07/01/2022 | Digital Innovation

Seeking Andy

The search for the ultimate plant service robot is down to six finalists who will show just how they can step up to the challenge of increasing safety at chemical plants with round-the-clock patrols.

There will be some big names in the halls this year, many of whom are well known in the industry, be they as leading corporate players or commentators. But there’s one new face everyone will want to meet. His name is Andy and he’s a robot with a bright future. Who gets to use that name will depend on who earns the right in a challenge that will pit some of the best examples of plant service robots against each other in what promises to be a spectacle that will live on long after the show. The winner – who will earn themselves €40,000 - will impress judges with his ability to do regular inspections and other routine tasks in a chemical production environment. His goal is to increase safety and availability of production lines and improve process understanding by objective data sensing.

Dr. Carl-Helmut Coulon, Group Head of Smart Automation at INVITE, part of the consortium behind the project, said he was “absolutely excited” about the standard of contestants in the final. He said: “There are leg-based industrial robots competing with award-winning robots developed by universities. All mobile robots will use robotic arms to perform taking of samples and all teams are positive to become successful. We expect a great competition delivering a tangible comparison of the applicability of the different systems. Some colleagues within the consortia expect even to talk about introducing the most professional systems directly after the final.”

The competition, which began last year, has produced six finalists who will be on show in Frankfurt. Briefly, this is who they are: EngRoTec, a Hünfeld, Germany-based service provider and engineering partner to the automotive, mechanical engineering and packaging industries with a vision to become a leading supplier for the 4th industrial revolution.

Their philosophy: “Automation drives us. For decades we have been getting production processes moving and creating acceleration along your value chain. We are passionate engineering service providers - fast, precise and represented with our systems in production facilities around the world.” Another is United Robotics Group, a company based of Bochum, Germany, but whose 300 staff are spread among various companies across France and Austria. They have a mission “to combine perfectly matched hardware with user-friendly software to provide robotics solutions for non-industrial services and collaborative tasks from a single source.” Another finalist, SiMa Technologies of San Jose, California, have determination “to disrupt the $10T+ embedded edge market that is still using decades old technology”. They state: “We are obsessed with delighting our customers and currently working with over 50 market-leading companies to bring ML to their platforms.”

Team Hector, a mixed team of students and PhD candidates at the Technical University of Darmstadt, emerged from the former world champion robot soccer team the Darmstadt Dribblers. These days, their main focus is supporting human first responders in disasters by developing intelligent searchand-rescue robots. When they are not working in harsh and hazardous environments such as partially collapsed buildings, exploring, performing manipulation tasks and creating 2D and 3D maps, they are taking part in international competitions such as the RoboCup Rescue League, EnRicH, World Robot Summit, and the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

Robots with legs stand up to be counted

The team at ANYbotics of Zurich has been building quadrupedal robots since 2009. Each year, they say, their prototypes have been gaining in maturity, autonomy, and reliability to move from a research project to a fully functioning demonstrator.

When the first commercial requests came in during 2016, the company was founded to develop legged robots for real-world applications with the aim of marketing the technology behind the quadrupedal robot, ANYmal.

Roboverse Reply of Gütersloh, Germany, is actively working on building the enablers for the adoption of a successful 5G cloud robotics approach, supporting customers’ strategies alongside to food delivery. It specialises in integration scenarios around robotics, reality capture with mixed reality and the Metaverse, working with several robotics, hardware and software vendors, including Boston Dynamics and Microsoft. All of them will be put through their paces in front of judges and a live audience and expected to perform a series of tasks which involve navigating through a chemical facility, including mounting stairs and dealing with all types of surfaces. It will also need to deal with obstacles such as pallets, hoses, cones, or warning lights and take accurate pictures from defined and statically positioned equipment.

Additionally, it will be expected to perform simple manipulation tasks, such as pushing a button, opening a valve, taking a sample and even being able to put a cap on a bottle.

The challenges of Advanced Industrial Robotic Applications (AIRA) were backed by BASF, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck and Wacker under the auspices of NAMUR. The challenge itself, was organised by INVITE GmbH.

From heavy lifting to healing, they’re everywhere

The challenge is timely, given the rapid growth in robotics in recent years and the way they are affecting the working practices of so many sectors. The biggest user is automotive which accounts for almost 30 per cent of all active industrial installations, a trend which began in 1959 when General Motors produced the first-ever industrial robot, the Unimate. They are commonplace in many areas of manufacturing and continuing to make their presence felt in labour-intensive areas such as warehousing which involve lifting and storage. They’ve also made huge advances in healthcare where they’ve been actively involved in everything from surgical procedures to rehabilitation and even patient companionship.


ACHEMA Inspire staff

World Show Media


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