For many years, Fraunhofer IPA has been working on bin-picking technologies and how to implement them in production. The bp3™ software, which is available via a license, is currently utilized in more than twenty bin-picking systems. A key cornerstone of the successful transfer of this technology from IPA research to practical application is the long-standing cooperation with Liebherr. Since the beginning of 2019, IPA has been cooperating even more closely with the company to further develop the software.
Bin-picking is considered as the most challenging discipline when it comes to robotics. Fraunhofer IPA has been conducting research in this field for many years. In 2008, the first trade fair demonstrator for sorting gear shafts was built; in 2012, this technology was implemented for the first time with Liebherr to sort randomly positioned parts. Since then, the partners have been working together on a regular basis to realize bin-picking applications. The fact that the technology is catching on is demonstrated by awards such as the “handling award” for Fraunhofer IPA in 2014 or the “Best of Industry Award”, which Liebherr received for the bin picking robot application in 2017. Liebherr's customers regard the jointly-developed solution as state of the art in the field of bin picking.
In the course of the collaboration, it became clear that Liebherr needed to become more independent to be capable of scaling up to a larger number of systems and to respond more quickly to customer issues. This was to be achieved by building up more expertise in software and algorithms with the help of the IPA experts. Against this background, the two partners entered into a cooperation in 2019 to further develop the software. The research and implementation partners complement each other perfectly: while the IPA experts concentrate on improving the algorithms, Liebherr focuses on customer-specific modifications. The main goal of the cooperation is to transfer technologies and know-how from research to practical applications. Thus, sales can also be handled primarily by Liebherr as a solution provider for end customers. In addition to turnkey robot cells, Liebherr also markets the intuitively operated software as a stand-alone product. The technology package “LHRobotics.Vision”, comprising software and a projector-based 3D camera system, can also be used in robot cells from other manufacturers, making it attractive for robot integrators and suppliers of automation systems alike.
In 2020, the partners were among the finalists of the Technology Transfer Award of the European Robotics Forum with the results of their collaboration.
This partnership not only offers advantages to the parties involved, but also to end users in particular. Because they receive a turnkey solution from a single supplier. The solution can quickly recognize the position of objects and plan positioning steps such as placing without risk of collision. Liebherr also has long-standing experience in realizing bin-picking solutions and always takes a holistic approach, including all components such as grippers, workpiece storage and sensor concepts. Liebherr is able to respond quickly to customer problems and modification requests, while the expertise of a large research institute is always available in the background. The IPA experts are continuing their research work on bin-picking and are developing new machine learning technologies to be integrated into the bp3™ software. In the future, these technologies will help to make setup procedures even easier or to deal with difficult packaging materials or entangled parts.