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Next-generation cobots save time and improve accuracy

05 July, 2018

The collaborative robot (cobot) pioneer Universal Robots has announced a new flagship series of cobot arms with built-in torque/force sensors, easier programming, a high-speed system bus and extra safety functions. The new e-Series cobots look similar to the previous UR machines (which will continue to be available), offering a higher-specification alternative for applications that need improved performance.

UR says that the new robots, available in three sizes, will allow faster development for a wider variety of applications, while meeting the latest ISO safety standards.

“Our e-Series platform is leveraging our years of experience as the market leader within collaborative robots, combined with our overall product philosophy of empowering, keeping it easy and making it accessible to everyone,” says UR president, Jürgen von Hollen.

The new arms offer a repeatability of ±0.03mm for the UR3e and UR5e arms, and ±0.05mm for the UR10e arm (with handling capacities of 3, 5 and 10kg, respectively). This compares with a repeatability of ±0.1mm for the original UR arms. The UR3e offers a force accuracy of 3.5N, with the UR5e offering 4N and the UR10e, 5.5N.

The new arms add two new safety functions – customisable stopping time and stopping distance – taking the total to 17. These functions are certified by TÜV Nord to comply with the EN ISO 13849-1 and EN ISO 10218-1 (Cat 3, PLd) machinery safety standards for human-robot collaboration.

A redesigned control panel and new programming and control software are said to simplify programming and deployment of the robots. Programming on a new lightweight, widescreen touch pendant can be done in “a few clicks”.

Universal Robots says that it will take about an hour to unpack one of the new robot arms, mount it and program a task. A communication interface for wrist joint tools reduces the time and complexity of integrating the arms into production lines. If joints need to be serviced, they can be replaced in two to six minutes.

Universal Robots' new e-series of collaborative robots may look similar to its earlier arms, but there are many changes inside

Universal Robots’ co-founder and chief technology officer, Esben Østergaard, describes the e-series as “a platform for the future – we have raised the bar”. Although the cobots may look similar to UR’s earlier arms, there are “lots of changes inside”, he adds, with many incremental improvements based on user feedback. He believes that x-y-z torque-force sensors, which allow sensitive measurements to be made at the end of a robot arm without any mechanical effects, are “the key to the future”.

UR has started to take orders for the e-Series and plans to start shipping the arms in August 2018. Lead times are expected to be the same as for its other products – five days.

Pricing will vary according to the market, but the e-series arms will typically cost about 5–15% more than UR’s standard arms.

•  Universal Robots – which was acquired by the US automated test equipment supplier, Teradyne, for $285m in 2015 – has continued its meteoric expansion, growing by a further 72% in 2017 to achieve revenues of $170m. The company currently accounts for about 60% of the global cobot market. UR president, Jürgen von Hollen, says that maintaining this share of a market which is predicted to grow from $283m in 2017 to more than $3bn by 2011, is “not easy”. UR has a team of more than 300 developers working on the platform to help meet this challenge. “We are still at the beginning,” says von Hollen.

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