The Future of Automated Random Bin Picking

Sep 5, 2016

​Bin picking applications are very tedious and so bringing robotic systems onto the production line will take the monotonous tasks off of workers hands. Robotic bin picking workcells can effectively handle bulk parts sorting, dangerous operations, and labor-intensive order fulfillment. Vision systems help to further increase the accuracy and precision during the bin picking process.


Robot­ic bin pick­ing is incred­i­bly impor­tant as it is able to take the tedious, monot­o­nous tasks off of work­ers hands. It is able to effec­tive­ly han­dle bulk parts sort­ing, dan­ger­ous oper­a­tions, and/​or labor-inten­sive order ful­fill­ment. Because of its com­plex­i­ty, ran­dom bin pick­ing has yet to be per­fect­ed or com­plete­ly grasped by automa­tion sys­tems. How­ev­er, vision­ar­ies are pio­neer­ing their way into that unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ry. Many experts pre­dict that robot­ic ran­dom bin pick­ing will become main­stream by 2020 as there are a vari­ety of sub­sets of bin pick­ing are already commonplace. 

A Staff Engi­neer at Fanuc Amer­i­ca Cor­po­ra­tion in Michi­gan, David Dechow, says that the Mar­ket­place is hyped up about robot­ic bin pick­ing. The real­i­ty is that machine vision is suit­able, robust, and reli­able for a sub­set of that entire world of things we would like it to do, whether it be inspec­tion, 2D guid­ance, or 3D guid­ance. From my hands-on expe­ri­ence over a num­ber of years, bin pick­ing is in the same cat­e­go­ry now. There is real-world capa­bil­i­ty, but it is still a sub­set of the whole world of things we would love it to do.”

In gen­er­al, bin pick­ing can be divid­ed into three dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. Each con­tains a spe­cial amount of con­sid­er­a­tions based on the part posi­tion that results in is a dif­fer­ent lev­el of com­plex­i­ty, cost, and time. As one may guess, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of parts often deter­mine how eas­i­ly they will be picked from a bin. The parts that have the great­est suc­cess in Bin Pick­ing are geo­met­ri­cal­ly sym­met­ric parts. These parts don’t have strange fea­tures, are not too heavy, and have some sort of suf­fi­cient pla­nar sur­face in all of their ran­dom ori­en­ta­tions. These few geo­met­ric sur­faces are very easy to pick up with a robot and very easy to grip.

The three cat­e­gories are as fol­lows: Struc­tured Bin Pick­ing is when parts are sit­u­at­ed in an orga­nized pat­tern in which they can eas­i­ly be iden­ti­fied and picked. This can be auto­mat­ed using 2D Vision, imag­ing, and analy­sis. Semi-struc­tured Bin Pick­ing is when the parts are posi­tioned with mild amounts of orga­ni­za­tion to aid in pick­ing. Ran­dom Bin Pick­ing is when the parts have com­plete­ly ran­dom posi­tions, can be over­lap­ping, and have mul­ti­ple ori­en­ta­tions, mak­ing this the most com­pli­cat­ed ver­sion. Advanced tech­nolo­gies con­sist­ing of 3D imag­ing and 3D analy­sis will have to be cre­at­ed to tack­le the most chal­leng­ing parts yet; the shin­gled, pack­aged, or deformable parts that are dif­fi­cult to image with machine vision. The height vari­a­tion, thin nature, and par­tic­u­lar geom­e­try make it very con­fus­ing, even with 3D imag­ing tech­niques.

In order to con­tin­ue to work towards suc­cess with 100% accu­ra­cy for ran­dom bin pick­ing, there are three big com­po­nents that need to work togeth­er. These are the sen­sors, soft­ware, and EOAT. Many com­pa­nies are aware of this and are cur­rent­ly rac­ing to cre­ate the best, most effi­cient soft­ware to pro­vide the per­fect ran­dom bin pick­ing solu­tion. They are in the works of ensur­ing the per­fect algo­rithms to pre­vent things such as the robot and EOAT from col­lid­ing with the sides of the bin and oth­er objects. Fanuc has already stepped up to the plate and cre­at­ed an Inter­fer­ence Avoid­ance fea­ture that is soft­ware based and comes stan­dard with the 3D area sensor. 

So far, there has been a suc­cess­ful turnkey (cell, robot, process automa­tion equip­ment, vision, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, and safe­ty equip­ment. etc.) solu­tion for robot­ic phar­ma­cy order ful­fill­ment sys­tems that can ensure 100% guar­an­tee. The RX Unit Pick Work­cell is a com­plete­ly auto­mat­ed robot­ic phar­ma­cy order ful­fill­ment sys­tem that can han­dle thou­sands of spe­cif­ic, pre-pack­aged, med­i­cine for mail order deliv­ery or to fill for cen­tral loca­tions. This work­cell can make dis­pens­ing of pre-pack­aged, high vol­ume units-of-use, look easy.

Anoth­er big area of growth for robot­ic bin pick­ing is E‑commerce and order ful­fill­ment. Stores such as Wal­mart, Cost­co, or Tar­get may even­tu­al­ly look to automa­tion for their online order­ing. The chal­lenge right now is the end effec­tor that needs to be able to grab a bot­tle of deter­gent and/​or tube of lip balm. Soft Robot­ics is work­ing on adap­tive grip­ping tech­nolo­gies, seen with their flex­i­ble grip­pers com­bined with Uni­ver­sal Robot­ics Spa­tial Vision Soft­ware.

As you can see, it is so impor­tant for researchers to con­tin­ue think­ing, dream­ing, and ulti­mate­ly cre­at­ing solu­tions to these every­day, ran­dom bin pick­ing appli­ca­tions. At Robots​.com, we believe that the remain­ing appli­ca­tions that pose spe­cif­ic chal­lenges will be solved in the near future. We are excit­ed for what is to come! For any ques­tions about automa­tion or bin pick­ing robots, con­tact us online or give us a call at 7402514321.

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