Safe Robot Works Well with Others ... Humans to Be Exact

Charles Murray

September 15, 2016

2 Min Read
Safe Robot Works Well with Others ... Humans to Be Exact

A sensor-equipped robot at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS 2016) demonstrated that it can safely work with humans without the need for a safety cage.

Mitsubishi Electric's MELFA industrial robot, equipped with the company's SafePlus technology, operated in a public area at the Chicago-based show using sensors to detect passersby. "When everybody is out of its control space, it runs at its full, normal production speed," noted Scott Strache, product manager for Mitsubishi. "When they walk into the control space, it slows down. And when they step into the restricted area, it stops."



The SafePlus robot used two connected laser sensors to create a 360-degree viewing area around the robot, which allowed Mitsubishi engineers to set up the control space. The giant automation company posted information at the show saying that SafePlus technology could be employed with other types of sensing systems, including area scanners, light curtains, and safety mats.

The SafePlus demonstration was unusual because industrial robots are typically fenced off by safety cages in factory settings. In most such "caged" applications, light curtains sense the presence of anyone who enters, and the robot comes to an immediate stop.

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Fatal robot accidents are rare but they do occur. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported 27 fatalities associated with robots during a 30-year span from 1984 to 2013. Many involved operators being struck by robot arms.

Strache said the new technology is expected to appeal to electronics manufacturers and automotive companies. Those industries, he said, like the idea of having operators and industrial robots working together more naturally. They also like the reduction of necessary floor space. "This shrinks the space you need around the robot because you no longer have to have a safety cage," Strache told us.

Most important, however, is the fact that the technology gives manufacturers a safer and more collaborative robot. "It won't allow operators to get hurt, even if they walk into an uncaged cell," he said.

[images via Design News]

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 32 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

About the Author(s)

Charles Murray

Charles Murray is a former Design News editor and author of the book, Long Hard Road: The Lithium-Ion Battery and the Electric Car, published by Purdue University Press. He previously served as a DN editor from 1987 to 2000, then returned to the magazine as a senior editor in 2005. A former editor with Semiconductor International and later with EE Times, he has followed the auto industry’s adoption of electric vehicle technology since 1988 and has written extensively about embedded processing and medical electronics. He was a winner of the Jesse H. Neal Award for his story, “The Making of a Medical Miracle,” about implantable defibrillators. He is also the author of the book, The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer, published by John Wiley & Sons in 1997. Murray’s electronics coverage has frequently appeared in the Chicago Tribune and in Popular Science. He holds a BS in engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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