Expert Column

LBR iiwa – intelligent industrial work assistant


In the LBR iiwa lightweight robot, KUKA is presenting an intelligent assistant for pioneering production concepts.

The use of industrial robots has increased steadily in recent years. Due to increasingly complex processes, the automation environment is becoming ever more demanding, posing new challenges for manufacturers of industrial robots. In the face of the further development of industrial production processes, new sensitive and compliant solutions are required – also with regard to the increasing use of robots in the direct working environment of the human operator.

40 years after the first industrial application of robots, KUKA is opening up a new chapter in the story of modern industrial robotics in order to meet this challenge: By introducing the new LBR iiwa, KUKA is delivering on its promise to the market to present a lightweight robot for industrial applications. Sensitive and compliant, and equipped with mechanical and drive systems for industrial operation, the LBR iiwa heralds a new robot generation. And that is exactly what the name of the lightweight robot stands for. LBR iiwa – intelligent industrial work assistant.

“The KUKA LBR iiwa makes it possible to automate delicate and complex assembly tasks in which the use of robots was previously inconceivable,” explains Manfred Gundel, CEO of KUKA Roboter GmbH. “It enables us to automate and thus optimise high-performance and force-controlled processes.” KUKA has many years of experience in the development of the lightweight robot.

The LBR iiwa comes amazingly close to the motion sequences of the human arm. It can be operated in position, torque or impedance control mode. The integrated sensors and the impedance control endow the robot with a programmable compliance (axis-specific, Cartesian) in automatic operation. This gives the robot a tactile sense. As a result, tasks are no longer solved on the basis of position accuracy but by means of compliance. Its responsive collision detection function provided by integrated joint torque sensors in all axes makes the LBR iiwa an ideal solution for sensitive joining processes and allows the use of simple tools. As the compliance is provided by the robot rather than the tooling, the customer can save on cost-intensive technologies in the tools, as well as on complicated peripheral equipment. The robot is capable of reacting to external forces. With the aid of the sensitive collision detection function, the lightweight robot can move quickly to the contact point, thus achieving short cycle times.

Cooperation with KUKA customers has shown that different variants of the robot are required. The LBR iiwa is available in variants with payload capacities of 7 kg and 14 kg. Due to the kinematic redundancy resulting from seven axes, the lightweight robot is ideally suited to confined installation situations. Its small size, streamlined design and low weight of just 23.9 kg (with a payload capacity of 7 kg) or 29.9 kg (with a payload capacity of 14 kg) are also beneficial in this respect. Small and light, the LBR iiwa offers a convincing combination of utmost flexibility and mobility while featuring low energy consumption. Its futuristic design with smooth, round surfaces enables it to get round disruptive contours and allows very easy integration into existing production systems.

It is not only the requirements for greater sensitivity and compliance that are met by the latest product from KUKA, however. The LBR iiwa is also well on the way to opening up entirely new possibilities in the interaction of humans and robots. This is illustrated by the simple, user-friendly operation. The lightweight robot can be moved quickly and intuitively to any position by hand. This manual teaching in which the human operator programs paths “by demonstration” immensely reduces programming time. This minimal programming effort with the LBR iiwa is of particular interest in the case of small batch sizes or large product variety.

When it comes to the implementation of robotic automation solutions, there is increasing demand to combine the advantages of the robot with those of the human operator, thereby achieving an overall optimum – and all this without a physical safety fence. Requirements range here from shared robot/operator workspaces or robotic assistance to direct human-robot collaboration, i.e. direct cooperation between the robot and the operator. The robots can also be installed on mobile platforms, thus offering enormous flexibility. The LBR iiwa is designed for human-robot collaboration. Direct human-robot interaction makes future-oriented production concepts possible with the lightweight robot as the “third hand” of the human worker. Robots and humans work together, perfectly complementing each other with their respective skills. With the aid of the responsive motor functions of its arm, the lightweight robot can sensitively feel objects and perform difficult work precisely. The robot can be positioned and adjusted to assist its human colleagues optimally in terms of ergonomics. For example, the lightweight robot can take care of strenuous operations and overhead work.

With the LBR iiwa, KUKA is encouraging its customers to think about entirely new production applications and automation possibilities. “The market is demanding new, intelligent, lightweight automation solutions,” says Manfred Gundel. “The LBR iiwa is our response to this requirement. We are confident that the new lightweight robot will establish itself on the market and that it will be able to perform tasks in the future for which robotic automation is not currently possible.”

Laura Schwarzbach, KUKA Roboter GmbH

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