What Is a Time of Flight Sensor (ToF)?

The time of flight sensor (ToF) has a peculiar name. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will calculate the time a flying object is in the air, nor does it measure the precise time an object takes off from the ground. Before understanding what a ToF sensor does, it’s essential to understand what ToF actually is. ToF measures the time it takes for a physical object to travel a given distance through a medium. Typically, this measurement can determine velocity and path length, but it can also be used to learn about an object’s dimensions.

A Time of Flight sensor can use all the information gained using ToF principles for applications such as robot movement, human-machine interfaces, – like the second-generation Kinect sensor for the Xbox One – smartphone cameras, machine vision, and even Earth topography. While all these uses aren’t exactly the same, the information provided can serve all their purposes. Now that we’ve established what a ToF sensor can do, it’s equally important to determine what they consist of, how they generate the information, and, finally what specific purposes this information can serve for in the world of robotics.

How a ToF sensor works with light reflections. Image via Wikipedia

What Makes Up a ToF Sensor?

From a general perspective, a ToF sensor isn’t a device that requires decades of research to understand. It’ll consist of a few parts but none of them are particularly obscure or hard to piece together.

The first part is the lens, which, given that it’s essentially a camera, is pretty easy to understand. The lens itself, like any other camera, gathers the reflected light since it cannot produce any light by itself nor can it acquire depth signal from ambient light. According to a scientific study by Subhash Chandra Sadhu for Texas Instruments, ToF cameras have “have special requirements to be met with while selecting or designing the lenses.” While the rest of the study goes on to explain the specifics (which he explains very well), it’s important to understand these limitations if you want to fabricate your own ToF sensors in the future.

An example of a ToF sensor. Image via Quality Magazine

Also included in the ToF camera package is the integrated light source that keeps the seen, well, lit. Considering that all the light must come from the sensor, it’s equally important to make sure that no outside sources of light – like sunlight – disrupt the image intake.

Then there’s the image sensor, the centerpiece of the ToF camera. The sensor does the heavy lifting, storing all capture image information, including the time it takes for the light to travel from the integrated light source to the object and then back.

Finally, there’s the interface, which shows the data captured. It’s the less showy aspect of the ToF, but, hey, it’s still essential!

How Does a Time of Flight Sensor Work?

The Time of Flight sensor is able to capture depth information for every pixel in the image captured. It is mainly used for machine vision applications and advantages include the sensor’s compact construction, its relative ease-of-use, a precise accuracy of approximately 1cm, and high frame rates.

There are 2 principle ways in which a ToF sensor can determine distance and depth.

The first is is a ToF sensor based on light pusled sources. This form will measure the time it takes for a light pulse to travel to from the emitter to the scene and then back. Once everything has been measured and taken, through the magic of mathematics and algorithms, the distance and depth of all the objects captured by the sensor are calculated and determined.

At Seeed Studio, they mocked up a graphic that simply yet accurately depicts how the process works.

Easy enough, right?

This graphic explains more clearly how the light refracts from the object back to the sensor and how that measures the distance from each relevant point. Image via Seeed Studio.

The second way is a ToF based on continuous waves which detects the phase shift of reflected light. The modulating amplitude creates a light source inm a sinusoidal form with a known frequency.The detector then determines the phase shift (a shift when the graph of the sine and cosine functions shift left or right from their standard position) of reflected light.

Once this process happens, more math happens as well, determining the distance and depth of all the objects captured by the sensor.

 While the end results of both methods are similar, their journeys differ. The illumination of the entire scene, regardless of the method, will make it possible to determine the distance and depth of each object scanned by the sensor – all in a single shot.
The result? A range map in which the pixels encode the distance to each point on the captured scene.
Over at Melexis, they showed a depth image of a man in a car. The colors are represented as follows:
– The blue sections indicate that the point(s) is(are) far away
– A red section indicates closer proximity to the sensor
Image via Melexis.

The Advantages and Limitations of the Time of Flight Sensors

Like any set of technological tools, there are upsides and downsides.


Some of the clear advantages of using ToF sensors for 3D measurements are the following:

  1. Higher resolution captures.
  2. Real-time capabilities – no need to wait days for a result.
  3. Works in low light conditions – even no light is possible.
  4. The costs aren’t particularly high.
On the other hand, its limitations are worth considering, just in case your needs aren’t lined up with what a ToF sensor can do. They are as follows:
  1. The presence of scattered light due to unwanted reflections.
  2. External bright surfaces that are close to the camera can quickly scatter too much light into the lens, creating artifacts.
  3. ToF distance measurement requires light that has been reflected just once.
  4. If a light has been reflected multiple times, it can lead to the distorting of the measurements. These multiple reflections are usually caused by corners and concave shapes.
  5. Ambient light and sunlight make it more difficult to capture outdoors (sunlight causes the saturation of sensor pixels)

In What Manufacturing Contexts Can You Use ToF Sensors?

ToF sensors are highly practical in numerous applications including logistics, factory automation, and autonomous robotics and vehicles.

For logistics, ToF sensors can help guide robotic arms for packaging assistance, box filling, stacking, volume scanning, and labelling. A pick-and-place case study conducted by Lucid at Pensur, an engineering company, looked into how their 3D vision systems allowed for a far more efficient process and freed up valuable time for employees who were stuck doing the menial job day-in-and-out.

In the context of factory automation, ToF sensors can guide robots to find and pick up objects and place them where they need to be. Think of a car assembly. Nothing changes from car to car, but the ToF sensors will point out where everything is and everywhere they need to be.

ToF sensors can also be used in the context of maritime navigation in that the sensors can use AI-based object recognition. This is done to increase security on boats during sailing by detecting objects that may conflict with the ship’s path such as fishing boats, buoys, and debris, which can’t be detected by using only the ship’s radar.

IDenTV showed a brief example on their YouTube page of how these cameras can work and how quickly they can detect objects even at far distances.

Finally, for autonomous robots, a ToF sensor can help a robot plan and execute a task all on its own. Whether those processes consist of sanding, powder coating, or batch painting, the ToF sensor can help the robot understand each object’s specific dimensions and, with the help of the right software, can execute each task necessary by knowing where to start and stop.

ToF sensors are at the core of AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™. They are key to the first step: 3D perception, helping autonomous robots figure out what they need to do in real-time. Contact us today for more information.

4 Key Takeaways From FABTECH 2022

FABTECH has once again come and gone and this year’s rendition offered, for the first time since the pandemic, a chance to see everyone’s faces again. With hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of exhibitors and attendees alike roaming around in the Georgia World Congress Center, there was a diverse set of robots, machines, and approaches to manufacturing automation. But what stood out the most?

During our one-week stay in Atlanta, we had enough time to not only talk to some fascinating manufacturers but to peruse the rest of FABTECH to see who and what caught our attention. Here are our 4 biggest takeaways from FABTECH 2022:

An Abundance of Cobot Welding

FABTECH is known for the wide variety of exhibitors showing off new machinery, robots, and software but sometimes, you’ll find several companies displaying the same thing with different bells and whistles. This year, we saw a high number of cobot welders (and welding-adjacent exhibitors too) and counted a total of 37 of them across the three exhibit halls. 

Based on the number of people who came to our booth and asked us about lot-size-one welding solutions (it’ll come!), we can definitely understand the need for new welding solutions, with an average age for welders topping 55 and little helping seeming to be on the way. After all, we listed recurring problems in welding and how to solve them, but current solutions are still mostly suited for higher volume weldments not necessarily the futureproof way of enhancing this process – although they do play their part.

