As part of its continued investment in product development, Edinburgh-headquartered Zonal Retail Data Systems has introduced a robotic arm to aid R&D and ensure the company meets the highest demands in product testing. Selected for its nimble movement and adaptable configuration, Zonal opted for a Universal Robot UR3 table-top robotic arm and Robotiq 2-finger adaptive gripper supplied by RARUK Automation.
Established in 1979, Zonal’s story began when an Edinburgh hotelier identified the need to monitor sales, stock and wastage following unexpected shortfalls in inventory and takings. Concerned over his £30 a night loss, a solution was created to manage and control operations, thus giving birth to the first EPoS (Electronic Point of Sale) system. The same year, an employee of brewer Scottish & Newcastle came in for a pint and liked what he saw. As a result, the brewery went on to adopt the system across its entire pub estate and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today Zonal employs over 500 people across the UK and has evolved from a pure EPoS specialist into what it describes as a hospitality technology provider. The company’s products are used daily in over 9500 leisure and hospitality businesses across the country, ranging from restaurant, pub and nightclub groups, to garden centres. This financial stability and success has enabled the business to invest significantly in product development, the latest example of which is the UR3 robotic arm and Robotiq gripper, specifically developed to fit all Universal Robots.
The company’s Chief Operations Officer Peter Edwards explains. “As you can imagine, handling enormous volumes of financial transactions on behalf of our customers means the solution requires significant testing before being released. Typically every software release required up to 10 test analysts for periods of two to four weeks performing highly repetitive manual testing of c.100,000 payment transactions through integrated chip and PIN devices. This is not only expensive but is of course prone to human error.”
With this in mind, Zonal began to research the marketplace for a professional robotic arm that could fulfil this function.
Mr Edwards says: “We opted for the UR3 and the Robotiq 2F-85 gripper for a number of reasons. For instance, not only was it the easiest to set up, but the robot proved to be very nimble and easily adaptable, while the gripper allowed the flexibility required to perform the various different types of testing, such as key presses, card insertions, removals, mimicking the type of consumer errors typical of a real work restaurant, etc. Justifying our decision, it took us just 30 minutes to create the first program.”
Quick and efficient
The robot and gripper is being used by Zonal to carry out instructions according to written test scripts for chip and PIN devices. This typically involves inputting a sale into the EPoS, inserting a payment card, using the keypad to enter information, and removing the card following completion of the test transaction. The robot has been performing these functions quickly and efficiently, 24 hours a day, since it was installed in January 2016.
The UR3 is located in its own test environment complete with a camera and monitor to read and display the PIN pad screen. This helps identify if the correct outcome has been given from the system. Using feedback in such a way allows delays and errors to be quantified – and recovered – to keep the test running. The company, which says it invests more than any of its competitors in R&D, claims that the use of robotic arm in this type of application could be an industry first.
Mr Edwards says: “The biggest benefit is that the UR3 is totally repeatable, which means not only can we pinpoint an issue, but we can repeat it. As every human is different, sometimes we would not be able to repeat/prove an error. Furthermore, a manual worker cannot always tell us accurately what happened, whereas using the UR3 means that everything is logged automatically to ensure we can deliver accurate diagnostic data. This imparts confidence to our customers that the solution has been tested thoroughly.
“We’ve had great support and advice from Universal Robots, Robotiq and RARUK Automation throughout the entire purchase, commissioning, training and operational phases of the project. In many ways this has been a proof of concept investment for Zonal, and we can already see that more robots could well be beneficial moving forwards.”
Follow the link to see the robot at Zonal in action.