KUKA is a strategic partner of the Catapult centres (UK), Irish research centres and many British and Irish universities. This helps to get more working, system-proven automation solutions into the hands of nearly every manufacturing industry.

The iconic image of the industrial robot is welding body-in-white panels on a noisy car production line, sparks flying. See beyond the car plant though, and robots are everywhere; packing product into bags, loading pallets, removing defective food from a conveyor, drilling holes in aircraft wings, blending sauces and soups, guiding parts to shop floor assembly points. Look further and more exotic applications abound: medical robots assist surgeons with complex surgery, cube robots pick customer orders in fulfil­ment centres, service robots help the infirm, milling robots carve statues, and so on. More niche and enigmatic uses are constantly being devised, as researchers also experiment with affordable collaborative robots.

How robots are applied by industry often begins in universities, at the lower Technol­ogy Readiness Levels, then in the higher TRL technology innovation centres – Catapult centres and others – where the new process is proven-out for commercial use. Britain and Ireland are especially good at both.

Every engineering-centric British and Irish university and the high value manufactur­ing research centres use robots in research. KUKA provides fully supported robots, integrated automation and consultancy to many of these institutions. KUKA robots are installed in 19 of the 30 universities making up the UK-RAS Network, a connected group of robot and autono­mous system research funded by the engi­neering council, EPSRC. Examples include the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, a joint venture between the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, and Cranfield University, which has a focus on human factors, ethics and safety in Human-Robot Interaction. The work of UK-RAS spans appli­cations from space and aerospace to bioen­gineering, collaborative robots, autonomous systems and more, underlining that robots in Britain and Ireland today have moved far beyond the car factory gates.

In Ireland, University College Dublin, National University of Ireland in Galway, Technical University Dublin and the other big engi­neering schools are doing similar work – see page 11 for an example at the University of Limerick.

Proving for industry, derisking investment

Industry often needs to trial a new process before it incurs the cost and risk of install­ing it in a factory, where it might not run optimally, or even fail.

The High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Cat­apult centres help both big and small com­panies experiment with new technology before they scale-up for production.

Robots and experienced engineers are avail­able to trial processes over-and-over, like an advanced technology playground, offline to industrial operations.

KUKA robots are working in projects at six of the seven HVM Catapult centres. All four of the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centre (AMRC)’s franchises, in South York­shire, North Wales, Preston and Broughton, have KUKA robots involved in research, as have Irish Manufacturing Research, CONFIRM and QUB in Ireland. Much of the research is for aerospace and non-automotive industry R&D, further proving that robots today have a much broader remit than automotive.

Speeding up aerospace manufacture

The VIEWS project at the Advanced Form­ing Research Centre (AFRC) in Strathclyde has helped Spirit AeroSystems increase the rate of cost-effective, non-destructive eval­uation and testing of the geometries and material properties of composite compo­nents in aircraft winglets. This accelerated their manufacture and helped Spirit select the Glasgow-based facility as its European R&D base.

Working with an aerospace company, the team at Factory 2050 has commissioned an automated cleaning and sealing system, using a KUKA KR60 on top of a KMP1500 AGV. This project will eventually demonstrate the flexibility of robots when mounted to an autonomous platform that is able to navigate using Simultaneous Location and Mapping, aka SLAM, technologies.

KUKA Robotics UK Ltd