There are always new easy-teach tools being released with the goal of producing consistent high-quality welds, but even with these new additions, the cycle time challenges will continue to persist. Specifically, with lower volume productions, some of the challenges such as teaching and repeatable fixturing remain constant. While they make the end result better, the road to it doesn’t get much easier. Despite this, the demand at FABTECH for autonomous welding solutions shows just how much pain still exists in that world. It is abundantly clear that people are looking for small, low-cost solutions with a willingness to “figure things out” if it does not address each and every requirement in their production process. 

Subscriptions: A Path to Being Recession-Proof?

Every manufacturer, machine builder, and integrator knows how difficult it can be to keep up with a recession. With cash becoming more of a luxury during tough economic times, how do you continue to improve productivity when keeping staff becomes increasingly strenuous? How do you justify spending on robotics solutions when most of them come at a high initial cost all while needing operators?

Instead of investing hundreds of thousands (or more) all at once on integrating a high-mix solution, subscriptions to software-based solutions will lessen the burden of spending all that cash in one spot. With a subscription, it’s clear that you won’t own the software you’re using to solve your problems. What it will do, however, is spread out your bill over monthly or yearly periods. If a subscription consists of an hourly rate far below that of skilled labor burden rates, then suddenly the cost to finish a process becomes more palatable and sustainable for manufacturers looking to save costs and maximize efficiency – and you finally get systems that can address an indefinite variation of parts, which cannot be addressed with traditional robotics today. 

Naturally, there may be exceptions, but very few. Companies that function primarily on liquid cash – a rarity for most – won’t see their cash flow optimized by subscriptions. A company with a usage-based subscription can go up and down on operating expenses and they can shift their usage based on market conditions. 

Subscriptions offer “recession-proofing” because your operational expense can fluctuate with demand, instead of capitalizing highly complex integrations where the payback may not be realized if a recession happens earlier than expected. This kind of whiplash is still what the industrial sector still suffers the most from, despite every other sector having become more agile through flexible payment models. Even if you pay more in the long run, you can not only get more value and a solution that grows to meet more needs – you can also pay less when you need to, a critical feature when urgent cost cutting is required.

Subscriptions are surefire ways of making sure your processes can continue in spite of an economic downturn. By effectively managing recurring payments and enabling more stability and consistency in your skilled labor force (read: more productive labor, less lay-offs), then you can rest easy knowing that you’ll be able to hold the fort during tough times. 

Labor Shortages For All?

The two words that came up the most during FABTECH were “labor shortages.” Of course, this isn’t surprising. Since the start of the pandemic, it’s been especially difficult to replace skilled workers performing manual labor. Now that we’re further removed from the pandemic as ever, manufacturers need the same level of productivity they had prior to 2020.

In theory, people want their cycle times to be as close to zero as possible. Granted, no action will ever be instantaneous, but the more we lessen cycle times, the more efficient everyone will be. If manufacturers add robotic or automation solutions to their setups, they need these new solutions to be efficient. If an automation solution is complex and adds more work to the operators, then what kind of time are you actually saving? 

By switching to smaller, simpler, more modular, and mobile solutions – machines that can function with infrequent or limited oversight from operators – the incremental cost of using your capital will be significantly stabilized, maximizing the speed with which you can get an outstanding payback. As well, by freeing up the operator’s time, they can move on to other tasks that require human input in a different way. Essentially, they can solve more with less.

Skilled Labor, On-Demand: The Power of AutonomyOS™

Though the above points vary in nature, they all share some sort of connection. After all, manufacturers, while they all differ in their work – all face similar problems. Labor shortages, market saturation, and money management can make or break a company. To find a solution that can tackle all these problems, it might benefit your company to take a look at AutonomyOS™, a software that can essentially act as skilled labor on-demand. 

At our booth, we saw several people ask us about processes we expect to support in the future. Our sanding solution with DIY Robotics was well understood from the jump, with manufacturers grasping how the process works quite easily. There is an abundantly clear need for autonomy as a solution to shortages of all kinds.

With AutonomyOS™, you can say goodbye to having skilled workers working around the clock to finish a list of items to be powder coated, sanded and – in the future – deburred, welded or more. Thanks to a OpEx-friendly subscription, and a wide array of ready-to-go processes, all manufacturers will need to do is press a button to have their skilled robots do the tough work (just like the sanding solution at our booth!). It is quite literally skilled labor, on-demand: use what you need and pay accordingly. With the ability to have robots and cobots alike perform tasks without the need for intricate setups by operators, you can unlock productivity at faster rates than ever before.

The advantage of our hourly model – where you only pay for your software subscription in operation – means that you can stick to minimum commitments and add usage through a token system. This overflow can help you manage the ups and downs of production utilization, but also help maximize the utilization and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) of all the other equipment you’ve capitalized in your facility. 

At the same time, we don’t make you rent equipment – you can still buy that yourself, finance or rent through a third party – but the autonomy which makes it so powerful for high-mix manufacturers is available on-demand and works flexibly to help you meet your growing needs.

The best part? The more you use it, the faster your payback on your entire robotic system.

Industrial Space Continues to Grow and Adapt

The combination of reshoring, labor shortages, and financial uncertainty are forcing everybody to get lean and efficient – fast. This doesn’t mean big massive system integrations – small becomes beautiful. This also means simplicity, minimal training and high-speed payback are essential.

Transformative technology is the only way to do this – old models simply will not do. While many were not at FABTECH and busy minding the store at home, so many more at the show were truly ready for new ideas, new modes of production, and new ways of doing business, because they feel the pain the most. We know many may have stumbled a few times or more in their journey through automation, but fortunately, autonomy is here for you today.

With an AutonomyOS™-enabled robotic machine, you can say goodbye to labor shortages and maximize your efficiency. With the ability to set up behaviors to execute tasks such as paint spraying, sanding, welding, and more, you’ll find all the flexibility you want for your manufacturing needs. Contact us to learn more

Recurring Problems When Programming Robots and How to Move Past Them

Table of Contents

With the increasing abundance of robots, you need a relative increase in engineers to set them up for each company. So how complicated of a process is programming a robot?

The truth is that it’s pretty difficult! There are many factors to consider, including the robot’s capabilities, the space surrounding the robot, how the robot will move, and of course, the programming language necessary to program the robot. 

Robots are essentially motion recording devices that allow you to generate a procedure. The procedure in question – varying from company to company – will likely only be relevant to a single function in which the part processes or other variables remain constant at all times. While this method could still be useful for a number of processes and companies, sometimes it can be done in a smoother fashion.

Let’s go over which problems are the most common and how, exactly, they affect development.

Programming Languages

Like with any verbal language, programming languages exist in abundance. Each language is used for a specific purpose, but it isn’t feasible for a programmer to learn a plethora of different languages. 

Manufacturers and the robots they develop use different languages. What ABB uses isn’t quite what FANUC uses, and what FANUC uses isn’t what Universal Robots uses. Germán Villalobos, an AI and robotics engineer explained in a LinkedIn article that each manufacturer will “have more than [three] different brands installed in their cells and production lines, which further complicates their robot programming training.

Automation engineers and programmers would essentially have to learn each robot manufacturer’s programming language if they want to work efficiently on their assigned robot. However, learning an entire language, let alone a programming language is an arduous task that will take hours to learn and even more to master.

While new programming languages emerge every few years, the main ones still reign with JavaScript dominating. Chart via Devskiller.com

High Costs, Low Time

Based on various reports, including the aforementioned LinkedIn article, it can take over 70 hours to properly learn just how to develop a simple application in any given programming language. Multiply that by the number of robots you have with their own individual languages and add the time it’ll take to complete an automation system, and suddenly you have weeks of training that needs to get done.

