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Sumitomo develops robot that climbs steel walls

Japanese industrial giant Sumitomo Heavy Industries says it has developed a “novel robot capable of traveling over curved steel walls by magnetic adhesion”.

The achievement is part of a robot development project at Sumitomo’s Technology Research Center, aiming to automate various manufacturing tasks at industrial sites. The development was achieved under Challenge Program 1, launched in 2018.

Wheeled robots with magnetic adhesion are well known in manufacturing and maintenance of large steel structures like ships and industrial facilities. Most conventional wall climbing robots are designed for flat surfaces.

To adapt such robots to curved surfaces, it is necessary to either make the robot smaller than the curvature of the surface, or design the robot to fit a particular surface shape and traveling direction.

This means that these robots are limited in the range of surfaces they can travel on, the tasks they can perform, and the types of tools they can mount.

In this project, Sumitomo invented a novel spherical wheel containing a magnet that can be rotated around two axes. Using this design, the company says it has developed a robot that can adapt and travel over curved surfaces that were not possible with conventional robots.

In addition to traveling over curved walls, the new robot can also easily attach and detach from walls by changing the magnetic force direction and climb over corners without the need of any complicated controls.

In manufacturing of large steel structures, tasks such as welding at heights and on curved surfaces are difficult to automate and require advanced skills.

The newly developed robot can be used for such tasks and is expected to reduce the physical burden on workers, thereby creating safer and smarter next generation manufacturing sites.

This new technology is based on a mechanism presented at IEEE ICRA 2 2020. Since then, Sumitomo has improved the robot design and performance, such as magnetic adhesion force. At present, Sumitomo is developing practical applications of the robot in inspection, cutting, and arc welding at manufacturing sites.

Sumitomo says it will continue “fostering the spirit of challenge in our employees and contribute towards development of a sustainable society by creating new technologies”.

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