When we think of lab automation systems, we think of systems that are capable of inspecting elements but their suitability to carry out such tasks depends on a number of factors. Someone once asked me whether or not a robot would be capable of carrying out the final inspection of experimental product. This proved to be a difficult question to answer, as it is unclear whether automated machines can be decisive when evaluating the final stage of an experiment. In fact I would say that at present this technology is certainly not capable of such feats but who knows what their capabilities may be in the future.
I would still trust a human operative over a robotic one when it comes to making these kinds of decisions. Perhaps in situations where there a few obvious anomalies with the final product, a detection system or inspection device could be used to quality assure the product. In manufacturing environments, such a system could be used to detect parts that were missing from the product or broken pieces that had been damaged during the manufacturing process. These tasks are highly suitable for this system and there are many benefits to using inspection systems in this way. The process is normally carried out by human operatives who seem to fall short when executing this task, often missing defects or anomalies. This is why this role needs to be carried out by robotic systems and this is also why companies have spent so much money developing this technology.
The question needs to be answered; why is it human operatives are unable to adequately carry out inspection work? It seems to be the repetition of this task causes the human brain to effectively tune out, making it increasingly more likely they will miss any defects or missing parts. In a similar way to how a word processor works, a machine can perform a search of a document to find a single word in a few seconds. This is a task that may take a human operative hours but there are no guarantees that the word will be found. A human operative has difficulty fully focusing when the task is of a repetitive nature but a machine can handle this task without any issues. Even if a human being could manage to achieve this task, the role would be so boring that they most certainly would quit. This is before taking into account how hazardous such a job may be to the operative, with eye strain being a common issue.
Programming an automated machine requires a skillset that not many people possess and therefore people with these particular abilities are very much in demand. If you study the articles posted on this website, you will gain a foundation level knowledge on this subject and be in a position to pursue more in-depth training.
Most computer programs include an editor, a compiler and a simulator for testing the programs in a virtual test environment. The editor is used to input the code and make amendments to the code but you can also use the keyboard to execute commands. Comments can be placed strategically within the code to help other programmers understand what the code does and why it is there. Most programming languages terminate each execution with a semi-colon but this is not true for all. This software is used primarily for controlling lab automation machines and other industrial robotics. These types of automated machine use x, y and z co-ordinates to navigate around their surroundings. There may also be an additional rotational access that needs to be factored into this motion logic.
The units for the Cartesian axes are as follows:
- x axis: millimeters
- y axis: millimeters
- z axis: millimeters
- r axis: degrees
The first programming procedure that needs to be carried out, is to configure the various location points that are to be used by the software. The location pendant and keyboard are used to input this data in the system. I will use an example to demonstrate how this feature works. Once the teach pendant, the robotic manipulator and axis orientation are in their default positions, this position is recorded as the starting point position. There will be a program instruction generated to signify this operation.
It the required axis points are pre-determined or are already stored in one of the variables, the automation machine can be instructed to move to that predetermined position. The variable name for this location is entered between parentheses. This move can also be represented as an arithmetic expression which includes computational axis co-ordinates relating to a particular position.
Ordinarily there is a safe clearance distance programmed into the software for the z-axis, allowing the picker or gripper to position itself just above the pick-up point. A positive z-axis offset is required to prevent the device from damaging the item it is trying to interact with. If need be, it is possible to execute a move along only one axis using a special command which only uses co-ordinates from one axis. In fact, it is frequently necessary to move along the z-axis only and usually a special command is created for this process. All that is required is a destination point to be entered between the parentheses in the command and the machine will automatically motion towards those co-ordinates.
This is a very basic view of how motion is achieved using robotics and in truth, there is a lot more to it than what has been highlighted here. This article is part of a series of articles on this subject which will help my readers gain a better understanding of robotics and automation.
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