The cost of investing in training for every employee who needs to learn an additional language could be astronomical depending on the sheer number of employees. As well, you have to factor in equipment like cameras, computers, and well the robots themselves if you’re buying new technology.

Villalobos estimated that for each person trained, it could cost up to $15,000 per person. That number only gets higher with each new brand of robot a company acquires. To avoid spending all this money on training, it’s important to find alternatives such as hiring employees who are familiar with programming specific types of robots, or simply moving away from programming altogether and opting for a behavior-based robot instead.

While learning isn't inherently a bad thing, it can be a burden for companies trying to keep their employees up to date on new programming languages only suited to a specific robot brand.

The Complexity of Programming Robots

The myriad of programming languages and the high cost might lead you into thinking programming robots is complex. It most certainly is, but those factors are merely small factors in the complexity scale.

Robotics companies don’t even hide how complicated it can be to program a robot. In fact, DIY Robotics has a page dedicated to some recurring problems a programmer will encounter when working on robotics projects. In brief, they describe problems during the programming process that include misunderstandings of the physical limitations and capabilities of the robot. However, to ease the burden, they suggest using tools that each robot manufacturer offers to lessen the burden.

Villalobos continued in his article that robot programming is too difficult to do properly and efficiently work on robots. He argues that robot programming “has the same bases of computer science plus the difficulty of handling the different mechanics of robot arms, electronics controllers with software that differ between manufacturers; and that are also highly customizable for different processes and different industrial quality and safety standards.”

With so many variables to consider along with the rigidness that programming brings, it can be overly complicated to properly program a robot within a reasonable amount of time to perform specific tasks.

Academics and Programming Robots

The complexity of programming robots is not only known to manufacturers but academics have also noted this. In a study conducted by Eleonora Bilotta and Pietro Pantano for the University of Calabria back in 2000, they analyzed a variety of problems including the “difficulties in programming the robot control [and] the organization of the program in relation to hardware, software, behaviors, and performance design in robotics.”  Specifically, they focus on robotics in relation to teaching control to children. While this isn’t exactly manufacturing, their discoveries and criticisms of programming are pretty similar to those encountered in that field.

Across the study, Bilotta and Pantano argue that the current method of programming robots could be better and lean toward modern proceedings including bottom-up robotics and behavior-based robotics. And though 22 years have passed since the study’s publication, some of their criticisms still remain relevant.

They describe some of the pains they encountered with programming, including the lengthiness of the process as well as every external factor that could come into play when trying to execute a specific action. Instead, they prefer to try and work through behaviors.

“From the programming point of view, the behavior space of the robot is defined by the locations the robot can reach (or by the set of actions it has to exhibit in the physical space) and by the transition between those locations. Even if the robot can attain a nearly infinite number of states, it is better to design a useful behavior space in which the programmer limits him/herself to a small number of states,” they state. 

They imply freeing up time thanks to behaviors better understanding the capabilities of robots while not taking up as much time to get them running. Even more than 20 years ago, behavior-based robotics was seen as the future. 

Behaviors for All!

Robot programming is an intricate skill, craft, or trade – call it what you want – but it needs to evolve. In software programming, new languages emerge every decade, or even every few years, either rendering older languages obsolete or confusing older engineers by adding to the amount of knowledge they need to amass to do their job.

Open-source solutions include Swift, Rust, and Kubernetes which only gained popularity over the last few years. They’re far from being the most dominant, but their emergence isn’t negligible.

Machine builders and integrators are not programmers by trade – they’re designers. Designers need simple solutions. They need to be able to do more with fewer (or even) lines of code.

Behavior-based robotics is on the way to becoming the best way for robotics to move forward without the crutch of having to adapt to new languages every time they come out. Instead of relying on preset calculations that can handle a fixed process, behavior-based robotics adapts to its environment to perform a series of heterogeneous tasks. 

They can adapt using sensors essentially telling the robot what the piece is, its dimensions, and how it can best perform the task it was set up to do. All this is done through an interface that is more user-friendly and that takes away the need to parse through hundreds of lines of code.

Setting up an autonomous robot for the first time seems like the dawn of a new era, but it can also be misleading. To the untrained ear, the word “autonomous” sounds like it can do anything based on the power of AI alone, or something along the lines of Wall-E from the Disney movie. While performing any task might be a tall order right now, an autonomous robot can perform a specific task given it’s been programmed to do so. The real question remains: do you still want to be programming robots well into the future?

An example of how behavior-based robotics could work for an open-source project on Github.

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, your flexible automation cell will be as powerful as ever. With the ability to set up behaviors to execute tasks such as paint spraying, sanding, welding, and more, you’ll find all the flexibility you want for your manufacturing needs. Contact us to learn more

Choosing The Right Equipment For A Flexible Automation Cell

Automation can provide relief to manufacturers looking to subvert the ongoing labor shortage, but it can also be confusing when it comes to the initial implementation of an autonomous robotic system. One of the first things you need to know when setting one up is if it’ll be a fixed or flexible automation system. Once you’ve established that, it’ll then be the time to figure out what kind of equipment you’d need to better serve your factory. 

With so many different suppliers, machines, and setups, you want to make sure that whatever decision you make, it’s a comprehensive one – one that ticks all the boxes for your manufacturing plant and one that can secure a more productive and efficient future. 

Fixed Vs. Flexible Automation

When you decide to automate, the work in which you automate will fall into one of two types of automation: fixed or flexible. For example, if your business is focused on the assembly of the same pieces over and over again at a high volume, you’d be more inclined to try a fixed automation system. However, if your factory is High-Mix, fixed automation won’t exactly work.

What is “High-Mix” Manufacturing? It is generally defined as any manufacturer or production that processes more than 100 different SKUs in batches of fewer than 1000 each year – basically, a lot more variation than mass manufacturing.

ABB Robotics unveiled their latest look into flexible automation cells at Automatica 2022. Image via ABB.

If the pieces you manufacture fit the High-Mix description, then the type of automation you’re going to need is called flexible automation. In short, fixed automation will serve a single purpose at a high rate, and flexible automation will help serve multiple pieces at a lower volume.

Preparing yourself for a fixed automation system is more straightforward than a flexible automation system even if it’s more limited. Preparing yourself for flexible automation is a little bit more complicated, but with the right research and understanding, the extra effort will be far more fruitful. 

Let’s say you have a High-Mix production and you’re looking to install the perfect flexible automation cell, what exactly do you need to ensure that your cell is as comprehensive and complete as possible?

The Right Equipment for a Flexible Automation Cell

Flexible automation systems aren’t always cut-and-paste. Some serve different purposes. While some automation cells will fit the traditional need of having a robot perform certain tasks until completion, other cells will simply be a stackable storage system that will help organize the inventory to help get end products to customers faster. Considering the differences in systems, not every piece of equipment listed below will be useful to every specific flexible automation system. Depending on what type of cell you’re looking into, the following pieces may help bring a greater understanding as to what you may need or want when setting up your flexible automation cell.


The Robot

A robot arm, while not vital, can help accelerate the production process thanks to mature AI software.

Technically, robots are not always central to flexible automation. However, they can greatly help because they are more articulated and versatile tools than other pieces of equipment for flexible automation such as large rail inventory systems. Due to their restrictive nature, it’s easier to turn to an autonomous robot with powerful AI alongside it. Sometimes, this will require the robot to be programmed with the help of a capable robotics software like ROS. Other times, you may want to remove programming altogether and get behavior-powered software that will allow the robot to learn about the parts it will work on and execute each task for each individual piece properly and efficiently.

