Areas of Expertise
Robotics & Automation Engineering

image of A well-designed end-effector can reduce overall capital equipment costs by reducing the number of robots required, as well as increasing robot utilization.

A well-designed end-effector can reduce overall capital equipment costs by reducing the number of robots required, as well as increasing robot utilization.

Commercial and government clients meet their automation and robotic-related needs with assistance from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

Areas of Automation and Robotic-Related Expertise

Industrial Robotics

We have a comprehensive knowledge of commercially available robots. Because SwRI is independent, we provide solutions from a variety of robot manufacturers. We can suggest the best option to a client based on project requirements.

SwRI designs robot end-effectors that maximize the number of operations performed by a single robot. A well-designed end-effector can reduce overall capital equipment costs by reducing the number of robots required, as well as increasing robot utilization. We develop end-effectors for multiple tasks requiring a diverse group of sensors and actuators.

We also incorporate new robots into existing manufacturing environments. This can include a simple installation of a self contained production cell, to a turnkey software/hardware integration into a production process.

Custom Robotics

When an off-the-shelf solution is not feasible, SwRI provides a custom solution. Our designers and controls experts custom design robots for any application.

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Automation, Controls, and System Integration

Our Manufacturing Technologies Department has experience in a broad range of control methodologies ranging from the simple ladder logic of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) to the design and tuning of deterministic algorithms such as Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) control. Nonlinear, nondeterministic control algorithms (i.e., fuzzy hybrid, redundant systems, and flexible link) have been developed and implemented by MSD on a number of operating environments, including a real-time operating system (OS).

While there exists a large number of off-the-shelf automation components, SwRI has the knowledge and experience to specify and integrate automation components for an integrated solution. Expertise includes:

  • Programming PLCs from various manufacturers including Allen-Bradley, Keyence, Beckhoff, Mitsubishi, and others
  • Integrating off-the-shelf sensors from Allen-Bradley, Banner, Beckhoff, Turck, and others
  • Designing custom sensors when required
  • Implementing distributed sensors on various types of networks (DeviceNet, ProfiBus, ControlNet, Ethernet/IP)
  • Designing safety systems to meet desired safety level
  • Integrating motion control and motor systems
  • Implementing custom control methods

If an off-the-shelf sensor or controller cannot be used, SwRI can develop a custom solution tailored to the needs of the client.

Custom Machine Design

We create custom designs for particular automation or robotic task. SwRI uses the latest 3D modeling techniques to design, analyze, and verify the machine's operation. We have experience designing everything from machined parts to complex molded components. Simulation and analysis tools such as finite element methods allow us to verify machine design before purchasing components. Animations from 3D models are used to verify designs and present ideas for client review and approval.

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Kinematic and Dynamic Simulations

Engineers have the tools to simulate the dynamics of almost any physical system. An accurate simulation can be invaluable in the design phase of a project. Simulations can be used to verify a mechanical design. Loading conditions can be monitored to evaluate potential for failures and fatigue. Simulations can also be used to evaluate different control schemes, such as PID control versus more advanced Fuzzy Logic control. Stability can be verified under various loading conditions and differing control schemes.

Process Simulations

Staff can simulate process and product flows for accurate estimations of system metrics. Some processes are so complex and variable that a true physical metric cannot be calculated. In such systems, simulations can be used to evaluate performance against system requirements. In addition, "what if" studies can be performed to determine the effects of changes in your process. The simulations can determine bottlenecks, capacities, and other sources of inefficiencies.

Vision Systems

SwRI has world-class experts in the field of machine vision. Machine vision can be used in various ways – anything, from automated inspection of complex parts to autonomous robot mapping, can be achieved using machine vision.

Machine Availability Improvement

Using engineering and design experience, we can improve the efficiency and reliability of your current equipment. Using design of experiments and various other tools, We can determine how variations in machine setup can affect reliability. Once machine performance is fully understood, we can make recommendations for machine improvement.

Surface Processing

Our staff have more than 15 years of experience in various surface processing techniques. SwRI-developed systems range from paint stripping to surface polishing. We are sensitive to the environmental impacts of some surface processing techniques and can work with the client to find a financially feasible and environmentally friendly solution.

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Process Development

We will work in conjunction with your process experts to design a new process or refine an existing one. Our extensive facilities allow pilot operations to be established here for testing, evaluation, and limited production.

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Product Development

Often, a good idea just needs some engineering and design experience to make it a reality. Working with us is the ideal way to achieve this kind of product development, because intellectual property rights typically remain with the client.

Independent Design or System Reviews

SwRI is completely independent. This independence makes us well-suited for making critical reviews and evaluations.

SwRI can assist you with your internal designs. We can help you specify equipment needs and metrics. We can independently review and evaluate vendor systems and recommend an appropriate solution provider. Part of this vendor review can include testing against client specifications, such as mean time to failure and other critical reliability metrics.

We can also review existing systems. The safety of equipment or a process can be reviewed to determine if it adheres to applicable safety standards. The preventative maintenance schedule can be reviewed for cost and benefit. In some cases, a maintenance schedule based on predictive methods may result in savings on parts and labor.

SwRI can help you determine the reliability of your current process and also determine critical areas that should be refined or improved. Finally, we can evaluate the performance of a process to determine if it meets your needs or if some improvements in efficiency or quality are needed.

Human-Machine Interfaces

Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) are integral to worker safety, efficiency, and ease of operation. User friendliness requires significant thought and planning during the design stage. Our experience in HMI design allows us to avoid many of the pitfalls of less experienced HMI designers. We can revamp an existing HMI system or design one from scratch. We can create complex systems of HMIs that communicate across networks or very simple HMIs that are dedicated to one particular piece of equipment. Our staff has experience with the following HMI software packages:

  • Wonderware
  • PanelView/PanelMate
  • RSView
  • Visual Basic/C# Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs)
  • LabView

Facility and Workcell Design

SwRI offers complete system integration services in the design and implementation of surface processing facilities and workcells, including:

  • Manual processes
  • Semi-automated (man-in-the-loop) processes
  • Fully automated, robotic processes
  • System sizes ranging from small workcells for component processing to large building/hangar systems (e.g., for full aircraft)
  • Multi-use facilities, such as systems for both paint removal and wash-down

Related Terminology

automation engineering  •  manufacturing technologies  •  custom robotics  •  industrial robots  •  robotic end-effectors  •   system integration  •  machine simulation  •  vision  •  prototype design  •   process review  •  kinematic solutions

Benefiting government, industry and the public through innovative science and technology
Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 9 technical divisions.