Robotics Can Help us Navigate a Post-COVID World



With election season upon us – if you’re in the U.S., you should’ve cast your ballot by now – it’s nice to know you can have some good, clean non-partisan fun with Power Systems Design.

And as we explained in the editorial call, “Motor Drives, Robotics & Controls” is one of those critical topics that slips under the radar. It’s not as sexy as, say, solid-state lighting or wireless power, but with manufacturing becoming more and more automated and autonomous systems slowly taking over several application areas (like the automotive space), this month’s topic is indispensable.

I’d like to highlight four bylines that cover “Motor Drives, Robotics & Controls,” each from their own unique, perspective.

The first deals with timing challenges as they relate to the correct operation of industrial robotics and machine tool applications.

And for robots with six (or even seven) axes, and an interconnected network of a servo drive, a motor, and sometimes a gearbox between the motor and the axis joint, “A machine controller converts the required spatial trajectory to individual position references for each servo axis, and these are communicated over the network on a cyclic basis,” notes Dara O’Sullivan with Analog Devices.

O’Sullivan covers the control cycle, and how “These applications run on a defined cycle time that is usually equal to, or a multiple of, the fundamental control/pulse-width modulation (PWM) switching cycle…”

Simon Duggleby, with Mouser Electronics, addresses the topic from a different perspective with “Shrinking Industrial Designs with Highly Integrated PMICs.”

Because of the unique challenges associated with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), systems like compact sensors, robust communication gateways, and essential programmable controller hardware need to be crammed into constrained spaces.

“To create smaller designs,” says Duggleby, “engineers are tasked with selecting the smallest possible passive components and ICs.”

Sharper Shape's Petri Rauhakallio discusses “The past, present and future of powerline inspection automation.”

Powerline inspection is tedious, time-consuming, and expensive, but it’s absolutely vital.

Forward-thinking grid operators have already called upon AI systems like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which use advanced cameras “to supercharge the efficiency of ground inspection crews.”

To be sure, these drones won’t replace helicopters for their overall range and efficiency, but they do “enhance the range and productivity of inspection crews by orders of magnitude, boosting both coverage, volume and quality of data capture.”

Finally, I’d like to highlight an article that hits on a topic we’re all uncomfortably familiar with, “Improving Automation to Support Living and Working Post-COVID.”

Many of us are headed back to the office (and some never left), but nearly all of us are still adapting to our “new normal.”

And in a post-COVID-19 world, “The ability to reduce costs, improve quality, and increase output are all well-known reasons for businesses to introduce robots to their operations.” Lately, being able to “ease social distancing and pandemic-proof their operations” is another reason to replace human workers with robots.

Best Regards,

Jason Lomberg

North American Editor, PSD