These processes don’t even have to be all the same. You can alternate between painting, sandblasting, deburring, and more if you need to. There exists a myriad of options that will help you get a robot. Companies like FANUC, Universal Robots, and Yaskawa all have a deep catalog of robots that can meet your needs.

Omnirobotic’s AutonomyOS™ is the world’s only platform for truly autonomous manufacturing. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems for value-added processes that reduce labor shortages, increase productivity, save energy, waste and rework and allow manufacturers to achieve more consistency and flexibility in production than ever before.

The Cameras

Cameras, sensors, and localization are not necessarily essential tools for flexible automation, however they provide one benefit that makes installing them worthwhile. By installing any of these, you will eliminate the need for programming jigging.

With a proper set of cameras and/or sensors, the robots will be able to properly perceive any piece that passes through them. Once those pieces have been reconstructed digitally, an autonomous robot can then understand how to perform an action. If you’re setting up cameras and sensors, however then that likely means you need objects to pass through them to the robot.

The Material Handling

If the pieces you need to work on need to pass through cameras, then your flexible automation cell will need a conveyer of some sort. While there are a myriad of conveyor options to choose from, you’d need to determine which, based on the space you have, properly fit your factory floor. The conveyor isn’t the most glorious or most coveted piece of equipment but it’s a necessary one to facilitate the process.

The Space

Okay, space isn’t quite a piece of equipment, but having a large area to work with is certainly helpful to the cause. Depending on the system you have, the space you would need would vary. If you only have space for a small conveyer belt, a couple of cameras, and a robot, your flexible automation system could work, but be limited in what it can execute in a day.

Sprimag, a company focusing on automated coating systems, detailed what their coating cell would look like. Based on their mockup, you can that it’s a long one. They have a large amount of space, but it allows the system to go through several different stations. The robot, more or less placed in the center, has enough room to move around without risking a collision with any of its surrounding walls.

The cell’s loop-like structure will reduce the floor space necessary for material handling. Its versatility in regards to size is the flexible automation cell’s biggest advantage here. With an easy-to-place design, it won’t restrict the other essential parts of the factory.

Sprimag's flexible automation cell isn't overwhelmingly big and it allows for a streamlined process thanks to multiple stations.

Another Flexible Automation Cell Example

Manufacturing company Liebherr detailed a rotary loading system that allows a robot to pick and place objects in a circular cell. In a detailed account of what this system entails, Liebherr states that “the individual workpieces lie in these bins in chaotic order. The core of the Liebherr bin picking system is an intelligent piece of software that compares data from 3D visualization of the bin contents with the actual CAD data of the workpieces being searched for and detects the correct parts.”

For a system like this, you would need more than just the robot, cameras, and conveyer. You would also need an intricate storage system that will work in conjunction with the aforementioned pieces of equipment. What might seem like a disorderly mess is actually a fully functioning system for the robot and for the flexible automation cell itself.

Why Is Flexible Automation So Important and Popular Right Now?

The uptick in flexible automation can be associated with several points. For one, there’s been a trend toward mass customization in manufacturing. As more manufacturers deal with High-Mix environments, their pieces aren’t always homogeneous and benefit from the flexibility that automation can provide. High-Mix manufacturers need flexibility to use automation properly for their needs.

As automation evolves and matures, the industry is expected to leave a smaller environmental footprint. With sustainability becoming a larger focal point for manufacturers, it’s important to realize just how much automation can benefit both manufacturers and the environment.

As well, with space being such a scarce commodity in manufacturing, it’s important to make the best use out of whatever space is available in any given factory. As zoning restrictions tighten up, saving space becomes the best and most efficient way to not have to change locations. With the right flexible automation cell, using the least amount of space to achieve the most amount of work is the simplest solution. Sprimag and Liebherr have managed to do it, so maximizing space is certainly within reach.

Valin Corporation showed the overall cost effectiveness of a flexible automation system versus a fixed automation system.

Different Equipment for Different Needs

Not every flexible automation system is universal, naturally. Each cell will be tailored to each company’s needs, therefore, leading to a myriad of different equipment configurations. With companies like Sprimag and Liebherr detailing what their ideal flexible automation cells will look like, their needs aren’t their peers’ needs. It’s vital to assess the type of automation and choose the right equipment to go with it.

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, your flexible automation cell will be as powerful as ever. With the ability to set up behaviors to execute tasks such as paint spraying, sanding, welding, and more, you’ll find all the flexibility you want for your manufacturing needs. Contact us to learn more

What is a Humanoid Robot and Is It A Sign of the Future?

From the early days of modern technology, we’ve always romanticized what a fully autonomous robot can be. Especially in forms of art like films, novels, and video games, robots that can think for themselves, move around autonomously, and even fight wars have long been engrained in our heads as the peak of artificial intelligence. One of the earlier modern examples is HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Though not quite a fully formed and physical humanoid, HAL was still sentient enough to seem human and act on its own. Though the autonomous robots we have today aren’t sentient like HAL, we’re approaching an era of humanoid robots that look like humans but function off lines of code. So if a humanoid robot isn’t quite HAL but also not a standard pick-and-place robot, then what exactly is it?

Ancient Origins of the Humanoid Robot

While HAL certainly popularized how a sentient AI could eventually function, the first notion of humanoid robots or beings came long before that. In fact, the first mention of them came in the 4th century BCE in ancient Greek mythology. In the Illiad, Homer used the word “automata,” the precursor for autonomous robots. He described them as “machines moving on their own by means of internal energy.” Though technology wasn’t remotely advanced at the time, Homer clearly had an understanding of how things moved on their own. 

One of the earliest depictions of an automaton is Talos from ancient Greek mythology.

Homer went on to explain how Hephaestus created a myriad of different forms of humanoid automata such as golden handmaidens with human-like voices to serve their human leaders. In the myth of Pandora, Hephaestus had built an artificial woman named Pandora who would go to Earth and scold humans for discovering fire.

But humanoid automata would hardly stop being conceived there. In China, the Middle East, Italy, Japan, and France, from the middle ages to the industrial revolution, would all see inventors come up with their ideas of what a humanoid robot could be. Intellectuals like Leonardo Da Vinci, Ismail al-Jazari, and Jacques de Vaucanson all attempted to create fully functioning autonomous machines. Naturally, they had their limitations, but the creativity has existed since the earliest days.


Modern Proceedings

Fast forward a few centuries and now we’re entering an era where robots are becoming more intelligent, adaptable, and ever-present in our lives, whether we know it or not. The most common types of robots we’ve seen so far are pick-and-place robots, but they’re not exactly sentient like HAL, let alone other intelligent fictitious robots like WALL-E. 

As far as ambitious ideas go, Elon Musk has continued to provide ideas that most of us assume are the future of robotics and artificial intelligence. For over a year, Musk has been promising a humanoid robot called Optimus. At Tesla’s annual AI day, in 2022, the company unveiled a prototype of Optimus where the robot was shown walking across the stage and waving at those in the crowd.

Admittedly, the new prototype is a bit of a rough sketch. The body is incomplete and the software powering the humanoid robot is still in its infancy. Eventually, once the programming is more mature and developed, these robots will be capable of handling day-to-day tasks such as buying groceries and cleaning the house. For now, its capabilities are minimal. But Tesla is banking on promise.

Tesla's latest reveal of Optimus shows how quickly humanoid robots are progressing. Screenshot via Stephen Shankland at CNET.

What Even Is A Humanoid Robot?

Beyond Tesla’s prototype is what we now recognize as the most advanced humanoid robot, Sophia. Unveiled in 2016, Sophia looked and felt real, offering more-or-less advanced social skills. 

