Russian Robots Are Not Afraid of Frost

Robots are step by step becoming part of the domestic industrial production. However, the process has been going slow as long as the pandemic intervened and forced industrialists to accelerate the technological retrofit. Andrey Spiridonov, head of Aripix Robotics, told us about, how foreign robots can "freeze" in Russia, how to fit the manipulator into a real soviet-time plant, and what we need to do to provoke a machine rebellion.
Andrey Spiridonov
head of Aripix Robotics
– Andrey, your company manufactured a robot for Moskabelmet. Tell us about it.

– It's a universal robot arm of our design. Its base is fixed to the floor, and its arm performs various actions. The set program, data from sensors or a video camera allow it to recognize objects and to do almost everything in its area of action: it can take items and move them, work with a spray gun or welding torch, pack and label the products. In principle, it was created to replace people in the production process. Even its parameters are human. However, our robot is stronger: if a person lifts 10-15 kg, the robot lifts about 30.
Aripix Robotics designs, manufactures and installs 6-axis industrial robots for small, medium-sized and large plants around the world. One of his projects is the development of manipulating robot for Moskabelmet plants. Aripix-Robotics has already been in the market for two years. It now employs 15 people - mostly engineers. In the near future the company's staff will be expanding.
– Do you need to program your robot accordingly in order to "teach" it to pick up or, for example, to paint something?

– The software is universal and there is no need to reprogram the robot. It needs to be set up and given clear instructions: where to get from, where to move to and how to move. For example, it can take a part, place it in the machine, and after processing, move it to another box. In order to be able to paint, the robot has to be "taught" to turn on the spray gun and to move it along a certain trajectory. Same principles apply to product labeling and packaging. Currently, people are doing this hard and monotonous work in production. Why, if you can give it to robots?

– How widely are robots used at plants in Russia and globally?

– Industrial robots appeared 30-40 years ago and are currently used in various industries around the world. Russia is somewhat behind in this trend. The current average robotization rate of industry in the world is 99 robots per 10,000 workers. The leading countries -Korea and Germany - have 200-300 robots per 10,000 workers. There are only five in Russia. We are 20 times behind the world average! The gap is certainly shrinking, but slowly: in 2018 there were three robots for 10,000, and a year later - four. That's why the potential of this development is enormous. There is a lot of manual labor at Russian plants, and the management is willing to get rid of it, but the existing robots have high price and long payback time - from three to five and up to 10 years. Everything is definitely relative: the payback time depends largely on the number of shifts in the plant and how many people the robot will replace.
30 kg
Aripix-Robotics robot can lift
– What does your robot cost?

– From RUR 2 m. And a foreign one is RUR 5+ m.

– Why is there such a difference in price?

– We use a different kinematic scheme: our robot's area of operation is cylindrical, while our competitors' standard scheme is spherical. It helped us to greatly simplify the requirements for main mechanical gear units that are located in every robot knee. They got cheaper. In addition, low-price components, fully own software, electronics and self-assembly. All this gives us a competitive advantage in terms of price. We also have a camera and a grip as standard, while competitors offer them as additional options.

– The market is full of well-known manufacturers and famous robots. Why should I buy from you?

– Apart from the price, we have another serious advantage. The point is that competitors' robots are initially designed and used as part of system integration. They are difficult to program and require special integrator. This is becoming a serious problem for customers. We decided to create a cheaper robot for the end user so that after a short training it could be reconfigured by any worker or supervisor.

– It turns out that your robot can be delivered to any factory "with the glorious soviet past", where there is no digital chain, but it still operates?

– Basically, yes, it can. The devil is in details, but when designing the robot, we relied heavily on cases from factories in Moscow, Moscow Region and other Russian cities. The robot can indeed be installed and connected to a soviet-era lathe or semi-automatic milling machine, and they will run. It has no problem to be connected to modern lines as well. Another advantage of our robots over the same of KUKA is that they operate in negative temperatures, in unheated rooms. Unlike its competitors, our robot can withstand -20°C. We designed it for Russian realities and plants. And also - for our people to make everything as simple and convenient as possible.
we have a camera and a grip as standard,
while competitors
– In simple words: are you closer to the Russian consumer?

– Yes, we are, and that's a big plus for our company. Aripix Robotics is located in Moscow, so we are more accessible and work more closely with customers. For example, the Moskabelmet robot needed an unusual grip for lead ingots: neither a claw nor a suction cup fit due to the shape of ingots and their uneven surface. We had been solving the task for a long time and eventually came up with a unique drill, which gets forcibly screwed into the lead and sent it to the furnace. This is a targeted work with the customer.

– Is there a high demand for such robots in general and your ones in particular?

– The demand has increased after the pandemic. Especially in the food industry and in the production of plastic products such as disposable tableware. A man for this kind of work needs a health certificate, special gloves, and a robot doesn't. Moreover, the machine isn't sick, what also increases safety in the food industry. So the demand is quite high. We are already thinking about expanding and going into mass production. Companies often lack people, they take sick leave or quit. The robot will work all the time.

– Well, let's say, intellectual workforce won't be replaced by robots. What is about those who work with their hands? Will they get fired?

– It largely depends on production. Sometimes the plant is objectively understaffed and the replacement of several dozen people with robots is compensated by the natural staff flow. People also have to be taught how to operate a robot, how to reconfigure it. The employees should be able put the robot on a new production site and debug its operation. It does not require a super-qualification.
Aripix Robotics is located in Moscow, so we are more accessible and work more closely with the client
– Does the robot need to be controlled, and is a man needed in such operations? Recently, there have been made a lot of movies about machine rebellion. It's all jokes, of course, but is it possible that a robot can "go mad"?

– Basically, a robot is a mechanism, like any machine. Though, it's a little smarter. All its movements are controlled by a rigidly defined program, and the robot cannot "retreat" from it. A machine rebellion is certainly, but only if it's prescribed in the program.

– And the artificial intelligence?

– We've recently introduced an artificial intelligence into our robot. This allows it to recognize objects from the video image of the installed camera. The robot will see them, determine their location, orientation to pick them up and to put them into production. Artificial intelligence helps the robot the understand that the video is just what it needs. A robot doesn't really think about rebellion.

– Do you have a big technological or creative dream? Like to make a robot that can digitize an entire plant? So that it could be turned on and managed the production for 20 years without interruption.

– Basically, these robots already exist. Our goal is to create easy to operate and inexpensive robots that can be assembled into a single production system like a meccano set. We are sure that 80% of Russian plants can be robotized this way!

We've also recently got interested in waste sorting. Waste sorting - especially in small plants - is often done manually, and the work conditions are hard. Something has to be done about it. Another interesting niche for robot development is automation of large warehouses.

IIf you want to know how the Aripix Robotics robot lives and works in the Moskabelmet plant and why colleagues do not like it, read the interview with Pavel Moryakov, CEO of Moskabelmet.
Corporate Issue, Moscow Department
of Investment and Industrial Policy
Audience: 16+