- The European Sharework project has equipped robots with the intelligence required to work together with operators without the need for physical protection barriers.
- This human-robot collaboration is targeted at industrial manufacturing and has been trialled at SEAT S.A. in Martorell; GOIZPER in the Basque Country; ALSTOM in Santa Perpètua de Mogoda, and at CEMBRE’s facilities in Brescia.
- Barcelona has hosted the project’s closing event which brought together collaborative robotics experts from home and abroad.
Barcelona has today hosted the closing event of the European Sharework project, which has rolled out a new smart system for safe and ergonomic collaboration between robots and workers in industrial manufacturing processes by tapping artificial intelligence and process data analysis.
The project has developed flexible software made up of 14 technological modules to furnish robots and their control systems with the intelligence required to work closely with operators with no need for physical protection barriers.
The system “can understand the environment and human actions by drawing on a knowledge base and sensors and then make predictions about future status”, adds Néstor García, the project’s technical coordinator and head of Collaborative Robotics in Eurecat’s Robotics and Automation Unit. It “gets the robot to act accordingly with the ultimate goal of driving collaborative work between operators and robots and thus enhancing operator ergonomics and ramping up process productivity”.
As part of the project “we’ve looked at all the tasks involved in each use case and identified which are the most repetitive with little added value for people,” explains Sharework project coordinator Simona Neri. “This means we can shift them to the robot’s area of responsibility and ensure robot and operator can work together safely.”
Four demonstrators in real-world industrial environments
The system has been rolled out and tested in four types of real-world industrial scenarios in the automotive, rail, metalworking, and capital goods manufacturing sectors.
In the automotive industry, SEAT S.A. with technical support from the Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems & Automation (LMS) at the University of Patras has trialled a system which allows an industrial robot to hold and position the door or hood of a car in order to assemble or disassemble it. The operator guides the robot using gestures or voice commands with no need for physical barriers between them and the robot. The safety and efficiency arising from removed barriers have been handled from Fraunhofer IWU by developing a high-speed and figure-tip sensitive collision sensing system. This means less physical effort for the person improving ergonomics, immersive interactions for higher experience, safety while ensuring high efficiency.
In railways, Alstom company and the Eurecat technology centre have introduced a collaborative robot on the tramway door and window frame assembly line to provide valuable assistance to employees. This helps to provide useful help to employees, contribute to improving the ergonomics of the workplace, while reducing assembly time, guaranteeing the order and quality of the process.
In the metal industry, robots have been deployed to support workers in part assembly, disassembly, and inspection at CEMBRE‘s loading and unloading stations in partnership with the Italian National Research Council (CNR) and Flexible Manufacturing System provider MCM. The system autonomously appoints tasks to operators and robots according to what and how the human is doing, exchanging jobs, and adapting to the movement in real-time its motion as a natural worker companion.
Meanwhile, in capital goods the collaborative robotics system has been added to GOIZPER’s assembly lines in conjunction with STAM and RWTH Aachen University to handle heavy parts, help the operator assemble complex products, and assist with its quality control. This contributes to bridging the social gap by delivering job opportunities for people with different abilities and promoting gender equality.
The project has successfully tested the use of multiple cameras and sensors, smart data processing and the incorporation of augmented reality, gesture, and speech recognition technology to afford intelligence to the robots and tailor their performance to workers’ needs.
The development of the system also includes ongoing study of human factors with the aim of adjusting and improving the user’s perception and increasing operator buy-in to the new robotic solution.
The Sharework project is fully funded by the European Commission and is being run in Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, France, Germany, and Greece. Its purpose is to furnish industries with “a system for rolling out collaborative robotics in industry to make industrial assembly processes safer and more efficient in a worker-centred approach which provides them with a system to help them in their everyday tasks”, says Sharework project coordinator Simona Neri.
The project kicked off in November 2018 and is scheduled to end on 31 October 2022. It has a 7.3 million-euro budget and is part of the “’Transforming European Industry” line in the Horizon 2020 call, which seeks to implement innovative artificial intelligence technologies to enable effective robot-worker collaboration.
Sharework is run by a consortium made up by 15 partners. They are six research institutions (Eurecat, Fraunhofer IWU, the Italian National Research Council, the Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems & Automation of the University of Patras, the University of Darmstadt and the RWTH Aachen University); eight industrial partners, of which four are industrial companies (STRANE, STAM, INTRASOFT and MCM), and four end users (SEAT S.A., ALSTOM, CEMBRE and GOIZPER) along with a standardisation organisation (UNE).