While the benefits of robotic automation are well-proven, taking the first steps to introducing robots can often be an apparently daunting process. Julian Ware of ABB Robotics UK provides some helpful tips that can be used as a checklist by companies looking to make their first switch to robotic automation.
Imagine if there was a way for the UK’s productivity to become world-class in under five years. Imagine if our factories could produce goods quickly, efficiently and with minimal waste and be able to respond to changes in customer demands with minimal disruption. Imagine if we had a highly-skilled, adaptable workforce using the latest cutting-edge technology.
As a production tool that can be used standalone or as part of a complete cell integrated into a digital production line, robots offer a good starting point for any company that wants to take the first steps towards smart manufacturing through automation.
There are many applications within a factory that can be readily automated with robots to help deliver improved efficiency and productivity. For customers struggling to decide where to start, the following factors should be considered:
What do you make? Is the product design subject to change? What processes would be involved then? How would they need to change from how they currently are? Developments in robot technology mean that robots can now make most things – however, sometimes it might still be better for a manual worker to handle certain tasks.
How long are you going to make it for? If there will be a high turnover of products being manufactured, then flexible automation could still be the solution. Contrary to popular belief, robots are just as well-suited to one-off or short production runs as they are to mass production processes, with their flexibility allowing them to be used to handle a variety of different products.
How do you get the OK from your FD? Robot automation provides many benefits, but these need to be quantified in financial terms to gain the support of the financial director.
What areas in your current process could be improved? It is useful to think about improvements in terms of aiming for lean manufacture, focusing on reducing overproduction and excessive movement of people or equipment throughout a process. Lean manufacturing also removes delays between production steps, reduces excess inventory and over-processing of parts and helps to find and fix defects.
Is there scope for collaboration? Traditional production lines are designed around humans and machines working in proximity, so when planning an installation, it is still necessary to include the human variable. Modern collaborative robots offer a raft of exciting new opportunities for closer working relationships between humans and robots that can yield higher levels of productivity.
What size robot is best? A range of options are available, catering to a wide variety of different requirements such as reach, payload, speed and size. Picking the right robot from the outset will mean users will have the flexibility to meet changing future requirements.
What type of tools would the robot require? It pays to think carefully about what you would like your robot to do and to equip it accordingly. An automotive manufacturer, for instance, may need paint atomizers, whilst a food manufacturer may require grippers.
By carefully considering each of these questions, a strategy can then start to be drawn up for introducing robots into your operations.
Where robots are concerned, the comprehensive range of options on offer, together with the help and support available from robot manufacturers such as ABB and our network of specialist systems integrators, can help to remove much of the uncertainty and complexity around the design and deployment or robot-automated systems.