Real-Time Telemanipulator/Robotics

New telemanipulator/robotic technology from Vulcan Engineering Co., Helena, Ala., puts the precision and flexibility of automation at an operator’s fingertips. The Vulcan Tactile System (VTS), which was displayed in action at CastExpo’13 in St. Louis this April, allows an industrial robot to be operated manually in real time putting the full functionality of the robot in the operator’s hands. Risers can be cut off and the remaining pads and flash can be easily removed via the guidance of the operator. This ability brings unique robotic ability to producers of large-scale castings.

VTSinniosjul13The VTS system works in three modes—fully manual with tactile feedback, semi-automatic and fully automatic.

Using tactile force feedback, the operator is able to feel the actual process forces as he or she manipulates the robot from the operator cab. In the manual mode, using load cell technology, the operator feels the actual forces of the grinding process. But unlike grinding manually, real-time grinding with a robot offers the ability to set in place guides and limits for better accuracy. For instance, in manual mode, the operator can touch three points on the casting to create a plane that prevents the operator from grinding below that plane (overgrinding). The plane can be bumped down a notch at a time until the desired results are achieved.

In semi-automatic mode, the operator touches three points around a riser and a point on top of the riser. The operator then enters a depth of cut and the machine calculates the grinding paths and starts the auto-grinding mode.  Once the robot has auto-ground the riser, control is returned to the operator allowing them to continue the same process on other risers or process other areas manually. The robot also can be positioned onto a rigid floor mount near a turntable or other casting positioning device and programmed and operated like a traditional robot cell.

“The VTS system is extremely flexible. You can use it one or two shifts a day manually, and then use it during the remaining time in automatic mode,” said Chris Cooper, vice president of Vulcan Engineering. “This flexibility is something our customers have been asking us for.”

A motion library provides the operator with the ability to process a product using the functionality of the robot.  This library provides pre-programmed functions to simplify the operator’s job; an example is cut mode.  The robot is positioned at the correct angle to cut a riser off of a casting; the cut mode button is then pushed to establish the plane of the cut.  In this mode, the robot can only move in the taught plane.  This feature alone greatly reduces the chance of breaking a wheel, and reduces the manipulation of the casting.  The fact that the castings can be processed in virtually any orientation reduces or eliminates the need for fixtures or positioning equipment.

The VTS can be track, floor or gantry-mounted. The gantry-mounted robot is suited to especially large castings, as the equipment can be maneuvered up, down and around the part. Cameras that display the surroundings provide the operator a full view of the operational area.

According to Cooper, the basics of operation are learned within an hour with an operator becoming fully comfortable using the tactile system in a week or less. “We had people at CastExpo using the robot to see how easily the system can be learned and they became quite proficient within a short period,” he said. “It’s more like becoming familiar with a new computer. It becomes second nature in a very short time.”