The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS)occurs every two years, but innovation moves faster than that—especially in the automation sector. Manufacturers looking to understand the current state of solutions may do well to visit the North Building, Level 3 of McCormick Place in Chicago this September, where IMTS will host 121 exhibitors in its Automation pavilion.

The two years since the previous edition of IMTS have seen a rise in the awareness and application of automation on all levels of manufacturing. As manufacturers of all sizes continue to grapple with labor shortages, they’re realizing that automation can free skilled workers to use unique abilities and add value to their companies.

“No longer reserved for large corporations, automation is necessary for medium and small shops to function and stay competitive,” says Jack Pennuto, president, KUKA Robotics USA. “ KUKA has responded to the trend by ensuring our customers can access automation options that are cost effective and do not require operators to have past robotics experience.”

Collaborative robots (cobots) are becoming increasingly popular in automation. As the technology continues to become more versatile, more pre-configured cobot solutions are being installed in plants to work alongside their human counterparts.

“When I started six years ago at UR, few people really knew what cobots were, it was a novel technology; and, back then, we were still trying to prove that cobots were acceptable, pitching the proof of concept. Today, we are in a very different place as the industry has really embraced cobots,” says John Leak, area sales manager, Universal Robots.

“Cobots are now fast and strong enough for palletizing up to 30 kg, and they can be precise, cost-effective and user-friendly enough to program for small and large welding batch sizes,” he continues. “Up until recently, we did not have great cobot solutions for sanding and grinding, but we’re seeing some great developments in those application areas now, too.”

Pennuto expects automation technology to show continued technological developments as the need for automation grows across all industries, making it easier for manufacturers of all sizes to automate.

“Simulation and vision systems, for instance, allow robotic systems to learn an application accurately and quickly,” Pennuto says. “Those technologies specifically will advance exponentially in the next few years.”

Leak sees this trend occurring in cobot applications as well, citing dispensing and screwdriving as two examples of applications that will become more common over the next two years.

“What before were custom-integration projects will become pre-configured solutions delivered by our unrivaled partner network,” Leak asserts. “With currently close to 500 UR+ products launched through 329 UR+ partners, I believe we will continue to see lots of new innovation in cobot capabilities both from UR and through its ecosystem.”

On theme with Pennuto’s analysis of the automation industry, KUKA plans to show a wide range of technologies that work for across multiple applications at IMTS 2024.

“IMTS guests will be able to witness how fabrication, CNC machining and additive manufacturing intersect with cobots and industrial robots to meet workforce challenges,” adds Nate Brazelle, KUKA’s VP of sales and marketing. “Further, we will take people on a digital journey with KUKA’s simulation software to demonstrate how seamless automation can be for each individual manufacturer.”

Located in Booth 236807, KUKA will demonstrate a variety of automated solutions from several of its partners, including the CyberDrawers machine feeding unit from Waybo; entry-level machine and process automation from MAIROTEC GmbH; automated milling from Robotics Solutions Inc.; and metal additive manufacturing from One-Off Robotics.

“IMTS is KUKA’s opportunity to be with people who are unsure on how automation can fit into their production process,” Pennuto says. “I look forward to the moment when they see that KUKA has cleared a path forward for them to adopt automation easily.”

Meanwhile, Universal Robots (Booth 236131), will display pre-configured cobot solutions from its partners, such as Vectis Automation, as well as a cobot-powered welding application.

“We will have several new partner demos, showcasing how a complete solution approach strips complexity and risk when deploying cobots,” Leak says. “At IMTS 2022, we had more than 60 UR cobots hard at work throughout the show floor at McCormick. I expect to see an even greater number this year. … Personally I can’t wait to walk the show to see them all in action, (and) talking to partners and customers on how they are using our products and how we can best help them succeed on their cobot journey.”



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