Interview with Alexander Mühlens, Head of Low-Cost-Automation, igus GmbH
Exclusively for K-MAG
Copyright: igus GmbH
At the heart of any modern robot is a gearbox. Now imagine a robot with its "heart" made of plastic. It’s simply marvelous. But that’s not the only benefit users can expect from the new cobot (collaborative robot) by igus: the device is also lightweight, portable, and affordable.
In this K-MAG interview, Alexander Mühlens talks about these benefits, explains the variety of applications of the "ReBeL", and reveals the projects igus plans to implement in the future.
Alexander Mühlens. Copyright: igus GmbH
Mr. Mühlens, what makes the igus ReBeL so unique?
Alexander Mühlens: Our igus ReBeL has triggered a low-cost revolution in the robotics market, because this 6-axis robot with cobot function costs less than 5,000 euros. This is made possible by us exploring the benefits of plastic. All mechanical components, most of the outer contour parts, and the gearbox are made using injection molding – thus making the robot affordable.
How do you ensure the durability and wear resistance of the plastic gearbox?
Mühlens: Rigorous testing is our motto. For us, using plastic means finding the ideal blend of plastics for a product. We work with thousands of different plastic mixtures to attain the best possible combination for a long service life. We use hundreds of laboratory devices to test the service life and rigidity of the products. Of course, we already know ahead of time which plastics work well together and the forces and torque we expect within the gearbox. This enabled us to make continuous improvements and ultimately quintuple the number of cycles to two million, which is equivalent to a normal service life of two years. The plastic parts that are subject to regular wear and tear only cost cents apiece, making them easily replaceable at the end of their service life.
Copyright: igus GmbH
How does your innovative cobot benefit users?
Mühlens: For one, there is no need for lubrication, which makes the device resistant to dust and dirt. Another benefit is that it is lightweight. At a net weight of only 8.2 kilograms, you can simply put it over your shoulder and carry it through production. Yet the biggest advantage is its low cost. The robot’s affordability provides access to new markets. Our products are "Made in Cologne", yet they are cost-effective. We call this product sector low cost automation, which we achieve by using as many plastic components as possible. This allows us to offer our products anywhere in the world at an affordable price.
The robot can be controlled via software or an app. What are the advantages of both systems?
Mühlens: The robot can be controlled using software by igus, which intentionally resembles Office programs. The software is free, enabling users to test the ease of use before purchase. igus robot control is available free of charge and comes with many benefits: it offers an augmented reality view that virtually integrates the robot into the factory, allowing customers to envision the robot at their respective location. Customers can also test and program the motion sequences in the app and then transfer the programming to the system to enable direct execution for the robot.
How does igus plan to initiate changes in the future?
Mühlens: The global pandemic resulted in new market forces. This encouraged us to continue on our journey and increase our in-house manufacturing. We also make the power electronics for the ReBeL, that being the printed circuit boards such as BLDC controllers or digital I/O boards in-house.
Copyright: igus GmbH
We want to use our motion plastics concept to make systems that continue to get more affordable - my vision is a multi-axis articulated robot that costs as much as a smartphone. Software must also become ever easier to integrate, while the integration process must likewise become simpler. I am confident that artificial intelligence or machine learning systems and applications that are tailored to specific uses will help get us closer to our goals in the near future. We tackle both topics via low cost automation and rbtx.com, the marketplace for low cost robotics.
K-MAG, the online magazine of the world's leading and most important trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry. News, opinions, pictures, films, interviews and much more from and for the global K community. Because K sees itself as a global communicator for innovations and trending topics. Not only every three years with THE live event of the plastics and rubber industry in Düsseldorf. The K-MAG is a continuous information and inspiration platform for the industry. It’s more than a trade fair – it’s a channel of communication. According to this principle, we offer informative and interactive exchange on industry-relevant topics.