Robotics in Practice

Beladeroboter im Dresdner Werk von Infineon Technologies (Quelle: Infineon Technologies)

Source: Infineon Technologies

Robotics from Saxony as a Blueprint for Europe’s Microelectronics

Robotics from Saxony essentially contribute to keeping Germany’s chip industry up and running and making it sustainable for the future. This applies in particular to semiconductor factories dating back to the 1990s which have been manufacturing chips on comparably small 200-millimeter silicon disks (wafers) to date. Despite their long service life, they have remained competitive at an international level even today because their operators have retroactively closed the automation gaps in these factories together with specialists from Dresden. A prime example of this is Infineon Technologies Dresden’s cooperation with Fabmatics, Wandelbots, and other robotics specialists. “We’ve broken new ground together,” assesses Harald Heinrich, an Infineon Dresden engineer who has co-ordinated the project for many years now. “Today, we can clearly state: This subsequent automation had a very positive impact on the location, and it will ensure our competitiveness in the long run.”

“Infineon’s courage to move down entirely new paths with us when it comes to the automation of cleanroom environments has enormously advanced the pioneering work we’ve accomplished with the automation of our 200-mm production facilities,” notes Dr. Roland Giesen, Managing Director of the Dresden-based Fabmatics GmbH. “It is also thanks to this vision and the many years of faith-ful cooperation that our robotic and smart storage solutions ‘made in Saxony’ are now doing such a successful job in chip factories around the entire globe.” Infineon itself has transferred the solutions from Dresden, for example, to its Regensburg plant.

The cooperation began already in the mid-1990s when the Siemens Group built its first chip factory in Dresden which was later outsourced to Infineon. The Fabmatics predecessor “HAP” assumed the task of designing an elevator for wafer cassettes to be used in cleanrooms. “In 2004, together with HAP, we started to consider the possibilities of automating the loading of our 200 mm line without having to build special machinery every time,” recalls Harald Heinrich. During the first phase until 2009, the partners developed and built almost 30 systems: The robots were now automatically loading those production lines which had previously required a total of three employees per day in three-shift operations. These pioneering solutions paid off very quickly: Personnel expenses decreased, work pace and machine utilization increased – and the error rate ac-tually went down in the long run as well.

The second phase between 2010 and 2016 called for more complex solutions: For every additional percentage point on the way towards full automation, the project partners had to undertake an ever increasing amount of technological effort. During this time, HAP and Ortner developed the rail-bound “HERO Rail,” the first mobile robotic solution for the semiconductor industry, as well as “HERO Fab” and “SCOUT,” the first freely moving robots. SYSTEMA GmbH Dresden adapted the requisite work-flows, Kontron AIS GmbH (Dresden) created new interfaces to the chip production facilities; yet many of these factories were not at all prepared for automation. Later on, the Dresden-based start-up Wandelbots also joined the partnership and helped con-vert one of the mobile robots with ultramodern Infineon sensor technology. Today, about 200 robots work in Dresden’s factory modules. 115 of which move on rails, a handful of them moves freely in the cleanroom, the rest is firmly fixed.

With a lot of “fine tuning,” the 200-mm modules at Infineon Dresden have now attained a level of automation of 93 percent. Thus, the cleanrooms which are partially already more than 25 years old have reached the same standard as the brand new 300-mm chip factories which go into operation with high levels of automation ranging between 97 and 98 percent. Many stakeholders of the industry sector consider the Dresden model to be a blueprint also for other microe-lectronics locations in Europe which compete with the USA, Taiwan, or South Korea. Because the increased use of robots essentially negates the relatively high labor costs in Germany. In addition, there is one reason which is particularly important in a social market economy: Infineon has implemented its subsequent automation project without any dismissals. Most of the staff members whose positions became redundant were moved into other, expanding areas. All in all, this strategy has actually safeguarded and assured value creation and employment in Saxony for a long period of time which might otherwise be realized in Asia today.

