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Common Sense Robotic Automation

Common Sense Robotics

There are many reasons manufacturers consider integrating automation into their processes. One of the first questions that is asked around the table is “Does the ROI on this investment make it all worthwhile?”

Why are we doing this?
There can be multiple drivers in any capital project and this is especially true for automation. Getting to the bottom of the customer’s needs and expectations at the outset is the most important step to starting off on the right foot and focusing the solution in the right direction.
 
Foremost, work to understand the customer’s current process, their expectations for a solution and the human interaction upon completion of the project. Are they trying to eliminate ergonomic or safety issues? For example, are there repetitive tasks or heavy parts that could be causing injury or safety concerns? Are they trying to reduce/eliminate manpower to improve efficiency and reduce costs? Are they attempting to improve consistency in quality results or production rates?

Why a robot and not some other form of automation?


Capital equipment is typically purchased and then depreciated year after year, often long after their usability has become irrelevant. A piece of automation may be used for a single project and never used again.

The flexibility of a robot versus a fixed piece of automation is one of the main drivers manufacturers will invest in robotics. Because of their flexible nature, there are fewer considerations in up front engineering with robots. They can easily adapt to changes in projects or in the scope of a project. Their programmability allows them to pivot to a new line, different location and even a new task. For example, in automotive assembly where models are ever changing, and the parts changing, the robot can be reprogrammed to new part needs. A robot’s redeployability as a capital equipment asset is a very appealing characteristic for the accountants and investors.

How do you reduce risk?

There are lots of proactive steps that can be taken to reduce project risk, both on the side of the manufacturer and the customer. Identifying risks upfront will go a long way to provide a safer solution that meets the customer’s specifications. The discovery and specification phase should ask questions and clearly identify the elements that are priorities for the customer: 

• What are you going to do with the robot and what is the required?
• What cycle time and production rates do you require?
• What are the payload and reach requirements
• If assembly, what accuracy is required? 

Today’s technologies like risk assessment tools and software for modelling concepts and layouts can do things like simulate and verify robot moves and paths. 
If a customer requires a part of a solution that hasn’t been in your repertoire , there could be a place for a reduced level feasibility study. Maybe certain stations have a higher risk because the way we’re proposing is new to both of us. If they’re looking at purchasing multiple stations, that’s when it makes sense to create a prototype that will identify any issues first. Finding problems in engineering is always less costly than finding it in debugging or worse after installation!

How do you decide on a robot manufacturer? 

Most of the large robot manufacturers do a good job providing robots for all the basic applications. A customer may already have a brand preference because they’ve done research or they have a factory full of a particular brand.  It’s important to pay attention to customer experience. Often they want to use the same brand because they know how it works, how to program it, how to debug etc. Even in this case it’s important to emphasize training, as companies tend to short change at this step. 

When choosing a robot, customers will also consider the availability of accessories. 
2d vision has become very robust and 3d vision is continually improving. Most brands have common industrial communication and IO protocols in addition to End of Arm Tooling solutions. Although many custom EOAT are still being fabricated, standard, off the shelf components are great for spares and cut down on design costs.

How important is service and support?
Your automation system and robotics are a significant investment, so the service and support you’re going to get if something’s not working is of prime importance. When your robot or conveyance is down it’s costing you money. Make sure that training, maintenance, and support are more than a detail for your automation suppliers. 

If you would like to hear more about this topic, check out the Robot Industry Podcast where our own Lyle Weaver was interviewed on Common Sense Robotics.

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Factory Automation

The Efficiency of Robots

Using robots to improve efficiency 

A strategic, well-implemented automation solution will increase operational efficiency. Most people accept that statement at face value. However, when you talk about robotic automation, fears and misinformation start to play into the equation.

When considering how to best proceed with a robotic automation project, it’s important to calm fears, manage expectations and demonstrate potential financial returns. Many people fear that robots are taking jobs and creating unsafe conditions, or they think robots are much more intelligent and expensive than they actually are. We’re going to clear up the confusion about what robots will and won’t do and show that the reality of robotic automation is nothing to fear and does not require fantasy.

Robots won’t take jobs

One of the most-often heard fears is that robots take jobs. This scenario has not proven to be true. To start, you cannot simply replace a person with a robot. What you can do is redesign a production process to use robots for certain tasks. 

Robots will take over dull, dirty, dangerous tasks

Ideal tasks for robots are dull, dirty, dangerous jobs that are not highly desirable for people. Tasks that require exposure to hazardous conditions, extreme temperatures, heat, or noise are just a few examples of the type of tasks that are better suited to robots than people.

Robots will create jobs 

Companies that use well-implemented robotic automation to achieve operational efficiency can increase their profitability and ability to react to market demands. Where automation can really shine and out-perform less efficient systems is scalability and adaptability. 

With an automated, efficient production process, your capacity can increase, allowing higher volume orders. And, a more efficient process may also expand your business by accommodating lower-volume orders that you previously had to turn down due to low margin. 

Robots will require processes to change

Resistance to robots is often reluctance to change. When you need to find a document, do you wish that you could sift through folders of filed papers by hand? You probably take for granted that you can perform a search in a few clicks. Even though at first the transition from paper to digital wasn’t easy, we now appreciate the efficiency. 

A company that refuses to take advantage of efficiency tools most likely won’t be competitive or profitable enough to stay in business for long. By strategically implementing more efficient systems and training people to use those systems, forward thinking companies are able to scale and grow.

Robots will improve safety in a well-designed process

By taking over dull, dirty, dangerous tasks as mentioned above, robots can easily and demonstrably improve safety levels. As with all machinery, safety must be included in the design of the robotic process, and safety procedures and best practices must be followed. 

The type of robot and safety precautions required will depend on the process. Is the robot using a cutter or a welding torch? Is the robotic arm moving near a wall or beam where a person could be pinned? Multiple aspects will play into safety considerations to determine if caging or fencing is needed, and what type of built-in safety features may be required. 

Robots won’t figure out what to do without instruction

While vision systems have come a long way, robots are still relatively dumb machines. They require programming and precise instructions to carry out predictable, repeatable tasks. Complex tasks that require creative thinking are less suitable for robotic automation. 

Robots will require multiple components

Robots do not have to be 100% customized, but they aren’t quite plug and play, either. As part of the implementation process, the components needed for the robot must be determined. The speed, payload, and dexterity required will narrow down the options for the motor, base, and end-of-arm tooling needed. Someone will need to program, troubleshoot, and maintain the robot. The level of that person’s familiarity with different robots will also play into the selection of the robot’s programming interface.

Robots will show a return on investment

How much to invest in robotics, and when to implement it is a strategic business decision. Massive up-front investment can certainly make sense as part of a business transformation. However, depending on the circumstances, it can make more sense to first implement a quick-win solution.  

A good introductory implementation demonstrates how robotics can be cost-effectively incorporated into a production process. After overcoming the initial hurdle of disproving fears and showing a return, a larger automation solution can be designed.

Using robots in an automation process is no longer new. It’s a proven means of achieving peak efficiency and can even improve safety. For more information about what robots can and can’t do, contact us at Ehrhardt Engineered Systems at 877-386-7856 or email us at sales@ehrhardtsolutions.com