Cobot, the Collaborative Robot – Get Ready for Industry 4.0

Vincent Marché


“As connectivity and intelligence become part of almost everything with which we interact, Altair’s tools for multidisciplinary simulation and development will become increasingly important in helping product designers create outstanding user experiences.” James R. Scapa, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Altair Engineering.

In the context of industry 4.0 product development can become a challenging journey for engineers. And it becomes obvious that in order to be successful, engineers and processes have to leave the traditional paths of the past. Development tools and methods such as simulation are increasingly important to face the pressure of innovation. As an example for successful new design methods and the use of simulation tools, Altair developed a virtual demonstrator – based on a cobot application, a complex machine interacting with human operator, as the ultimate smart manufacturing equipment – to show how challenges in modern product design can be overcome.

When creating complex products such as this virtual cobot demonstrator, engineers have to consider the entire mechatronics system, including structure, sensors, actuators with dynamic controls, electromagnetic compatibility. Last but not least they also have to interconnect machines for more flexibility, and increase productivity optimizing the maintenance process. Such complex design constraints can only be addressed with modern comprehensive design platform.

Global equipment simulations to efficiently edit sub-systems specifications

Altair’s HyperWorks® simulation platform can be used to develop a cobot from the early design stages and analyze its connectivity within the environment as well as its sensors and communication network. Furthermore, it is possible to design and optimize the controls system of the power unit.

To begin with, system simulation is the basis of load determination, needed – as an example – for topology optimization. For this development step engineers can use solidThinking Activate, a product available standalone and as part of the HyperWorks suite. Activate enables product creators, system simulation and control engineers to model, simulate and optimize multi-disciplinary systems. By leveraging model-based development (MBD), it can be ensured that all design requirements are successfully met, while also identifying system level problems early in the design process. Moreover, Activate supports multi-body dynamics co-simulation with MotionSolve, connecting 1D and 3D analyses to perform advanced system level simulation and optimization.


“Engineering, intensively but wisely using simulation capabilities is a key to innovation. Modeling known applications has shown limitations and restrictions, when Simulation-Driven Design opens door to new concepts, sometime leading to disruptive technologies. It enables our customers to differentiate and remain ahead from their competitors.” – Vincent Marché – Project Manager


Motion design at the heart of the producing process efficiency

The choice of the electric machines that will actuate the cobot can be initiated using FluxMotor. It is an intuitive design tool to help searching for the best machine configuration that answers the constraints of the system.

Electrical performance of the actuators can then be enhanced using Flux™, which captures the complexity of electromagnetic and thermal phenomena to predict the behavior of the products with precision. This will help to improve the efficiency of the equipment, e.g. increasing its reactivity or its torque. This is a key to suppress mechanical gears, limiting the arm performance because of their weight and inertia in movement, mechanical wear and tolerance in the system. From 2D to 3D simulation capabilities, Flux™ is able to determine precisely the losses and the dynamics of the machine. Furthermore, it can be used to reduce noise, make the actuators more compact, etc.  It gives also the possibility of multi-physics studies to deal with thermal constraints coupling Flux with AcuSolve, Altair CFD solution, or look at the vibrations generated by the machine coupling Flux with OptiStruct for NVH analysis. Within Flux or using HyperStudy, parametric analysis, sensitivity studies and optimizations can be easily performed to reach the best performance within the system requirements.

Solutions to implement effective motion drive & control

In addition to the classical automation functions, the cobot must also consider the physical interactions with humans in a shared workspace, which adds to the complexity the motions instructions. There comes system level analysis, from the study of load impact (mechanical or electrical loads, thermal effects, etc…) to the design of complex drives, coupling Flux with solidThinking Activate will offer a great help. Users can combine the two tools through co-simulation or reduced models to look at the interactions between electromagnetic devices such as rotating machines, and filters, actuators, sensors or even induction heating devices with the system. It allows to design efficient drive and control strategies of electric machines. The co-simulation takes into account various phenomena such as: saturation, eddy currents, motion, control loops, and so on.

Lightning the structure and limiting gears for higher productivity

Moving to the structure, a topology optimization ensures lighter structures via bionic inspiration, which are needed because only light structures guarantee the required efficiency, precision and in the end also workplace security that is requested from an industrial cobot. For optimization, HyperWorks offers the FEA-solver and optimization tool OptiStruct and the concept design tool solidThinking Inspire. The latter allows to couple motion analysis with several other disciplines – such as topology, topography or gauge optimization, running an industry-standard like OptiStruct as reliable optimization engine. CAD-designer as well as structural engineers are able to optimize and analyze their designs easily. Functionality, lightweight design, bolt pretensions or manufacturability are just a few achievable objectives.

