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Blind Operator Learns how to Program and Operate a Robotic Arc Welding System
In January 1999, Justin Pierce, of Mississippi Industries for the Blind (MIB), attended a basic robotic programming course at Motoman, Inc.'s headquarters in West Carrollton, Ohio. Justin is the first blind person to take the training offered by Motoman. Here, he participated in actual hands-on learning and worked with a class partner to "make sparks" with a training robot equipped with a welding package.
Justin was born premature and has detached retinas that cause his blindness. He has no vision in the right eye, and limited vision in the left. How far away an object is, how big it is, and the lighting are all key factors in what Justin sees. These are issues that Motoman and MIB have addressed.
Justin is equipped with special binoculars, developed by the Mississippi Department of Vocation and Rehabilitation, that magnify what he sees 10 times. During programming it is imperative that Justin sees the end of the torch (welding wire) at the end of the robot arm. He must teach points in the welding joint (using the tip of the welding wire) to establish a welding job for the robot. Additional lamps are positioned in the robot work area to provide more lighting for Justin. "Shadows can definitely pose a problem for me," says Justin. A laser pointer is also affixed to the robot torch to aid Justin in seeing the torch tip.
Seeing keys and the LCD display on the robot's programming pendant was another issue but adjustments were made to the back light on the LCD, and the binocular glasses magnify text for Justin, making it legible. Beyond the procedures for "stepping" the robot through its job, Justin also has to add "arc on", "arc off", and other instructions by pressing keys on the programming pendant.
Apart from robotic programming, Justin also plans to share operation duties for the Motoman ArcWorld® with another legally blind employee of MIB, Greg Sylvest, which means they will load parts onto the system's part positioner. Greg has already mastered some of the start-up and maintenance procedures for the system.
Operation begins once Justin or Greg has loaded the part(s) on the positioner, and has pressed the activation buttons on the operator station. The part positioner then rotates into the robot cell for welding. A metal arc screen protects them during this operation.
The ArcWorld allows the operator to safely load and unload parts outside the work envelope while the robot is welding inside the cell. The ArcWorld also features a "total safety environment," including safety mats, complete barrier guarding, protective arc curtains, and redundant electrical interlocks.
MIB bids on various contracts to keep the ArcWorld solution in use; welding outdoor cooking grills and rakes are just a couple of examples. MIB plans to buy an additional ArcWorld, and have Justin perform programming for that system as well.
There was the possible issue of learning robot programming, and whether Justin could handle that. Justin quickly brushes that thought aside. Justin is actually very fluent in computer programming and has taken several courses at a local community college. He readily welcomed the challenge to program the Motoman robotic system. "I was given the opportunity to take the training at Motoman, and I jumped at that opportunity," says Justin. Justin expects the experience with robotics to further his career.
MIB is a non-profit, non-funded agency of the state of Mississippi. Established in 1940 by the state legislature, the agency has grown to be one of the largest employers of blind people in the nation.