Humanoid robots aren’t simply for socializing. They’re designed to help humans execute tasks in a similar way that autonomous robots do now, except at a smaller scale. While autonomous robots these days are focused on pick-and-place, painting, welding, sanding, and more, these humanoid robots will focus on more human tasks, even in manufacturing contexts.

In China, the market size of humanoid robots will expand exponentially by 2024. Graphic via Robotics Business Review.

Humanoid robots are built to look and sound like humans. They aren’t here to replace humans, but to serve as complementary companions to do some of the grunt work that we don’t always want to do. As mentioned before, the Tesla robot will one day be able to go get our groceries for us. Some of the most menial day-to-day tasks can one day be assigned to robots to do our work for us.

On a manufacturing level, humanoid robots will be able to handle menial tasks in the workplace as well. According to Automate, “humanoid robots are being used in the inspection, maintenance and disaster response at power plants to relieve human workers of laborious and dangerous tasks.”

Humanoids Versus Industrial Robots

Humanoid robots face a glaring concern: just how durable are they? At such an early stage, these humanoid robots are likely to face problems, both internally and externally. For all new tech, the first few editions are always just a few (sometimes more) steps away from total usability. The actuators placed within the robots are relatively new to this field and will likely see more than problems than successes in its infancy stage.

Think of it this way: Elon Musk wants to sell these robots at $20,000 per unit. At that cost, is it really plausible that it functions as well as you want? How reliable will they be for physically demanding jobs? Time will only tell, but with robots it’s clear: the literal human form factor doesn’t need to be imitated if it doesn’t fit the requirements of its job.

Do You Need A Humanoid Robot?

We could all use a humanoid robot. Even though some of us may like getting our own groceries, there’s no denying that there are bound to be some boring tasks that you would want a robot to handle. The real question isn’t whether you need a humanoid robot – it’s more about how on Earth you can get your hands on one.

At this stage, humanoid robots are still new and therefore expensive and inaccessible. If you run a manufacturing plant of some sort, you might be able to find a prototype, but that will mostly only serve you from a commercial standpoint. As far as personal humanoid robots go, we’re not quite there. The closest thing we have to that at the moment is a Roomba, but it’s more frisbee-looking than human truth be told.

Autonomous robots are becoming more commonplace and once they’ve fully adapted to commercial environments, that’s when we’ll see more of them in family households. Until then it’s vital to continue working on AI and participating in its development as best we can.

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, you won’t quite get a humanoid robot, but it’ll come as close as it gets for now. With autonomous robots, you can on time and effort for even your most arduous manufacturing needs. Contact us to learn more

What Is An HMI And Why Should You Care?

Many new pieces of technology always seem to have long names with abbreviations to simplify their pronunciation. Sometimes, they’re easy to decipher like the widely-known AI – or artificial intelligence. Other times, they refer to technologies with specific uses and would only be known to the users who handle them daily. The Human-Machine Interface (HMI) is one of those pieces of technology.

An HMI is a user interface that acts as the communicator between a user and the machine, computer program, or system with which they are interacting. It’s a broad term, sure, and can be linked to several home appliances (something like the ill-fated Wii U that Nintendo sold in the 2010s), but we typically refer to HMIs in an industrial context for larger machinery.

A Brief History of the HMI

While the modern HMI has been around since the 1980s, its origins can be traced all the way back to 1945 when the Batch Interface allowed perforated punch cards to be inserted into the machine to calculate the number of hours employees worked. It was a primitive interface that was non-interactive but it laid the groundwork for future interfaces that would adapt to future technology.

A card with punched holes enters into the batch interface to transfer data from a census into statistics. Image via Wikipedia.

In the following decades, as technology vastly improved, graphical user interfaces began to sprout in order for machines to perform the jobs they were built to do. The Command-Line interface allowed users to take a bit more control. They could enter commands in the prompts to perform certain tasks. While they first appeared in the 1960s, their uses grew in the 80s when Windows Disk Operating System (DOS) became a staple in user interfaces. 

Obviously, technology has grown up quite a bit since then. As interfaces became more user-friendly, HMIs grew with them. HMIs are a natural extension of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) and allow total control of machinery in industrial contexts. They are primarily used in several manufacturing processes.

So What Does An HMI Consist Of?

An HMI is essentially an advanced user interface to help manufacturers control their machines efficiently to execute a task. In the interface, HMIs can display data, track production times, color code messages, and, of course, start and stop the machinery at play. If it sounds like an advanced remote control, well, that’s because it is, sort of.

These days, HMIs can function like tablets in the sense that there’s software with a touch-screen allowing you to communicate with the machinery however the programming allows. They aren’t always limited to the tablet form, however, as they can also simply be applications on traditional computers.

An HMI provides you with an in-hand hub to view all the goings-on in your factory.

Who Are The Primary Users Of An HMI?


To answer in a single sentence: manufacturers. Manufacturing processes can differ from factory to factory but a common trait between them is their use of machinery. More specifically, those who will see the most use out of HMIs are engineers, systems operators, and system integrators.

These workers can use HMIs to see data in real-time, change the speeds of different machines, or simply monitor the machines remotely. HMIs can save the time of its operators by giving them a hub in hand that can allow them to monitor the machinery across the factory. By removing the tedious walking back-and-forth across the factory, operators can use their time more efficiently.

HMIs are becoming more commonplace in manufacturing workplaces. As automation grows in popularity, so have its companion screens,

What Types Of HMIs Exist?


There are three different types of HMIs that you can use.

The Push Button Panel

This one is straightforward. Instead of having an assortment of buttons across a machine for different actions, this HMI will round them up in one digital panel so that they’re easily accessible. It makes the lives of the operators easier by streamlining the number of buttons you need to push (effectively zero if you set everything up properly).

The Data Handler


As you may have guessed, this HMI will handle, well, the data. These types of HMIs will offer feedback about a machine’s performance using the data it collects after performing tasks. Be sure to have a screen large enough to see all the information the HMI will throw at you because it will come in the form of graphs, charts, and other forms of visual representation of the data it collected.

The Overseer


This type of HMI isn’t as menacing as its name would let on. The Overseer requires a Windows computer to operate. Essentially, this HMI monitors and controls entire sets of machines across a factory. As its name suggests, it oversees the entire operation rather than one set machine. Consider it the big boss of HMIs if there were a hierarchy.

Where You Can Find HMIs


HMIs can be tricky to find, but they’re not inaccessible either. You can find them on automation-focused websites like Automation Direct or WiAutomation. Since these companies are focused on automation, it’ll be easier to find a brand that will suit any given manufacturer’s needs.

Third-party resellers also exist on eBay and AlieExpress, but you should exercise caution if you’re looking for HMIs on these sites. Naturally, they won’t necessarily offer the same quality or customer experience that a dedicated company will provide.

Do You Need An HMI?


HMIs are essential controllers for manufacturers who want to perfect and streamline their production. By centralizing everything through the interface, operators can shift their resources toward more important and vital tasks, rather than wasting time turning machines off and on, verifying their output, and overseeing the entire operation by manually checking each station.  With that in mind, if you don’t already have HMIs set up in your factory, it may very well be time to get your hands on some to maximize your company’s efficiency.


