Motion Control & Drives

The future of intuitive robotics and configurable modular packaging lines

March 2016 Motion Control & Drives

“At Omron, we believe the automation cells and production lines of the future will see symmetry in interaction between robots and humans,” says Evert Janse van Vuuren, field application engineer at Omron South Africa. “Our Ping-Pong robot shows the first fruits of our efforts to meet this collaborative challenge.”

Sustaining long table tennis rallies with its human opponent, the Ping-Pong robot consistently returns the ball to a spot and at a velocity that makes it easy for the opponent to hit back. The robot is able to do that because it is not simply reacting as it sees the ball, but instead is estimating the trajectory and velocity of the ball based on data of both the ball’s position and the opponent’s physical movement.

Combining Omron’s integrated vision technology with the intelligence to determine the opponent’s intent, this technological evolution establishes new and productive interactions between people and machines. Here, machines are not blindly following a set motion profile to fulfil a programmed function, but instead are attuned to the way their human counterparts think and move, adjusting their own actions accordingly.

All of these efforts open up a new era of human-robot interaction where robots work alongside humans in the same physical space, free from the traditional constraints of guards and fences. As the Ping-Pong robot, with its sensing know-how, demonstrates, this future is closer than one might think, providing a glimpse of the potential of true synchronisation between people and machines in the work environment, for a truly enriched society.

The ability of the machine to adapt to the actions and intent of a human partner will see new ways for humans to work alongside robots. Omron is already developing the technologies that will make the robot aware beyond its boundaries. It is driving new ways of looking at issues such as robot safety.

A network of machines

Combine classical packaging technology with modern industrial robots and we get closer to crossing the boundary from packaging machine to packaging line. Robots and vision systems increase the modulo-interoperability of your machine portfolio,” says Janse van Vuuren.

“The machine sold yesterday as a stand-alone production unit is becoming a plug-and-run subsystem, part of a bigger set of machines working seamlessly together. In doing so they share the same control screen, monitor the same safety variables and adapt to changing environment conditions. They also measure the overall energy consumption, equipment efficiency and act as one intelligent system, aware of the human presence while interacting with it.

“This vision is becoming more accessible to small and midsize

OEMs whose strategy is to extend the upstream and downstream line of their ‘core’ machine. Our automation solutions enable you to consider robotics as a module within a standard set of modules.

Omron’s modular approach to a packaging line makes it possible to design a complete packaging line by connecting the different machines of your machine portfolio. We consider robotic and vision technology as a smart bridge/buffer system, which seamlessly integrates your existing or newly acquired packaging processes, regardless of whether the machine is part of primary, secondary or final packaging. The job that a system integrator had to do yesterday can easily be done by OEMs today, using the same programming tools. In place of dedicated hardware that performs a set of functions, Sysmac is a single Intel processor-based open control platform solution. It integrates motion, logic sequencing, vision, robotics, safety, data management, networking and machine visualisation – all in the same programming environment.

“The integration of the robot kinematics into the main machine controller is a key factor of differentiation for OEMs, who want to optimise the cost and performance of their machine. With (built-in) kinematic algorithm, motion command and logic instruction in one controller, a robotic module can be added to the main machine program as simply as ticking a box. The machine and the robots are entirely controlled within the program of the Sysmac NJ controller.

“The robots are consequently highly synchronised with the rest of the packaging machine, which greatly enhances the machine coordination and by extension, the packaging line.”

For more information contact Evert Janse van Vuuren, Omron, +27 (0)11 579 2600,,


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