designed for high-mix, low-volume production. The system includes a HC10DTP robot for welding, controlled by the high-performance YRC1000 controller. The system also includes a 1,200 mm x 2,400 mm perforated fixture table, a retractable arc curtain, built-in exhaust hood, a compatible Miller, Lincoln Electric, SKS, OTC or Fronius power supply, a 14-guage metal tool board, tool balancer and debris tray. A 120 VAC 20-Amp electrical extension outlet and 120 psi air connection are provided for common welding tools. Overhead LED lighting provides interior illumination, and solid wheels and leveling feet enable quick and easy installation or relocation. Wire spool and shield gas bottle holders are optional.

The ArcWorld RS and HS deliver flexible, compact and cost-effective options for integrating robots into current weld processes. Requiring only 2.3 square meters (25 sq ft) of floorspace, the ArcWorld RS utilizes a rotating station (RS) design, manually indexed by the operator, featuring two fixture tables with a 100 kg payload capacity per side. This facilitates quick changeover, allowing parts to be safely loaded and unloaded while the opposite station part is welded. Parts up to 425 x 700 x 990 mm can be processed.

More compact, the ArcWorld HS needs only 1.4 square meters (15 sq ft) of floorspace and offers a hinged station (HS) design, allowing easy access for loading and unloading of parts. The workcell features a single fixture table with a 100 kg payload capacity and can process parts up to 550 x 500 x 1,050 mm in size. This cell is ideal for R&D and educational use as well as smaller production runs.

Each of the systems include a single high-speed, six-axis AR900 arc welding robot with the YRC1000 controller, Yaskawa said. An integrated weld package includes either a Miller Auto-Continuum 350 or Lincoln Electric Power Wave R450 power source, wire feeder, wire spool holder and a variety of available torch options. Processes from the power supply are accessed by Yaskawa’s digital Universal Weldcom Interface (UWI), giving full control of welding parameters and settings from the robot programming pendant.

Yaskawa also demonstrated palletizing applications, SCARA robots and additional software for its robots.


Yaskawa showed off several welding systems that integrated its collaborative robots with welding gear, tables and platforms.

Productive Robotics, which develops 7-axis collaborative robots, was showing off its new Blaze LF (Large Format) automated robotic welding system, which includes a large format table (4 feet by 8 feet), the OB7 Stretch Robot, LED lighting, built-in fume extraction, a tablet controller and custom weld recipes that allow for customization of parameters such as material type, weld speed, wire speed, gas flow control, and weld patterns. The company also showcased its Blaze DUO, a dual- station robotic welder system that features two stations for simultaneous setup and welding, with an automatic door that separates the weld station. This system also includes BlazeVision live video monitoring, which lets operators see the weld going on without the need for visors, goggles or welding screens.

KUKA demonstrated several robotic applications at its booth, including 3D printing, automated bolt picking (via Keyence), additive manufacturing (with One Off Robotics), and water jet cutting (with iCubed). The company also displayed demonstrations of its LBR iisy (“easy”) cobot, designed to be versatile and operate in contact with human workers.

Stäubli Robotics demonstrated its TX2-60 HE (Humid Environment) robots in a machine tending application, with the robot capable of washing parts and tools, working in tandem with a HelMo mobile robot. The TX2-60 was able to load and unload products, inspect and mark them. The HelMo robot then moved autonomously, loading and unloading pallets of finished parts with an accuracy in the range of tenths of a millimeter. The demonstration showcased the ability for two different robots to work together – one robot arm and one mobile robot.

The company also showed off its TX1-160L HDP (High Dynamic Precision) robot in a laser cutting process, demonstrating its path accuracy at various cutting speeds, high rigidity, and ability to access complex parts, along with a tool changer that lets it switch from cutting to inspection tasks.

Mitutoyo America Corporation showed off several products at its booth, but we were impressed by its new AI Inspect Software, which can help determine defects in multiple applications. The standalone software features two modules – training and runtime. The training module allows users to develop inspection routines for automated implementation of defect detection, while the Runtime module allows trained AI module to be incorporated into an inspection system.

OnRobot showcased its recently announced D:PLOY software, an application-centered software platform for robotic deployment. The D:PLOY platform automatically discovers and configures all of the components in a robotic cell – including collaborative or light industrial robot arms and tools – while also integrating external I/O from sensors and machines. OnRobot showcased D:PLOY in a machine tending application at its IMTS booth, but the company also plans to offer D:PLOY for palletizing, packaging and materials handling applications as well. Once vision is added next year, the company said it can offer D:PLOY for depalletizing, de-packaging, screwdriving, sanding, dispensing and deburring tasks. 

Additional companies seen at the show included:

  • Boston Dynamics, which showcased its Spot robot dog walking around and climbing stairs in an inspection scenario at the Student Workforce Summit section of the IMTS event.
  • TeamViewer, which develops augmented reality and virtual reality software to help field service workers (including frontline factory workers) with support services and better equipment training scenarios, through the use of wearable computing systems.
  • ProGlove, which develops a lightweight hands-free barcode scanner that can be integrated with mobile robots in a warehouse picking scenario (among other tasks).
  • Igus, which was demonstrating its Triflex R multi-axis cable carriers designed for robotic applications such as material handling and welding. 
  • Veo Robotics, which showed off its FreeMove software and sensor system that can slow and stop an industrial robots when a human enters the sensor field. This system is designed to allow for more collaboration between robots and human workers in several manufacturing tasks, especially parts assembly.

Keith Shaw is the Managing Editor of Robotics-World.com. Main photo above courtesy of IMTS 2022.

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