The Evolution – and Revolution – of Industrial Automation - Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog, we looked at the industrial revolution taking place today that involves automating the entire manufacturing process, from design to production.

Here, we’ll focus on how manufacturers can best determine whether complete automation is practical for a specific industry or process, and what to consider when deciding on whether to opt for complete robotic automation.

This is the second article in a two-part series. See the History of Industrial Automation: Part 1 here.

Robots in manufacturing are important due to their ability to significantly reduce costs while continuing to increase their advantages compared to manual labor. But while the significance of robot automation in manufacturing is obvious, which robot types fit each process may not be as obvious.

  1. Which manufacturing areas offer the greatest return opportunities for robotic automation? Areas in which tasks must be performed with precision and consistency are the best suited for robotic automation. Robots are able to move materials (pick-and-place) in exactly the same manner each time, perform tasks that are too dangerous for human workers, and work without breaks.
  2. Which robot type is best for a given application task? Considerations in selecting the correct robot must begin with determining the payload requirement of the robot. How much will it have to lift, move, etc.? In addition, consider the end-of-arm tool and its load capacity. Evaluate not just the simple motion of picking and placing, but also what interferences exist among the robot, its linkages, and other items that may be in dynamic motion within the cell.

  3. A follow-on to #2 – is an industrial robotic system or a collaborative robot – cobot – the best choice? When manufacturers envision a robot, many think of either huge industrial robots working in fenced-off areas in large factories, or futuristic cyberbots mimicking human behavior. But between these two scenarios lies a new emerging reality: collaborative robots — or cobots —bridging the gap between fully manual assembly and fully automated manufacturing lines. Cobots tend to be smaller, more flexible, and often may be deployed with no previous robotics experience. They may be moved and redeployed easily as product lines and production layouts change.

  4. How are parts produced and what are the throughput requirements? How repeatable does the robot need to be? Robot manufacturers tend to speak in terms of repeatability, while engineers look at accuracy. A robot’s repeatability is its ability to return to a taught position. Accuracy is the ability to input a given location digitally and have the robot move to that point in space accurately.

  5. Do your processes require special environmental considerations – must the robot eliminate the generation of particulates that might degrade the product? In medical device manufacturing, for example, robots are often selected because they offer speed and repeatability, but present none of the contamination risks presented by humans. Some robot manufacturers supply robots specifically designed for cleanroom applications.

Key benefits of complete manufacturing automation using robotics include flexible deployment, safe operation alongside human workers, easy programming and implementation, and fast return on investment.

For manufacturers, it may be that a cobot is an ideal first step towards automated processes. If the risk assessment doesn't require safety guarding, the initial investment is low, and employees gain experience and familiarity with robotic systems. But the approach must take into account the items listed above, in addition to the likelihood of the application growing past the cobot's abilities. If multiple cobots are required, the cost of the equipment (and the additional human workers) will quickly exceed the cost of an industrial robot without the additional advantages of speed and unattended production.

About the Author: Bruce Courtney

Bruce Courtney

Experienced professional with 30+ years working in creative technical fields. From my post-college years installing windmills in the mid-west (I affectionately call my Don Quixote years) through starting on the drafting boards at a Fortune 1,000 company, I have strived to provide unique out-of-the-box designs. This aptitude, coupled with leadership opportunities has led me down a wonderful path of challenging work.

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