Contrary to conventional wisdom, humans and robots can peacefully co-exist. They also can work together for the common good, given the right circumstances.
Alas, conditions have been ideal for more than 20 months now, thanks to the novel coronavirus and its brood of highly contagious variants. In its relentless pursuit of hosts, COVID-19 not only has snuffed out millions of lives worldwide, it also has extinguished--albeit temporarily--a longstanding trepidation humans have harbored toward their android comrades.
The anxiety was first triggered by Czech playwright Karl Capek's 1921 drama "R.U.R.: Rossum's Universal Robots," a three-act play about factory-made robots that learn to think for themselves and eventually exterminate the human race. Such conquests have captured the imaginations of countless science-fiction authors over the last century, thereby fueling humankind's anxieties about artificial intelligence that to some extent, still exist.
Those concerns, however, dissipated in the past year as COVID-19 ravaged the living and depleted the global supply of medical products, particularly masks and ventilators. To replenish the reserve and help meet worldwide demand for the latter item, unusual partnerships formed: Ford Motor Co. teamed up with GE and 3M, General Motors paired with Ventec Life Systems (respiratory care), Medtronic plc worked with Foxconn (electronics contract manufacturer), SodaStream conspired with Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem (Israel), and Staubli Corporation banded together with Infiplast (injection molder), among others.
The latter collaboration--part of a larger effort by French manufacturers to design and build a working ventilator--required the expedited creation of an automated assembly line.
"Staubli's proactive response helped us build an automated and insulated workstation in less than 10 weeks, from design to operation. That was a real feat, since this type of project ordinarily takes at least 24 weeks to set up," Stephane Buttin, sales director at MGA Technologies, told Assembly in July. The custom machine tool builder spearheaded last year's ventilator project in France. "This was a true example of a successful team effort."
Staubli's automated assembly line built an Infiplast-designed heat and moisture exchanger (HME) filter, which helps address proper humidification in mechanical ventilation. The automated system assembled a filter every few seconds, collecting the plastic parts directly from an injection molding machine and constructing them on a rotary indexing table before handing them off to another station for welding and finally for testing, boxing, labeling, and packaging Assembly reported. Robots placed defective filters in a reject bin.
"We responded to the request from MGA Technologies and Infiplast within 48 hours, and made the robots available in record time," Jacques Dupenloup, Staubli's sales manager for France and Benelux, recalled to Assembly. "Our new SCARA robot is tailored for their application, with an enclosed structure designed for aseptic and confined clean room environments."
Assembly lines like the kind Staubli created last spring have been growing in recent years as medical device providers work to improve productivity, efficiency, and manufacturing quality on the shop floor and reduce both labor costs and cycle time. Legacy systems are losing ground to more modern methods that incorporate artificial...