With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, using an HMI is key to ensuring your automation processes function the way you expect them to. Monitor all your equipment such the autonomous robot, the 3D perception cameras, and the software itself from the tip of your fingers using an HMI. Contact us to learn more

3 Powder Coating Issues You Should Avoid

There is constant debate about which is better: powder coating or painting. While the former can offer up a more durable and resilient coating, painting can still be the right option for a given process depending on the nature of the project. In this instance, let’s say powder coating is the ideal solution for your project. Maybe you need a thicker coat that’s consistent in both quality and time necessary to complete. Just because it can provide a better long-term solution doesn’t mean that the process of powder coating is as easy as just brushing it up and down a few times. There are a few problems and annoyances that can occur during the powder coating process. While tedious to fix, they are easily avoidable if you take the proper precautions before starting.



If there’s one thing the most common problems in powder coating have in common it’s their silly names. With a defect name like “pinhole,” you might think it’s some weirdly looking deformity. In all fairness, it most definitely is, but the defect itself is far less amusing than its name would let on.

Pinholes are generally defined as tiny circular voids found in a powder coating finish that is clearly visible to the human eye. Typically a single pinhole won’t cause that much of a problem, but when they show in bunches, then it’s a sign that you most likely need to recoat the metal. In an ideal finish, you want the metal to be smooth. Pinholes usually occur during the curing process. When the part heats up, the powder melts into a liquid which spreads into a film, causing the creation of holes or bubbles across the surface.

Pinholes don’t just happen without cause or reason. In most cases, they will appear due to a lack of proper preparation. The surface of the piece is always the game-changer. If it hasn’t been properly cleaned, then it opens up a plethora of opportunities for contamination. If the surface wasn’t properly wiped down prior to the powder coating, then dirt or other impurities such as oil, grease, or water can become trapped within the powder.

If you find pinholes on your piece, the only way to remove them is to recoat the entire surface. It’s much simpler to prepare yourself and minimize the odds of them even showing up. To avoid pinholes, clean the metal thoroughly. You can achieve this by blasting, washing appropriately, or even treating it chemically. As well, cleaning the booth and keeping the oven air clean are essential steps to avoiding these deformities. Avoid cross-contaminating the metal with other substances, like WD-40 for example. Finally, make sure that the curing temperature is set correctly before beginning the coating process.

Pinholes are easily visible to the human eye and can imply a lack of due dilligence from the coater themselves.

Orange Peel

Another common powder coating problem also shares a silly name: orange peel. Amusingly enough, the orange peel deformity got its name because, well, it looks like an orange peel. Powder coaters are notoriously humorous. Typically, a surface with an orange peel-like finish has an uneven texture on what should be a smooth finish. In that sense, it both looks and feels like the skin of an orange or any similar citrus fruit. Similar to the pinhole, fixing this imperfection will require a recoat, meaning you will have to restart from step one. The best way to avoid orange peel is by taking the necessary steps to ensure all parts of the surface are smooth.

The first step you’ll want to take to avoid the orange peel effect is to properly prepare the surface before the coating proceeds. There are several ways to do so. You can sandblast the surface or immerse it in zinc or phosphate. The former option is generally more approved due to the increase in durability that sandblasting can provide, but it also requires delicate attention from the person performing the sandblasting. If it isn’t done properly, the sandblasting can cause indentations in the surface that will also lead to orange peel. Be sure that during this preparation, you don’t cause the problem you sought to avoid. If you’re unsure, try using fine sandpaper to ensure proper protection.

Once you’re certain the surface is prepared, you can shift your attention to the powder coating itself. Powder coating revels in specifics and straying from the guidelines is begging for a deformity to appear. Adding too much or not enough powder can lead to orange peel. If the guideline suggests an amount, stick to it.

Finally, during the curing process, it’s important to maintain the proper temperatures and schedules throughout. If cured too long at too high a temperature, you can expect to see orange peel developing. The opposite is true as well. While the temperatures and curing times can vary, a happy medium can be found at around 200℃ for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. While this isn’t an explicit recommendation, most guidelines will have similar directions. Always be sure you’ve read the guidelines before attempting to cure the piece.

Orange peel certainly mimics the look of the skin from an orange. Its lack of smoothness is the clear indicator that the powder coating was imperfectly done. Image via Powder Coating Online.

Fish Eyes

Continuing the silliness of the names of recurring powder coating problems is the dreaded fish eye imperfection. Not unlike its imperfection siblings, fish eyes are a result of contamination in the piece’s surface that can also cause the powder to flake or peel. The fish eye deformities are apparent to the human eye and you can spot them as a depression in the surface that almost looks like a pitching mound, where the center is elevated. They do seem somewhat similar to the other imperfections mentioned earlier in the article, but there are distinct differences between typical craters and fish eye defects.

It’s true that all these problems are caused by a form of contamination, the contamination leading to fish eye can sometimes occur before the pre-treatment which occurs before the coating itself. While the contamination can occur on the surface, other times it happens in the powder itself. This is largely dependent on the quality of powder selected. Some powders can handle contamination decently, while others, like high-flow resins, will more easily develop fish eyes. Unlike the other defects, fish eyes are nearly impossible to fix once they’ve occurred. You will need to recoat the entire piece and ensure that the surface is now cleaned and that contaminants are kept to an absolute minimum.

To prevent fish eyes from arising, it’s essential to clean the surface to perfection. Perform a white rag test afterward to ensure no contaminants, dirt, or dust make their way to the surface. As well, keep the equipment as clean as you would the surface. Any chance a contaminant gets to ruin the coating will likely occur, but mitigating this potential deformity is easy if enough attention is paid to the process.

Fish eyes are easily spotted and a pain to remove. Taking extra precautions could ensure they never appear.

Powder Coating: A Cleaner Dream

There’s a pattern with all these deformities and imperfections. Most of them are caused by contaminants left on the surfaces due to a lack of preparation and cleaning. Fixing these mistakes after they happen is a pain and time-consuming. Naturally, preventing these problems is a much more sustainable method than attempting to fix them. Following guidelines, cleaning thoroughly, and paying proper attention to the coating process as it happens are key elements to ensuring your coats don’t become unusable or delayed.

To avoid errors caused by tired humans, powder coaters can look to AutonomyOS. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems to analyze and coat various pieces of metal regardless of their shape, complexities, and sizes. Contact us to learn more.

5 Common Welding Problems and How To Solve Them

To the untrained eye, welding can come across as a more pleasurable form of labor. The action of welding just seems that much more interesting than other processes. But just because it looks fascinating doesn’t mean it’s all glitz and glamor. It’s a physically and mentally demanding job that, if done without the proper care, could lead to many problems and hiccups along the way.

Some of the recurring issues in welding can be attributed to faulty equipment but most come from improper actions, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it errors, and sometimes just some bad luck. Fixing problems in welding can be difficult as it’s not always possible to walk back on the process and just patch over a mistake, given the transformation through which the metals go. Instead of fixing, it’s often easier to prevent these problems. In order to prevent them, we need to understand why certain problems happen and what practices will help mitigate them.



Weld spatter is about as annoying as it sounds. Spatter usually forms from droplets of molten material produced during the welding process, namely near the welding arc. These droplets often look like molten balls of metal that attach themselves to the surrounding surfaces such as the metal piece the welder might be working on, or, well the welder themselves. While they aren’t physically devastating to the piece being worked on, it does look wonky and might give the impression that the welding process was done with little to no care. While it might be annoying to remove the spatter afterward, preventing them altogether will save precious time.

The causes of spatter can vary. Sometimes the metal composition is at fault; not every type of metal is meant for welding. Some components don’t have the strength to withstand the heat that welding brings. Other times, the metal coating could be erroneous, the metal could simply be dirty, or improper welding techniques and settings could be at play. These problems aren’t necessarily rare, however, a little further research and attention to the setup could be the difference between spatter flying around ruining the metal and finishing the task with no hiccups or hurdles.

