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Materials for Robots Robots

Summary

  • Robots can be broadly classified into two categories: industrial robots and service robots. The robot market is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.
  • The most widely used type of industrial robot is the vertical articulated robot. Among these, cobots—robots designed to collaborate with humans—are projected to exhibit particularly strong growth. Service robots may be classified as mobile servants, physical assistants, or person carriers, with development efforts currently underway in all three categories.
  • Robots intended to collaborate with humans face key challenges: reducing weight and improving freedom of shapes and configurations. Moreover, the increasing number of units being mass-produced places a priority on reducing manufacturing costs. Many of these problems can be addressed by choosing engineering plastics, which offer high strength and rigidity, good sliding behavior, and excellent electrical properties.

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What are robots? Categories of robots

A 2014 white paper from Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) defines robots as “intelligent mechanical systems equipped with three component technologies: sensors, actuators, and intelligent control systems.”*1 Robots may be further classified by the purpose they serve: robots used to replace work done by humans in industrial production and manufacturing environments are known as industrial robots, while robots that assist in providing services in areas such as medical care, logistics, shipping, cleaning, and housework are known as service robots.

 

The robot market is projected to grow significantly in the coming years. According to statistics released by the International Federation of Robotics on the installation of industrial robots by 2020 (based on number of units), the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 did cause an economic slowdown, but the number of robots introduced worldwide remained roughly unchanged from the previous year. Moreover, the installation of robots is expected to proceed rapidly in the years after 2021 due to the additional impetus created by the pandemic toward automation and use of robots in a variety of industrial fields; the market is projected to exhibit year-on-year growth of 13% in 2021 and to grow at an annual rate of 6% in 2022 and thereafter.*2

 

In manufacturing industries, the use of robots collaborating with humans—known as cobots—is on the rise, while robots in service industries have already begun providing services to humans. These developments have spurred interest in various cost-reduction strategies—including safety provisions, weight reduction and reduced energy consumption, and greater suitability for mass production—that have motivated robot designers to begin switching from metals to plastics. In what follows we discuss industrial and service robots in greater detail.

*1:https://www.nedo.go.jp/library/robot_hakusyo.html

*2:https://ifr.org/ifr-press-releases/news/robot-sales-rise-againl

What are industrial robots?

The term “industrial robots” refers to robots used to replace humans in performing a variety of tasks for automation and efficiency in factories and similar settings; among the varieties of industrial robots are vertical articulated robots, horizontal multi-joint robots (scalar robots), parallel-link robots, and orthogonal robots. Of these, vertical articulated robots are the most commonly used today, with the dominant architecture involving a 6-axis structure comprising 6 joints. A key advantage of these robots is that their large number of joints enables complicated movements, with a wide range of motion relative to the area consumed by their installation. The highly general-purpose nature of these robots allows them to be used at multiple stages of production processes, including shipping, painting and welding, and product assembly.

Industrial robots comprise three primary components.

Structural components of industrial robots

1. Manipulators that execute motions and perform tasks.
2. Controllers responsible for operating manipulators and controlling their motion.
3. Programming pendants that tell manipulators how to operate.

Manipulators are nothing less than arms, and in fact are often referred to as robot arms. They are comprised of several parts: arms, corresponding to bones and skin; sensors, corresponding to eyes, tactile sensation, and other sensory functions; and actuators corresponding to muscles (as well as the motors and reduction gears from which actuators are formed). Until recently, the use of industrial robots required robots to be enclosed in protective barriers to establish a clear separation between human and robot workspaces. However, the ISO/TS 15066 standard, in effect since 2013, establishes conditions that, when satisfied, allow humans and industrial robots to work together in shared spaces. Robots designed to collaborate with humans in this way are known as cobots. Miniature cobots intended for human collaboration constitute a rapidly growing market sector.

 

In the past, the primary quality requirements for robot arm components were high speed and high precision, and such components were typically made from metals, which also offer excellent durability. However, metals have the disadvantages of being high in weight and entailing high manufacturing costs, including post-processing costs. This has led designers to consider the use of plasticss to cut manufacturing costs and improve safety by reducing product weights. Plastics are particularly well-suited to the manufacture of small-scale cobots for human collaboration.

