Brazilian Automation Goes for Robotics Gold

In the News
August 15, 2016

As the host nation of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, Brazil has been on the minds of people worldwide over the past several weeks. Yet long after the games end, many people will still be thinking about that country for an entirely different reason– the growth of Brazilian automation and robotics research, education, manufacturing, and usage.

A South American giant

Covering an area of 3.3 million square miles (8.5 million square kilometers) and with a population of approximately 200 million people, Brazil is immense nation in terms of both geography and demographics.

As the Rio games were designed to prove, Brazil has come a long way over the past few years, emerging on the international scene as a country with a solid economy, a stable currency, and a democratic (although currently tumultuous) government. Brazil has the largest economy in South America (seventh-largest worldwide) and the world’s sixth largest labor force, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) data.

In geopolitical and economic circles, Brazil is known as one of the up-and-coming “BRIC” nations. The acronym refers to Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Brazil is also a full member of the Mercosur, a sub-regional economic bloc that also includes Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Over the past several years, Brazil has been lauded by many economic analysts for its rapidly improving performance in economic and social sectors. Yet as several incidents during the Olympics showed, there is still room for substantial improvement in areas such as crime, poverty, public health, logistics infrastructure, and sustainable development.

Nonetheless, Brazil hopes to leverage its size, location, and growing economic influence to become a vital player in the global robotics community as both a user and a producer. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), Brazilian robotics imports have increased at an annual rate of 5.3 percent since 2012.

Meanwhile, a study issued by the Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo (FIESP) shows imports of industrial robots growing at an annual rate of 20 percent since 2013.

Brazilian automation starts with research

Robotics research in Brazil is primarily centered at several public universities and a handful of government labs. The Center for Robotics at the Universidade de São Carlos, is the most important robotics research facility in the country.

“The philosophy of the Center for Robotics is to develop projects to be transferred to the society,” according to Marco Henrique Terra, the facility’s coordinator. “We must provide alternatives to solve universal problems through robotics, such as rehabilitation of upper and lower limbs in people with disabilities, and problems with a strong national appeal, such as those related to precision agriculture and the pre-salt [oil production] areas in which we are strong economically.”

At the Instituto de Tecnologia Ensino e Pesquisa (ITEP) in São Paulo, the Velaqua Project aims to increase the competitive edge of Brazilian swimmers. With the assistance of a robot car mounted on rails, an athlete’s performance can be monitored from jump-in to conclusion. A camera registers the swimmer’s performance in a digital archive and software converts the data into graphs.

Petrobras, Brazil’s quasi-government petroleum company, also engages in robot research. The company’s research center has developed a four-wheeled, remote-controlled robot capable of traveling and monitoring different regions, including land, water, and swamps. It also conducts research on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to monitor deep-sea equipment.

There are also several public–private initiatives underway. For example, Embraer SA, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, has formed a research partnership with the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA) to develop Brazilian automation for that industry.

Several professional and academic organizations, such as the Brazilian Computing Society, the Brazilian Automation Society, and the Brazilian Society of Mechanical Sciences, issue a steady stream of robotics- and automation-related research papers and conduct periodic national and regional conferences.

The Brazilian academic community also works to draw young students into robotics research through national competitions, including the Brazilian Robotics Olympics and the Brazilian Robotics Competition.

Several Brazilian companies design and manufacture various types of educational robots. XBot, for example, develops and sells small robots for both instruction and entertainment.

Brazilian institutions are also increasingly reaching out to international partners. In July, the Montreal branch of Hypertherm Inc., developer of Robotmaster programming software, announced that in cooperation with its Brazilian distributor, RobotM-Br, it is collaborating with the Instituto Avançado de Robótica (IAR) in a pioneering initiative to take robotics training on the road in Brazil.

Completely dedicated to industrial robotics, IAR’s Advanced Mobile Unit is a dynamic, high-tech training environment on wheels. The 50-foot-long, air conditioned semitrailer is outfitted with two classroom-style training areas, multimedia presentation and conferencing capabilities, and six-axis robots for hands-on experience with the latest technologies.

According to Hypertherm, the Robotmaster software will be used as the reference for developing a new introductory training course in best practices for offline programming. Robotmaster is designed to seamlessly integrate offline programming, simulation, and optimization to any CAD/CAM platform for quick, error-free robot programs with one integrated software product.

The Advanced Mobile Unit will travel throughout Brazil, parking for days and even weeks at universities, trade shows, and corporations. IAR’s partners and customers seeking advanced training in mechatronics and industrial robotics can schedule a visit. In return, a curriculum and onboard technology can be customized to their needs.

Brazilian automation deployments rise

According to the IFR, Brazil has an installed base of only about 4,000 industrial robots, reflecting the fact that Latin America has generally low levels of automation. Most robots in the region continue to be produced on a relatively small scale to meet the specific needs of industrial customers.

The automotive industry currently accounts for nearly half of the industrial robots sold in Brazil. Other Brazilian industries embracing robotics include the electronic, food and beverage, and aerospace industries. Smaller numbers of industrial robots are also sold to the metalworking segment, primarily for use in material handling to form, weld, and lift hot metals.

Government forecasts project...

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