Recycling A Discarded Robotic Arm For Automation Engineering Education


Robotics and automation technology instruction is an important component of the industrial engineering education curriculum. Industrial engineering and automation departments must continuously develop and update their laboratory resources and pedagogical tools in order to provide their students with adequate and effective study plans. While acquiring stateof-the-art manufacturing equipment can be financially demanding, a great effort is made at Aalesund University College to provide the students with an improved hands-on automation integration experience without major capital investments. In particular, a strategy that consists of recycling electronic and robot disposals is adopted. Students are engaged in a real reverse engineering process and then challenged to find new possible applications and uses. By adopting a pedagogical prospective, this paper introduces the design and implementation of a robot control system on a hardware platform based on a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). In particular, the controlled robot is a Sykerobot 600-5 manipulator with five degrees of freedom (DOFs) that was disposed of by the industry several years ago as electronic waste. Particular emphasis is placed on the pedagogical effectiveness of the proposed control architecture. INTRODUCTION Automation engineering education is a multidisciplinary field of study that involves different types of knowledge and skills. This educational field applies the discipline of mechanical systems, electronic systems, computers and control systems to the integration of product design and automated manufacturing processes. The Automation engineering program at the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences and the Product and System Design program at the faculty of Maritime Technology and Operation, at Aalesund University College (AAUC), Norway, provide courses leading to Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. These two study programs have several common topics concerning automation engineering subjects. A common teaching strategy of these programs involves the ideas of Learning by Doing (LBD) (Nguyen & Graefe 2001), the approaches of Problem Based Learning (PBL) (Albanese & Mitchell 1993) and the concepts of Active Learning (AL) (Martı́n et al. 2010). In fact, one of the most effective ways of teaching students how to perform a useful task consists of actively involving them and letting them do it. The LBD method is not a new instructional theory, it is exactly what it sounds like. Aristotle stated: “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try”. Similarly, Confucius declared: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”. More recently, John Dewey became one of the strongest proponents of the LBD approach. In (Dewey 1997), Dewey argued: “Education is not preparation for life, it is life itself”. At AAUC, during their study courses, students are involved with realistic problem settings and scenarios that reflect real application prospectives (Rekdalsbakken & Sanfilippo in press). Very often, students are divided into groups that stimulate their teamwork skills and critical thinking abilities. From a social point of view, group dynamics are also relevant. In order to prepare the students for their working life, the preferred method of putting groups together is randomly, with a random leader. This method is perceived as fair by the students. Moreover, normal working conditions are simulated in which the team members are usually unable to select their own team. In addition, this approach also establishes new social networks in the classroom. Our experience is that the students perform better when they know each other well. This probably has to do with the fact that they feel safer in the learning environment and are less afraid of possibly embarrassing situations. However, in generating random groups, an attempt is made to break up the existing frozen social ties, thereby forcing the students into new roles. As such, an industry-like social situation is created. Moreover, our students are included in research projects and innovation activities in cooperation with real companies and industry partners. In such a view, the student laboratory has a central and challenging position as an open-space workplace where students can experience hands-on automation integration training under the supervision of both their professors and the partner company engineers. The networking between students and companies allows the students to gain deeper knowledge about industry demands and challenges. The industry also gets valuable information for their recruitment processes and learns about ongoing research projects at the university. In addition to inspiring and motivating students in their studies, AAUC regularly organises several internal robotic competitions and workshop events. The best student projects are often selected to join national and international robotic contests. A great effort is made at AAUC to provide the students with an adequate and effective automation integration experience without major capital investments. Moreover, the idea of recycling out-of-date electronic equipment and robots is promoted. Stressing the fact that after a robot has outlived its normal utility, its disposal becomes a challenge for the enterprises using it, students are challenged to find new possible applications and uses. One of the most challenging robotics engineering tasks involves the integration of a robotic arm in material handling, assembly, and production processes. The knowledge and skills required for these kinds of tasks are purely mechatronic and therefore multidisciplinary. Emphasising the pedagogical prospective, this paper introduces the design and implementation of a robot control system on a hardware platform based on a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) (Bolton 2009). The controlled arm is a Sykerobot 600-5 manipulator with five DOFs that was disposed of by the industry several years ago as electronic waste. A master-slave architecture is set up with the controller acting as a master and the PLC as a slave. The paper analyses the drawbacks and the advantages related to the choice of standard PLCs in these kinds of applications, compared to the much more common choice of specialised hardware or industrial proprietary computers. Particular emphasis is placed on the pedagogical effectiveness of the proposed control architecture. This paper is organised as follows. A review of the related research work is given in the second Section. In the third Section, we focus on the description of the system architecture. In the fourth Section, related results are discussed. Finally, conclusions and future works are outlined in the fifth Section. RELATED RESEARCH WORK AAUC has made a notable effort in order to limit the financially demanding cost of acquiring state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. For instance, in (Liu et al. 2012), our research group presented a modular pentapedal walking robot that can be also used for pedagogical uses. Similarly, several university laboratories have followed different strategies. One possibility consists of developing virtual laboratories and workspaces that can provide the students with an acceptable learning experience. In (Callaghan et al. 2008), for instance, the popular virtual world, Second Life, is used as a platform to create experiential based learning experiences in a 3-D immersive world for teaching computer hardware and electronic systems. In particular, a number of approaches to capturing, displaying and visualising real world data in such environment are implemented. The main goal of this virtual laboratory is to allow students to easily interact with a set of physical processes via the Internet. The students are able to run experiments, change control parameters, and analyse the results remotely. An additional feature of this virtual laboratory is its architecture, allowing for an easy integration of new processes for control experiments. In (Zhang et al. 2007), Zhang et. al. presented a kind of educational robotics system based on the use of LEGO bricks and on a newly designed input/output interface. Using this system, students can program a robot through an iconic interface environment and a normal programming language such as Java or C according to their knowledge. During this process, they learn the sensorial technology and motor-control methods. At the same time, students can overview the process using a webcamera and can interrupt it in case of malfunctions. However, the advantages and benefits enjoyed by students that work in a real physical laboratory can hardily be replaced by any virtual counterparts. To meet the need of providing the students with a physical experience without major capital investments, general purpose open-source developing platforms could be used as pedagogical tools. In (Sarik & Kymissis 2010), Sarik and Kymissis presented a lab kit platform based on an Arduino microcontroller board and open hardware that enables students to use low-cost, course specific hardware to complete lab exercises at home. This somehow represents an extension of the university laboratory and gives students the possibility of improving their learning experience. However, this approach does not provide the students with a real industry-like experience. One possible way of providing students with a real industry-like experience consists of using PLC-based developing platforms. In (Chung 1998), Chung presented a costeffective approach for the development of an integrated PCPLC-Robot system for industrial engineering education. This work shows that even though many universities do not have the financial resources to acquire state-of-the-art manufacturing systems, they can still provide their students with an adequate and effective integration training with existing equipment. Our approach in this paper, follows the same idea, emphasis