Industrial Bin Picking vs. Pick and Place

Dec 18, 2019 12:00:36 PM

Lean Manufacturing is what everyone strives for, and industrial bin picking is a target-rich area for eliminating waste and automating currently manual tasks. If you are trying to cut production costs, reduce labor risk, or gain a competitive edge, a focus on industrial bin picking might be crucial to achieving your goals. To help you understand why this is the case, this post explains the difference between pick and place applications and the more challenging bin picking applications.

Pick and Place

Pick and place is a repeatable 2D application where you use a robotic system to do the following:

  1. Locate a part in a known orientation and location in space
  2. Pick up the part and place it in a new location

But what happens when one aspect of that process becomes a dynamic variable? What happens when randomness comes into play? You need a human to intervene, and this occurs more often than you might think. A great example of this is machine tending. Someone needs to palletize and stack their parts next to the robot so it can then tend the machine. In this case, someone needs to actually step in and make sure everything is back to the predetermined position for the robot first before the robot can function properly.

 

Industrial Bin Picking

Industrial bin picking applications are non-repeatable in that the part isn’t always in the same orientation. Industrial bin picking is a 3D application that involves using a robotic system to do all of the following:

  1. Locate a part in a random orientation in any quadrant of a bin.
  2. Plan a complete path from pick to place, so the robot does not reach any singularities or joint limits along the way.
  3. Enter the bin in a specific robot pose for that particular orientation of that part you matched too.
  4. Do not break or hit any adjacent parts to that part you are picking.
  5. Exit out of a bin and then having it place that part on a target, in the correct orientation without hitting anything in its environment.

Sounds simple, right? It’s not.

It should be noted that just because there’s a bin involved doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “industrial bin picking.” Two common things to look out for when determining whether or not it’s industrial bin picking:

  1. Are you picking structured parts out of a bin? This is not industrial bin picking because the parts are not randomly oriented. Instead, this would be an example of a repeatable pick and place application where a 2D camera can locate the part and then index down a specified distance after each layer.
  2. Is the bin extremely shallow? A shallow bin is essentially the same as a pile of parts on a table. While it is unstructured picking (because the parts are randomly oriented), it’s not industrial bin picking. This is a 2D application.

The main takeaway is that the parts in a bin are going to always be randomly oriented, and so being able to easily adapt your program so that you can pick in every orientation is key.

Pick and Place vs. Bin Picking

Pick and place does not equal bin picking.

Bin picking is a very complex process in which you can use 3-4 points of contact (if only 3, they can not be adjacent faces) on a product and remove it from a pile without disturbing or breaking anything. With industrial bin picking, the product can be in an unknown position and orientation and the robot will adjust its program to pick and place the part in the proper orientation.

Pick and place is much less complex than industrial bin picking! In addition to being 2D instead of 3D, the robot does not deviate from its running a canned routine (that must be staged, but it’s not that challenging) where everything is repeatable. The parts are not randomly oriented and the operations the robot must carry out will not deviate from pick to placement of the first part to the nth part.

 

The manufacturing industry has struggled to keep up with the increasing demands of the market. Pick and place has been done for decades, but we need industrial bin picking in order to advance to leaner manufacturing. It has become increasingly difficult for companies to hire employees to fill these roles, let alone hiring enough people to cover the shifts needed to keep the machines constantly running. Imagine a dream where you only need to hire one person for your entire plant. With industrial bin picking, you are 100 steps closer to “Lights Out Manufacturing”. So why has this only been a myth in the industry for so many years, and why has no one solved industrial bin picking? I’ll be writing about that in my next post, so stay tuned!

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