   

Quelle / Source: Wandelbots GmbH, Dresden

Source: Wandelbots GmbH, Dresden

Robots as Quality Inspectors

The Dresden-based technology enterprises Wandelbots GmbH and Robotron Datenbank-Software GmbH,  and the US software group Microsoft have jointly developed new automated quality control solutions for the BMW Group Plant in Dingolfing. On its premises, the partners have taught the industrial robots how to inspect the quality of processes in component production of electric drive systems used in BMW’s e-vehicles. More precisely, the project partners installed a lightweight robot equipped with a camera in the production line of electric engines. Then they taught the robot how to pan, tilt, and focus the camera to inspect the previously completed production steps on the electric engine from the decisive angles. In detail, the system learned how to inspect not only the applied codes and serial numbers, but also the previously pulled silicone beads. In addition, the robot also had to be able to sort out the deci-sive pictures from an abundance of photos taken during the process and to identify defects on the silicone beads.

Experienced BMW employees helped with the interpretation and marking (“labeling”) of the image data so that it was possible for Robotron to generate the respective models for artificial intelligence (AI) on this basis with its “Realtime Computer Vision” (RCV) platform. The cloud resources for this AI were provided by Microsoft. The sensor pens (“TracePens”) with which the robot was taught the right movements came from Wandelbots. In addition, interfaces were created between the diverse systems of Robotron, Microsoft, and BMW.

According to Wandelbots, the use of these new teaching technologies has shortened the time a robot needs so that it is ready to conduct the quality controls by the factor 15 to less than 60 hours when compared to conventional solutions. BMW, thus, saved 30 percent of the costs that are usually in-curred. The advantages for quality control are obvious. And just one pilot application won’t be the last one: “It was also examined whether and where this technology can also be used in other places at BMW, and this resulted in identifying about 250 possible examples,” reports Dr. Patrick Grosa, Head of Business Acceleration at Wandelbots.

   

"RoboSpector" (Quelle / Source: Siemens WKC)

Source: Siemens WKC

CLOSING AUTOMATION GAPS WITH "SWARM INTELLIGENCE"

To develop innovative robotic solutions, powerful corporate groups, medium-sized technology enterprises, and startups cooperate closely with one another in many places in Saxony. Towards this end, they often apply the swarm intelligence principle by establishing temporary cross-company development teams. For example, the Siemens Group, the Chemnitz-based 3dvisionlabs  GmbH as well as the Dresden-based Robotron and Wandelbots corporations have joined forces to develop the so-called “RoboSpector:” A mobile robotic cell which supports companies in implementing new automation projects. “This system permits engineers, technicians, and other experts to quickly use new – particularly temporary – industrial robotic solutions for their processes without having to rely on automation and robotics specialists,” Dr. Patrick Grosa, Head of Business Acceleration at Wandelbots, sums up the opportunities the artificial robotic inspector provides to the companies where it is used.

The initial idea for the cooperation between the Siemens representatives and the robot teaching specialists of Wandelbots came about during an entrepreneurial meeting in Saxony. Both the corporate group and the startup recognized the opportunities that might arise from such a cooperation. An ap-plication scenario unfolded quite quickly: Today, Siemens uses the robot teaching pens known as “TracePens” from Dresden for the professional training of its personnel in Chemnitz. A focus here is on the various possibilities of automating gluing and bonding processes with robots.

But it just didn’t stop there: During numerous pilot projects in the companies of industrial partners, the Wandelbots experts identified the unused potentials that are still available in the application of robotics in many places. Just installing prototypes of robots again and again and equipping these robots specifically for the respective purposes is not very effective; especially if many other points of use are foreseeable on the customer’s premises. In a nutshell: A comprehensive mobile solution, a driving robotic cell emerged as a viable solution.