Quick ways to prevent spatter could be to reduce the current and the arc length, increase the torch-to-plate angle, and clean the gas nozzle. By taking a few precautions, you may be clear in avoiding spatter on various welding processes.

Spatter marks are easily visible and are a sign of poor quality assurance from the welders themsevles.


Porosity is another common welding defect that’s easier to prevent than it is to solve after the fact. This defect happens when there’s the absorption of nitrogen, oxygen, and/or hydrogen in the weld pool. This generally occurs inside the weld during the cooling process. There are several types of porosity such as surface, subsurface, wormholing, and cratering each with its own causes and deformities.

The most common one is surface porosity which shows deformities to even the most untrained eye. The other forms can be slightly more difficult to see as you take a gander, but their subtle imperfections can affect the welded metals negatively. 

Porosity can be caused by the contamination of the metal at hand, including by paint, oil, moisture, mill scale, etc. As the heat from the welding increases, these contaminants will transform into gasses that then become trapped within the weld pool, essentially weakening the weld itself.

As is the case with spatter, removing porosity after the fact is time-consuming and arduous. Your time is better spent taking the necessary precautions to avoid porosity. Some of them include keeping the workspace clean, using fresh welding consumables, having dry and clean plate edges, and regularly checking the equipment. The last thing you need is a leaky welding torch because you didn’t check it before using it!


Of all the recurring problems in welding, cracks may just be the most annoying of them all. Cracks happen when the internal stresses of a weld exceed the strength of the filler metal and/or base metal. Unlike the other problems, which could be solved after the fact, cracks are much more of a nuisance. To fix them, the weld would need to be ground out, and then a new weld would need to be performed. Essentially, you would need to eliminate the problem and restart from scratch. If that sounds like lost time, that’s because it very much is.

While the cracks often happen because of external and internal stresses, they aren’t all the same. The physical loads may be too heavy for the welding process; residual welding stresses, the more frequent cause, can weaken the joints, leading to cracks in the metal. Cracks also occur in two extremes: very hot and very cold temperatures.

Hot cracks occur at higher temperatures when the liquid metal can’t sufficiently fill the spaces between the weld metal that’s in the midst of solidification. As the metal shrinkage begins, so does the cracking as there’s an excessive amount of stress that occurs simultaneously. Hot cracks can be attributed to a strain on the weld pool, a blockage of weld liquid, impurities in the metals, and above-average temperatures. To avoid these cracks, it’s best to keep the causes in mind and keep the strain and temperature to the lowest possible without sacrificing the quality of the weld.

Cold cracks, while on the opposite side of the temperature spectrum, are still just as annoying. Cold cracks cause sharp-edged crevices to form throughout the weld. Like its warmer brother, it can absolutely ruin the weld. It can occur after the weld has solidified and can be caused by a combination of welding stress, a brittle hard structure, the presence of hydrogen, and temperatures below 150°C. To prevent cold cracks, ensure you have a proper width to depth ratio on weld beads, select your base material properly, and validate your technique to mitigate any improper moves or processes you may not be sure of.

Cracks in sanding can be minimized using cover sheets. Statistics via Research Gate by Zhanxiang Ling.


Undercutting in welding is when grooves begin to appear on the base metal near the root of the weld. While this is sometimes the result of a weak welding process if undercuts do appear they can drastically reduce the strength of the weld and workpieces. Some of the causes for undercuts include maintaining too long an arc length and maintaining excessive current which causes edges of the joint to melt and drain into the weld. The latter will leave a drain-like impression across the weld. As well, selecting the wrong gas shield, poorly depositing the filler metal along the edges of the weld, using incorrect filler metal, and using an improper electrode angle can all cause undercuts in the weld. 

Simply put, undercutting in welding isn’t uncommon. Correcting the undercuts is doable, but, like clockwork, prevention is key. To ensure proper welds and to avoid undercuts, double-check the heat input, work at a decent speed (one you can properly supervise), correct the electrode angle and size, and perfect your weaving technique as much as possible before starting your weld. 


One of the more visible defects, distortion of the metal occurs when the heating and cooling is uneven. Usually caused by compressive stress that occurs on the area around the edges, the metal can begin to deform and turn into an unwanted shape. Different forms of distortion include longitudinal shrinkage, transverse shrinkage, angular distortion, bowing and dishing, buckling, and twisting. While these all may sound a bit odd, it’s important to take the proper steps to avoid distorting the shape of the metal you are working on.

Preventing distortion in metal isn’t always a one-size-fits-all solution, but it can mitigate any unwanted disasters. Avoid welding from both sides of the joint. Weld from the center all the way, also going in opposite directions. Use large electrodes and clamp firmly. As well, alternate sequences of welds and locations if you begin to notice the beginning of the distortion.

Different forms of distortion could properly imbalance the way the metal is welded. Prevention is the key to avoiding these annoying problems. Figure via TWI Global.

Much Ado About Welding


Welding is a nifty but complicated process. Errors are easy to come by but they are also easy to prevent. Considering that a good portion of welding is done by real welders, problems may sometimes arise as a lapse of judgment, which could be caused by fatigue, stress, and other human factors. Humans are imperfect and sometimes that leads to imperfect welds. Other times, it can just be bad luck. In any case, these problems are common and easy to identify, giving you the most information possible to complete your welds in the most efficient manner possible.

When human welders are no longer an option, autonomous robots can answer the call. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems to analyze and weld various pieces of metal regardless of their shape, complexities, and sizes. Contact us to learn more.


Understanding The Division of Labor In Robotics

It may seem like an eternity ago that collaborative robots, or cobots for short, were introduced to the labor force in an effort to help ease a burdening workload for employees who may have needed a hand. Their first use dates all the way back to the late 1990s when Northwestern University professors J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin helped invent them. As time has passed, their use has only increased. Advancements in robotics have allowed robots to alleviate the stress of demanding and tiring jobs. With fewer workers entering the manufacturing workforce as the years pass, more robots are being tasked with performing jobs that people simply do not want or have the energy to do on a long-term basis. With the saturation of robots in manufacturing, a clear division of labor is present, showing the ever-growing distance between human and robotic labor. 

Traditionally, robots would execute tasks that never changed in nature; they repeated the same movements since the job itself wouldn’t change from part to part. The automotive industry has long used robots to help build different pieces of each car. However, that industry only represents 20% of manufacturing. In the time since the mass installation of robots in the automotive industry, more manufacturers are looking to automate their factories. It’s clear that they want to add robots to improve productivity after the largest shift in labor hit manufacturing harder than most other industries.

Cobots have assisted humans in various tasks for over two decades. Expanding robots to become fully autonomous can allow manufacturers to compensate for lost time and labor.

High-Mix Environments and Process Use-Cases

For high-mix environments, the pieces that need work often change in size and form. The processes aren’t always identical either as they can vary from powder coating, to sanding, to deburring. Each process has its own share of wrinkles too. For powder coating, there could be weak penetration of powder into the faraday cage areas. For sanding, it can be chatter marks. And for deburring, it can simply be the lack of precision by human hands. Regardless of the process, problems will inevitably arise and cause a backlog in production as humans can only work so fast under tiring conditions. 

The backlog only becomes more prevalent when you take into consideration the fact that fewer people work in manufacturing than ever before. In the 1950s and 60s, 36% of employed males worked in manufacturing; today that number hovers around 11%. Those that remain have to make up for the lost work.


Freeing Up Time & Labor

In an effort to compensate for the loss of manufacturing employees, High-Mix manufacturers have opted to invest heavily in robots. Through a myriad of options to help program the robots such as ROS, manufacturers can ensure that autonomous robots not only are capable of handling tasks that require a certain skill set, but that they can do so in a timely manner. 