* ISO/TS15066 is a technical standard regulating safety conditions for collaborative industrial systems and working environments. Other relevant standards include ISO10218, which specifies safety requirements for robots themselves.

What are service robots?

The term service robot is a general-purpose label for a broad range of robots that are of use to humans, primarily in service industries. Robots of this variety are expected to become increasingly common and widespread in the coming years. The ISO 13842 international safety standard, published in 2014, classified service robots into three categories.

Categories of “service robots”

  1. Mobile servant robots: Service robots with motion capabilities. This category includes automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) operating in fulfillment centers and warehouses; automated home-delivery robots of great interest for covering the much-discussed “last mile;” robots for automatic cleaning and disinfecting, which came to prominence in many news reports during the COVID-19 pandemic; and security robots for patrolling and monitoring premises.
  2. Physical assistant robots: Wearable robots that humans may affix to their bodies to provide various forms of physical assistance, such as aiding or reinforcing various types of operation. So-called power-assist suits fall into this category, which is growing in popularity for purposes such as facilitating the transition to an aging society and reducing bodily strain for physical laborers.
  3. Person-carrier robots: Robots that furnish components of personal-mobility strategies. Development and testing of technologies in this category, including automated driving technologies, is underway today.

All types of service robots are designed to collaborate with humans, and thus face common challenges, including the need for lighter weights and more freedom in shapes and configurations. Moreover, the increasing number of units being mass-produced places a priority on reducing manufacturing costs.

Asahi Kasei’s Recommended Solutions

Engineering plastics and grades for robot components

Asahi Kasei supports the manufacturing efforts of our customers in the robotics industry by providing a range of materials with high-strength, high-rigidity, outstanding sliding behavior, excellent creep resistance, superior electrical properties. For example, choosing engineering plastics with properties appropriate for arms, reduction gears, actuators, motors, electrical components can help solve problems by reducing weight and lowering manufacturing costs.

Mechanical component materials

TENAC™ MG210 polyacetal resin

The excellent mechanical properties and friction/abrasion behavior of polyacetal (POM) make it a common choice for mechanical components such as gears and bearings.

 

Asahi Kasei’s TENACTM MG210 polyacetal resin is classified as a homopolymer, boasting excellent mechanical properties even compared to other POM materials. MG210 grades are based on homopolymers that offer durability properties–including creep resistance and fatigue behavior–superior to those of standard POM (copolymer), and TENACTM MG210 grades improve these properties even more.

Asahi Kasei recommends to use TENACTM MG210 polyacetal resin for mechanical components and other robot applications which may lead to extend product lifetimes and reduce product size

Materials for reduction gears

LEONA™ polyamide resins

Reduction gears are mechanical converters that decelerate and transform rotational motion produced by motors to yield the required forces.

 

Asahi Kasei is developing materials that combine the good fatigue behavior of polyamides with outstanding friction and abrasion resistance.

Vibration-control materials

XYRON™ modified polyphenylene ether resins

Asahi Kasei’s XYRON™ modified polyphenylene ether (PPE) resins combine the usual flame retardance, dimensional stability, and heat resistance of modified PPE resins with vibration-control materials boasting high loss coefficients to lend good damping properties to the entire product lineup. We recommend to use vibration-control modified PPE resins with the high loss coefficient which may provide vibration-suppression effects that help to realize noise-suppressing designs.

 

Asahi Kasei’s engineering plastics are also useful for a broad range of other applications, including motor end caps, connectors, high-voltage components, and more. For more information, please contact us using the links below.

Technical support for design and manufacturing

Resin CAE modeling and simulation support

Asahi Kasei offers a wide range of simulation capabilities based on resin CAE technology to help you design products based on engineering plastics.

 

For example, switching from metal to engineering plastics for a robot arm or frame requires design optimization of product shapes to ensure satisfaction of all relevant strength requirements.

CAE simulation support

We offer simulation and optimization support–customized to accommodate the unique features of individual resins–to assist in your product design and manufacturing process.

 

For more information, please contact us using the links below.


We would like to talk to you about Asahi Kasei’s engineering plastics for robot components. Please contact us to ask any questions, discuss any concerns, and request samples.

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