Siemens AG’s Systems Engineering Plant Chemnitz (WKC) manufactured the cell and the superstructures for this “RoboSpector.” Robotron Dresden contributed the requisite solutions for computer-based image analysis (computer vision) and artificial intelligence (AI). 3dvisionlabs, in turn, spe-cializes in cameras into which such AI models can be embedded. And the overall concept, the teach-ing technology as well as the interfaces between the diverse systems came from Wandelbots. The mobile lightweight robot is equipped and coupled with everything that is needed for work that is mostly autonomous: With image sensors, a monitor, decentralized evaluation electronics, its own power supply, numerous interfaces, cloud connections, and the like.

Currently, the “RoboSpector” is still in the prototype phase. But the partners anticipate great market opportunities with their innovation: “Our solution will help companies integrate new quality and conformity inspections into their production lines in an extremely agile manner, teach their robots without any programming skills, and deploy their robots flexibly anywhere on the corporate premis-es,” emphasizes Robotron’s Michael Baling.

   

Quelle / Source: Marcel Ott / ICM

Source: Marcel Ott / ICM

customized automation solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises

Whenever Marcel Ott comes to a customer, then not only the supervisor can’t wait to hear his proposed solutions. The employees also look forward to hearing them – even though he often reorganizes their familiar workplaces. The software developer works in the automation/robotics sector at the ICM – Chemnitz Institute for Machinery and Plant Construction. Since its official opening in November 2019, a training and application center abbreviated as SchAz has also been part of the institute. The center evolved from a project funded by the Federal Government which focuses on the investigation of new concepts for the implementation of collaborative assembly systems.

The positive effects have already convinced a large number of small and medium sized entrepreneurs. All of them have similar problems – irrespective of their individual branches and products. “The companies have to cope with high flexibilization and cost pressures. With conventional working methods, they often reach their limits. The unavailability of the required labor force assumes an increasing role as well,” explains Marcel Ott.

For example, the Bader Glastechnologie GmbH in Klipphausen: The company assembles glass panes of various sizes into modules for the most diverse needs and requirements. So far, the fitting and bonding into sheet metal profiles has required physically demanding manual work. The ICM automation experts have developed a manufacturing cell which is flexible in its use; those who operate the cell only need to put on the sheet metal stencil, and all other production steps such as sampling the right glass size, applying the glue bead, bonding glass and metal, and finally discharging the finished product from the cell are all carried out automatically. The plant operators select the appropriate glass type which is required and position the glue beads from a panel. Thus, new products can be integrated without a lot of effort. The benefits speak for themselves: “This solution ensures stable processes and a consistent product quality with high dimensional accuracy. And the output is also increased,” Marcel Ott names just some of the benefits. And this should not be ignored either: “The employees are glad that they don’t have to carry out stressful, monotonous activities and are instead able to focus on other, more sophisticated tasks. The robot has lost its reputation as a job killer.”

This is also demonstrated by the next example. The Bahner Schäfer GmbH located in Oelsnitz in the Erzgebirge Mountains manufactures technical springs. So far, the end sections of bent wire parts have been handled and machined by hand, which means that the parts fell into a box but were only deburred on one side so that they still had to be “disentangled” and machined on the other side. The ICM team has implemented the requisite concept with which a robot removes the diverse parts with the help of various gripping tools and deposits and/or suspends them for further processing in a predefined manner. The previously manual deburring has been automated as well. “One of the challenges was to integrate the solution into the production hall without obstructing any existing transport routes in such a way that flexible work is still possible with the system. This was attained through a robot portal on the ceiling and a foldable fence,” explains Marcel Ott. He points out that particularly those automation solutions which are to be integrated into existing production halls and cater to the specific needs and requirements of smaller enterprises cannot be taken off the shelf. “We always look at the entire process including the respective upstream and downstream activities before we develop together with our customers the requisite solution that suits them in each individual case. Just the robot alone is not enough. It is essential to pursue a comprehensive, holistic approach so that such integration leads to the desired effects. Technologically clean and economically viable, these are the decisive criteria for each and every project,” outlines the automation expert.

    

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