Sunday, 27 March 2011

Technical description

    * Number of axes – two axes are required to reach any point in a plane; three axes are required to reach any point in space. To fully control the orientation of the end of the arm (i.e. the wrist) three more axes (yaw, pitch, and roll) are required. Some designs (e.g. the SCARA robot) trade limitations in motion possibilities for cost, speed, and accuracy.
    * Degrees of freedom which is usually the same as the number of axes.
    * Working envelope – the region of space a robot can reach.
    * Kinematics – the actual arrangement of rigid members and joints in the robot, which determines the robot's possible motions. Classes of robot kinematics include articulated, cartesian, parallel and SCARA.
    * Carrying capacity or payload – how much weight a robot can lift.
    * Speed – how fast the robot can position the end of its arm. This may be defined in terms of the angular or linear speed of each axis or as a compound speed i.e. the speed of the end of the arm when all axes are moving.
    * Acceleration - how quickly an axis can accelerate. Since this is a limiting factor a robot may not be able to reach its specified maximum speed for movements over a short distance or a complex path requiring frequent changes of direction.
    * Accuracy – how closely a robot can reach a commanded position. When the absolute position of the robot is measured and compared to the commanded position the error is a measure of accuracy. Accuracy can be improved with external sensing for example a vision system or IR. See robot calibration. Accuracy can vary with speed and position within the working envelope and with payload (see compliance).
    * Repeatability - how well the robot will return to a programmed position. This is not the same as accuracy. It may be that when told to go to a certain X-Y-Z position that it gets only to within 1 mm of that position. This would be its accuracy which may be improved by calibration. But if that position is taught into controller memory and each time it is sent there it returns to within 0.1mm of the taught position then the repeatability will be within 0.1mm.

Accuracy and repeatability are different measures. Repeatability is usually the most important criterion for a robot. ISO 9283 [3] sets out a method whereby both accuracy and repeatability can be measured. Typically a robot is sent to a taught position a number of times and the error is measured at each return to the position after visiting 4 other positions. Repeatability is then quantified using the standard deviation of those samples in all three dimensions. A typical robot can, of course make a positional error exceeding that and that could be a problem for the process. Moreover the repeatability is different in different parts of the working envelope and also changes with speed and payload. ISO 9283 specifies that accuracy and repeatability should be measured at maximum speed and at maximum payload. But this results in pessimistic values whereas the robot could be much more accurate and repeatable at light loads and speeds. Repeatability in an industrial process is also subject to the accuracy of the end effector, for example a gripper, and even to the design of the 'fingers' that match the gripper to the object being grasped. For example if a robot picks a screw by its head the screw could be at a random angle. A subsequent attempt to insert the screw into a hole could easily fail. These and similar scenarios can be improved with 'lead-ins' e.g. by making the entrance to the hole tapered.

    * Motion control – for some applications, such as simple pick-and-place assembly, the robot need merely return repeatably to a limited number of pre-taught positions. For more sophisticated applications, such as welding and finishing (spray painting), motion must be continuously controlled to follow a path in space, with controlled orientation and velocity.
    * Power source – some robots use electric motors, others use hydraulic actuators. The former are faster, the latter are stronger and advantageous in applications such as spray painting, where a spark could set off an explosion; however, low internal air-pressurisation of the arm can prevent ingress of flammable vapours as well as other contaminants.
    * Drive – some robots connect electric motors to the joints via gears; others connect the motor to the joint directly (direct drive). Using gears results in measurable 'backlash' which is free movement in an axis. Smaller robot arms frequently employ high speed, low torque DC motors, which generally require high gearing ratios; this has the disadvantage of backlash. In such cases the harmonic drive is often used.
    * Compliance - this is a measure of the amount in angle or distance that a robot axis will move when a force is applied to it. Because of compliance when a robot goes to a position carrying its maximum payload it will be at a position slightly lower than when it is carrying no payload. Compliance can also be responsible for overshoot when carrying high payloads in which case acceleration would need to be reduced.

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