Customizing and parametring machines for safe executions

In the design of a cobot, the digital control algorithms are key elements. solidThinking Embed helps cobot designers to rapidly develop code for microprocessors with an intuitive user-interface. It provides a complete tool chain for the development of the control system covering Software-in-the-Loop, Processor-in-the-Loop as well as Hardware-in-the-Loop simulations. From a control diagram, it is able to automatically generate real-time capable code that can be directly used by a micro-controller. Once deployed and running on the target, the control parameters can be updated interactively, enabling the set-up of precise and efficient control strategies.

Getting accurate insight for remote machine monitoring

To reduce the maintenance costs and optimize the service process, the machines should be highly reliable. Flux™ can be used to build fault tolerant motors. It can also help the setting of machine health monitoring strategies. The major faults in the motor can be reproduced by simulation such as abnormal connections in the windings (short-circuited or open turns, phase-to-ground, phase-to-phase faults, …) or rotor static and dynamic eccentricities. The impact of the faults on the motor operation can be evaluated, as well as non-invasive fault detection methods: for example, motor-current signature analysis or field monitoring using magnetic field measurement coils. These results coupled to signal-processing techniques and data analysis tools using advanced analytics will enable to implement predictive and even preventive scenario to avoid costly machine downtime by detecting faults at their inception.

Simulation of an induction machine with external magnetic field sensor. The analysis of the harmonic content of the signal allows to detect faults in the motor, and implement predictive maintenance programs.


Connecting machines for a higher level of productivity

At the age of Industry 4.0, flexibility of the processes revolutionizes the rules of programmed automation, largely based on machine interactions with M2M (Machine to Machine) connectivity.

Altair’s comprehensive electromagnetic simulation software is ideal for the simulation of field interactions of antennas. The complete FEKO solver offering provides approaches for each design stage, from conceptual investigations through to accurate prediction of the radio frequency (RF) and safety performance of the final system. Moreover, the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) solutions is widespread in manufacturing environment. From simply tagging retail items to comprehensive supply chain management, tags are being used to automate the tracking of items. One of the major challenges in designing and deploying RFID systems is to ensure proper communication between tag antennas and reader antennas, taking into consideration the potentially complex operating environment.

Once the antenna has been design, communication network has to be set. WinProp, Altair’s solution for wave propagation and radio network planning will enable to optimize the coverage and capacity of the sensor and gateway mesh.

FEKO solutions enable to follow production asset precisely, depending on their location and environment, while optimizing the communication networks.

Secure operations thanks to accurate EMC analysis

Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) can be assured utilizing Altair HyperWorks’ electromagnetic solvers, Flux and FEKO. FEKO includes a complete cable-modeling tool to analyze both radiation and irradiation of cables into or from other cables, antennas or devices, which can cause disturbance voltages and currents resulting in a malfunctioning system. FEKO is also used to simulate radiated emissions of Electronic Control Units (ECU) in a system, shielding effectiveness, radiation hazard analysis, electromagnetic pulses (EMP), lightning effects and High Intensity Radiated Fields (HIRF). With Flux on the other hand engineers are able to evaluate the magnetic field radiated by power cables and busbars. The effect of external fields on the operation of electromagnetic devices such as sensors or actuators can be determined. It also allows designing efficient shielding.


Improving performance thanks IoT platform and analytics

The operation, interaction and the connectivity of modern industrial devices result in a vast amount of data. Handling, analyzing, processing, and visualizing this data in Real Time can be a challenge. But solutions exist.

Carriots PaaS, the leading platform for IoT Cloud applications, addresses solution to convert IoT cobot ideas into real solutions and by enabling to build faster, cheaper, simpler, reliable and scalable projects on our Cloud for the Internet of Things. Designer can now connect to a multitude of devices that contains an environment for developing cloud-based applications for the devices and can create their own app while remotely manage thousands of machines anywhere in the world.

Moreover, Cloud – Edge based Business Intelligence dashboards such as Envision, Altair’s data analytics platform offer new Real Time functions thanks to a complete set of capabilities required for Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Analytics.

Carriots IoT Cloud platform allows easy development of new IoT enabled equipment, with features enabling device management and application development.

A global simulation platform to accelerate the design process

HyperWorks includes best-in-class modeling, linear and nonlinear analyses, structural and system-level optimization, fluid and multi-body dynamics simulation, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), multiphysics analysis, model-based development, and data management solutions. Hence, from 1D to 3D – from sensors to optimized structures and data analytics, all required development steps involved in the development process of products fit for Industry 4.0, can be conducted and solved with Altair’s software platform and with a Simulation-driven InnovationTM approach.

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Vincent Marché

About Vincent Marché

Vincent Marché graduated first in electronics, and then went on to refine his skills at business school. After more than 10 years in the industry, working on product marketing and sales of sensors, switches and electronic devices, he fell into a melting pot called electrical engineering simulation. Supporting FluxTM electromagnetic simulation software since 2009, he is passionate about the large fields of applications addressed by simulation tools and the application expertise of the users. He is constantly looking for solutions that address the innovation needs of electrical engineers. Since the recent acquisition of Cedrat by Altair, he manages the promotion of electromagnetic applications, electrical engineering and e-Mobility.