Agile and human-centered production and robotics systems

Even machine automation has its limits... a fluent dialogue with operators is therefore crucial and, as such, the focus point of this research.



Through a combined design approach, this project aims to gain a better insight in the operational contexts, needs and problems experienced by human operators in the execution of complex and automated tasks and conduct research into customising digital work instructions to support these operators. From January 2016 to December 2017, researchers focus on the development of an intelligent and flexible bi-directional information and instruction system for operators, whereby the information offered is automatically adjusted according to the preferences, level of experience, previously made mistakes, best practices of predecessors and the context of the task. In addition, the system provides comment on the task at hand and/or logs the result of process checks for subsequent analysis. The operator is connected to the corporate network through smart glasses, tablets or directly through projection on his worksheet. The technology will receive context information through user-friendly scanning and detection techniques tracking the performed assembly activities. Subsequently, the operators are supported with instructions and advice via interfaces in view of the efficient and safe execution of the assembly process according to the pre-set sequence. This will not only reduce their workload but also enable a ‘first time right’ assembly process.



With this project, Flanders Make wants to lower the threshold for the application of collaborative robot technology in Flemish manufacturing companies. From November 2016 to November 2018, a powerful software framework will be developed for advanced modelling and resolution techniques to facilitate the programming of and cooperation with collaborative robots. Workshops with operators will be organised to determine which interactions are required. The purpose is to create a library of basic software modules for quite diverse operations that can be used to develop equally diverse robot applications. We also examine how an operator can communicate with the robot in an easy and intuitive manner. This should lead to a decrease of programming costs and lead times and pave the way for the efficient and flexible creation of customer-specific products in limited editions.



In the factories of the future, man and robot will work ever closer together. As a result, operators will perform their jobs and apply their experience and knowledge differently. Also, work stations will have to be developed that enable this close cooperation between man and robot. This includes improving control and learning algorithms so that human and robotic skills are combined in the best possible way. Today, such cyber-physical work environments are often still a major challenge.

Within the efficient collaborative technology roadmap, the project sets itself three major technological goals.

  1. Studying the impact of the man/robot interaction on the human operator and on safety systems
  2. Designing improved control algorithms and intuitive learning methods for the robot
  3. Developing rules for the design of work stations (Human-Robot Collaborative Workstations) and drawing up real-time planning algorithms to coordinate robotic and human actions.

Not only providers of automation solutions but all work environments that are ergonomically challenging for employees (older employees, heavy loads, severe quality requirements, etc.) can benefit from the project results.