By transitioning these tasks toward autonomous robots, manufacturers will also see several byproducts of this maturing technology. Autonomous robots can and will perform the necessary tasks but they won’t push the remaining human workers out of the factories. In fact, they will be as necessary as ever and their jobs, while less physically demanding, will allow them to achieve more by solving tasks that a robot can’t necessarily do.

Humans are intrinsically creative. Their best work can generally be achieved by allowing them to create and solve problems in different ways. If a manufacturer needs consistent sanding for different wooden parts, then it removes the physical strain from the employee who can instead focus on whether the machine is in good condition, if the pieces of wood can go to the robot without any game-breaking imperfections, or simply taking the extra time saved to devise a plan that could allow for faster production or fewer problems within the working environment.

Short-Term Planning For Labor Losses

Naturally, robots aren’t replacing every human in manufacturing. On the opposite side, humans aren’t exactly returning to manufacturing in droves now that the pandemic has eased. The goal isn’t to directly replace their labor either. Getting them back is another task on its own. In the interim, setting up an autonomous robotics system is an easy stopgap solution that can alleviate manufacturing employees in the short term, while alleviating costs for owners who need to continue to produce at the rates they’re used to.

Autonomous robots can compensate anywhere between 80-90% of a given manufacturer’s labor utilization, thus opening the gates for their employees to work on other tasks that have been paused due to production backlogs. Autonomous robots are still relatively new, but the industry is burgeoning. 

ROS allows for the programming of autonomous robots, but even that requires programmers to constantly update what the robots can do. Omnirobotic’s AutonomyStudio™ allows manufacturers to remove coding from the equation, instead opting for behaviors that will allow autonomous robots to see, plan, and act accordingly for every new part placed in their line of sight.

The labor shortage may begin easing up, but not all ex-manufacturing employees will return. To replace human labor for arduous tasks like sanding, autonomous robots can provide a stopgap solution to continue producing at high rates.


While autonomous robots at the moment may be short-term solutions for a long-term problem, in the future they will be even more powerful and capable, furthering the amount of time is freed up for employees looking to help their respective companies grow in a fruitful way.

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, it’s never been easier to deploy an autonomous robotic system. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems to sand various pieces of wood regardless of their sizes. Contact us to learn more

4 Problems A Sanding Robot Could Help Resolve

Manual skilled labor is always as difficult and time-consuming as it seems. When it comes to sanding, there is a recurring set of problems that can arise due to many factors. Sanding is still a human’s game despite significant advancements in autonomous technology. Like most things, being human means human errors are still part of the process. Some of the biggest problems lie in the equipment setup, miscalculations of distances, and, of course, fatigue.

Moving toward an autonomous can solve a great deal of the problems that lie in sanding processes, but, first, it’s important to understand what kind of problems are the most common.

Chatter Marks, Wavy Surfaces, and Ridges

Chatter marks describe the rippling pattern that can appear across a piece when something goes wrong in the sanding process. Wavy surfaces on a piece of wood mean that there are a consistent number of peaks and valleys across the surface. Finally, ridges are raised lines that appear along the surface of the worked piece.

Oftentimes, these problems occur when there’s an issue with the sanding machine itself or if there has been inconsistent or poor maintenance. Some of the causes include the improper installation of paper on the drum sander, the belt speeds being too fast or slow, or the conveyer belt wearing out. If most of these problems occur because of machine problems, then the burden of constantly checking the integrity of these machines falls on the employees themselves.

Disfigurations on improperly sanded wood will become immediately apparent. Moving toward an autonomous robotics system will minimize the negative outcomes.

Not Enough Sanding

Sanding is a long and arduous process. One that is immensely demanding on the worker going at it for hours on end. Sometimes, the process can involve sanding whole floors or simply an abundance of pieces that need to be sanded in a set amount of time to reach a quota. In any case, when there’s a large amount of work to be done, sometimes a worker will cut corners to reach the deadline, even if that means sacrificing quality.

Even though you might see a noticeable difference in the floors after the first round of sanding, this doesn’t necessarily mean the job is done. Ideally, you’d want to increase the grits in your sandpaper as the work progresses as each higher grit will help remove scratches from lower grit sandpaper. Typically, the grits available will go from 80-120-180 but ideally, you’d have grits available from 80-100-120-150-180. It’s possible that the latter sizes aren’t all available or convenient to come by, but adhering to the former sizes, it should be just enough to ensure that there aren’t scratches left behind if you decide to just use one set of grit-size sandpaper. If it sounds like a lot of work, it most definitely is, but a longer, proper job is infinitely better than a quicker job with mediocre results.


Of course, if problems arise when you don’t sand enough, there will surely be some if you sand too much. A sign that wood has been over-sanded is if it starts to look uneven. Over-sanding will not generally occur when you’re sanding the entire piece. Instead, it’s more likely to occur when a specific part of the piece has some sort of discoloration, scratches, or gouges. In an effort to fix these small problems, the person sanding might think they can fix it by continuously sanding that one part until it’s been overdone. 

Luckily, over-sanding isn’t so big of a problem that you have to throw out the piece and restart from scratch. There are ways to fix over-sanded wood and, while it may add to the amount of working time, it at least provides a way to fix a mistake that could have been avoided.

Over sanding and misusing the sander will cause several problems on the wood. Human error is mostly at play when this happens.

Misusing The Sander

Most sanding is done by real people in real time, but they need machinery to make the sanding work. Naturally, the sander is the worker’s most prized possession during the sanding process. Using it, however, requires a great deal of patience, detail, and willingness to spend long hours perfecting the job.

A recurring problem that arises in sanding is when there’s too much pressure being applied on the sander.  This excess pressure can lead to swirls, the disfiguration of the wood, uneven edges, and the potential overheating of the sander. The last thing you need is the machine breaking halfway through the job.

Along with sanding carefully, the pace at which you sand should be calculated, avoiding the urge to go too fast or too slow. Unless you need a specific job to accomplish, most sanding companies will agree that 10,000 RPM is good enough to handle most jobs. If you have some finer sanding to do, you’ll likely need to recalculate that so it fits your needs.

These problems will once again arise with human error as it is the person themselves who set up how the machine will work. If you’ve been at it for too long and are fatigued or if you’re just not sure what the exact process is, it’s likely that you will encounter problems throughout the sanding process.

Mitigating The Sanding Problems

Most of the problems listed above have a recurring theme: human error. As much good work as people have done sanding over the years, it’s only normal that they slip up from time to time. After all, they are human. Sometimes, they’re tired and forget a step. Other times, they simply lack the guidance to perfect their work.

As the skilled labor market continues to tighten, finding experienced sanders is always a tough ask. For those who are left, their skills will retire with them. A potential solution could be to think about automation. Robotics and sanding aren’t a new concept together, but there’s an extra layer that will eventually be tacked on: autonomous sanding.

Most robots are programmable using a plethora of robotics middleware while others trade in coding for behavioral-based autonomy. This means that robots can learn the size, placement, and dimensions of the pieces at hand and learn how exactly to sand them without the constant need of human labor. Humans won’t be entirely replaced as they will then be tasked with replacing the parts when necessary and watching over the processes, but the risk of human error falters as autonomous robots will take up a brunt of the work.

An autonomous robotic sander will eventually mitigate all the human errors that arise during the sanding process.


With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, it’s never been easier to deploy an autonomous robotic system. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems to sand various pieces of wood regardless of their sizes. Contact us to learn more