Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Alive!

I mentioned just briefly that I had taught a robot how to operate my machine. I'd like to elaborate a little bit. My machine looks like this:

The black box is the electronics, the thing on the right is the machine. I designed, built, and tested all of that for my Master's degree. The machine has jaws that open and close. You put a small plastic piece (a "blank") into the jaws, and the jaws close and form the part. The bottom jaw looks like this:

The plastic piece slides in underneath those little fingers.

Our lab also has a robot arm. The student in charge of the robot arm figured out how to program the robot to slide the plastic piece into the bottom jaw. So the robot could load the part, and then take it out after it was done.

But that was all done manually. The student would tell the robot to move. Then I would press buttons to make my machine go. Then the student would tell the robot to take the part out.

But now - NOW - we have done something exciting.

We have wired together the robot and my machine, so the whole thing happens AUTOMATICALLY. There is a holder that has a bunch of blanks in it, there is my machine, and there is the robot arm, and there are two laptops. I press go on my laptop, and the student presses go on her laptop.

The robot automatically picks up a plastic piece, loads it into my machine. My machine knows this has happened, and makes the part. Then my machine signals the robot that it is done - and the robot takes out the part. The robot moves the part over to a glass plate, and a camera takes a picture of the part through the glass plate. If the part is good, it goes into the "done" bin.

Then the cycle starts again - the robot picks up another blank, and we make another part.

Every FOUR MINUTES AND NINE SECONDS, a part comes out of this little factory all by itself. It usually takes grad students in other labs hours to make parts. We made 25 parts in a row - everything moving around under its own programming.

How awesome is that?

This video shows the jaws of my machine opening (there is a finished part in there). The robot arm comes in, takes out the finished part, and moves it over and sets it down on top of the camera. Then it gets a new blank, and loads it into my machine, and the cycle starts again.

This video shows a close-up of the part going into the machine:

And this one shows a global view of the robot arm:

The factory lives! It's so eerie to watch, and think, "I DID that....."


  1. Awwww, jealous! I love designing lab equipment. It looks really neat! Much less duct tape and cable ties than my lab... ahaha *hides in shame*.

  2. Awesome. And that is what sleek looking box for your electronics.