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Interview with Martin Haegele, Head of Department at Fraunhofer IPA

Current innovations around the use of robots

The share of machine-builders implementing robots at the machines will raise from 45% at present to 50% until 2014 while the number of machines with robots increases by 31%. These trends are derived from the Quest study about “The future of the robots’ use until 2014”.


For this study the machine-builders also called, where the shoe pinches, which changes or innovations they expect from the manufacturers of robots and automation technology. These machine-builders’ statements have influenced the questions for the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, department of Robot Systems.


The Fraunhofer IPA is a European-wide leading research institute for manufacturing engineering. The department Robots Systems offers comprehensive research and development services as well as resources on behalf of producing enterprises and suppliers.


Martin Haegele is Head of Department Robots Systems at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, in Stuttgart. He explains the current innovation projects of the Fraunhofer IPA related to industrial robot applications.

Which technological prospects do you see for the development of the robots?

October 22th, 2012 - In the future still more robots will be used for the automation of material flow e.g. for sorting, packaging, palletizing, commissioning, decommissioning, and handling.


Typical application fields for the automation of material flow comprise industrial production, logistics, mail order business, food and beverage industry, production of chemicals, solar panels or flat screens.

Foto: Martin Haegele
Martin Haegele

This optimization of material flow aims at a higher throughput rate among other things. So high travel motions of robots have become a major issue. Kinematics, drive technology and even the gripper system are being constantly optimized for increasing speed.


Lightweight construction in robotics is aiming, apart from mass forces’ reduction, in particular at reduction of inertia. Robot’s lightweight construction combined with high-dynamic drives belongs to the technological trends.


At this point I’m expecting still interesting innovations in the near future: new light, but rigid kinematic structures, use of new materials like e.g. CFC, other polymers, foams and also new drive technology which supports motions with programmable stiffness.


Typical for the robot use in the automation of material flow are pulsating motions. So the energy efficiency of the robot represents a prevailing challenge.


Of course, you may use kinetic energy again by regeneration from brake energy, an approach already optionally offered by manufacturers. However, nowadays you can already make the standard robots more energy-efficient by comparably simple measures.


This is made in particular easy by optimization of their motions: Cartesian motions are minimized, soft accelerations are chosen and drives are switched off at times.


So-called off-line programming systems include 3D-CAD systems for simulation of the robot motion. These off-line programming systems provide for systematic optimization of the robot motions in particular regarding optimization of cycle time and energy saving.

The machine-builders demand to program the robot more easily and in particular graphically. How do you comment that on scientific point of view?

There have been off-line programming systems for 3D-simulation on the market for more than 20 years for automated generation of the robot program. Of course, these systems have enhanced with the performance of the current PC technology like e.g. close-to-reality 3D visualization, simulation of physical effects etc.


The question is, to what extent the projected robot application can be rapidly modeled through the off-line programming system in a sufficiently exact manner and how this simulation can be matched with the real robot application in practice. The goal is a meaningful determination of the cycle time and the reliable execution of the robot programs which were generated and optimized through simulation.


In this context the first crucial point is the effort to generate the 3D-models for the robot application. In regard to the fast generation of the robot application via 3D-CAD systems huge progress has been made. Modern off-line programming systems make it possible to “drag & drop“ CAD models of most of the automation components. Today almost all manufacturers of standard components for robots and automation technology offer CAD data in suitable formats for further usage in off-line programming systems.

Foto: Fraunhofer IPA

The second crucial point concerns the alignment or matching the simulated robot application with the real application on-site. As simulation assumes a perfectly measured robot cell, the generated robot programs has to be adapted again on site, i.e. motion paths and motional sequences must be partly corrected. This takes certain efforts and programming skills as well.


At this point so-called calibration systems ensure relief. They provide an alignment of the real robot cell with the robot cell that was simulated by the off-line programming system. Today, various calibration systems are offered which cover different ranges of functions and prices including interfaces to the most important off-line programming systems.


The third crucial point and a current R&D issue is the integration of sensors into the simulation, above all image processing for object identification and localization as well as sensors for force and torque control in order to size forces properly.


At present I guess that such sensors are only used with about 20% of the robot applications, tendency strongly rising. In this context it would be preferable that both configuration of the sensors and their integration into the robot program system could be managed by means of the off-line programming system.

There is yet another modern way of robot programming, i.e. “programming by demonstration”. We have decisively taken part in the development of this mode during the last years.


Using this way the software engineer moves the robot on site along the desired motion paths. Besides the trajectories further settings may be supplemented such as accurate speed specifications or other process relevant information which are entered optionally by touchscreen or by language instructions. The uploaded programs are visualized on the display of the robotic control by the off-line programming system, corrected, if necessary, and released for execution.


In such a way in particular the less experienced software engineer may save programming time by 70% and more and reduce errors at the same time.

To page 2 of the interview with the topics:

  • To a standardized programming language for all robots
  • To an easy connection between the controls of robot and machine
  • To the future significance of open source controls for robots
  • To substantial innovations regarding robots' use at the machines in the next years
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The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, briefly Fraunhofer IPA, takes together with its connected institutes at universities the top position for production research in Europe.

It is focused on the transfer of innovations in industrial practice. Major fields of application are among others automotive, machinery industry, electronics and micro system technology, energy industry as well as medical and bio technology.

Nearly 300 scientists are employed in Stuttgart, Germany.

The production research is divided into production organisation, surface technology, automation technology and process technology. The automation technology consists of six departments, one of them is the department Robot Systems.

The department Robot Systems develops key technologies and implements them in innovative industrial robots, service robots and intelligent machines.


Martin Haegele is Head of Department Robot Systems in Stuttgart, Germany.


Research projects of this department are among others:

SMErobotics - a European initiative for robotics which aims at strengthening the competitive advantages of small and medium manufacturers

Grab modules for intralogistics

Komrob - basic modules for commissioning robot systems for all sectors.