“It is huge,” says Finn Oscar Karlsen, CEO of Pioneer Robotics, standing next to a 3.5 meters tall orange German giant. Kuka Titan is as big as they come, weighing in at 4.7 tons. But it is still a highly flexible, 6-axis, easy controllable, and very industrious helping hand.
It was shipped to Grimstad and Mechatronics Innovation Lab to be tested in a work process perfectly suited for a robot: To perform tasks in an environment that is unpleasant, hazardous, or even toxic, to humans.
When it comes to working environments, few are more unpleasant and hazardous than operating melting furnaces in smelters around the world. Pouring liquid metal out of a 2000 degrees Celcius furnace, operating the furnace under such extreme conditions and closing it again for a new smelting process, is a task most humans would gladly avoid.
“It’s a perfect job for a robot. We just need to find out how to implement the robot in a way never done before. That is what brings us to MIL,” says Alexander Johansen, CEO of Momek Services.
CHALLENGED BY ELKEM
Momek from Mo i Rana was challenged by industrial conglomerate Elkem to come up with a better solution for draining metal from melting furnaces. Customized large hydraulic-driven machines are usually used in such processes, one dedicated machine per process. Johansen’s idea is to replace multiple machines with one robot with tool changing capabilities.
“The semi-manual equipment that is used today typically perform one task each. Our idea is to have one robot perform three different tasks, using three different pieces of equipment along the way. We have an idea of how it will work, but we need to test it,” says Johansen.
Momek has developed the new tapping solution, and together with Bjørn Audun Risøy, CEO of Momek Invest, Johansen travelled 1,250 kilometers from Mo i Rana to Mechatronics Innovation Lab in Grimstad. At the national test center, the travelers were greeted by Finn Oscar Karlsen, an expert on industrial robots and a familiar face to the Momek representatives. Karlsen has previously participated in the development of an autonomous robot welding system for on-site collaboration on Söderberg electrodes.
“There are hundreds of smelters around the world, but no good solutions to this problem. If we can come up with an improved work process, this could easily be established as the industry best practice,” says Johansen.
The Kuka Titan robotic arm has been available for a while, but the complementing sensors are more recent on the market.
“In this phase we are simply trying to figure out what works and what does not work. Extreme temperatures require comprehensive heat shielding. The robotic arm can lift 1,000 kilos, but the capacity will be reduced by the weight of the heat shield. How will this affect the performance of the robot? There are so many things to work out,” says Karlsen, just a few weeks into the three months long test period.