Minimise health and safety risk with mobile robots


While industrial robot technology is often employed to automate repetitive tasks or increase efficiency and minimise defects, there are health & safety benefits available too. OMRON looks at four key areas that need to be considered to help organisations looking to select robot technology for the safe handling and movement of heavy loads.

Forklifts are among the main sources of accidents and serious injuries in factories and warehouses. Understandably, many manufacturers are now looking to mobile robots to reduce these risks thanks to their capability to carry heavy loads. However, when considering integrating mobile robot solutions to replace forklifts in a manufacturing facility or warehouse, it is important to rethink the entire process and understand the manufacturing flows.

Here are four key areas to consider when selecting a robot for moving heavy loads:


What are the payload requirements?

When selecting the right mobile robot model for their operations, decision-makers must first consider the loads that need moving. Mobile robots with lower payload capacity are normally less expensive and more agile than models for heavier loads. For example, OMRON’s HD-1500 can move pallet-size payloads in manufacturing facilities, making it a viable alternative to forklifts. Since it is built with sturdy metal skins, the machine is robust and can withstand heavy unintended external impacts. Onboard sensors are protected as the robot completes demanding tasks.


How easy is the solution to deploy?

Mobile robots are easy to implement and can move freely without predefined routes, providing flexibility to the user. They are easily reprogrammed according to the task and can calculate their own trajectory in real-time, working safely side-by-side with people. They enable easy collaboration between humans and mobile robots and between various types of mobile robots and other machines. A good fleet management system will help maximise investment by coordinating the autonomous mobile robots to share the tasks, minimising the number of robots required.

Modern mobile robots can automatically calculate the best route for material transportation while navigating safely around people and obstacles without using magnetic floor tapes or other guides. A typical example is a robot designed to deliver packages to a fixed location while automatically avoiding people or obstacles in its path. The robot can identify its own position by comparing the laser scanner results with an onboard map.


What is the impact on safety?

The lifting and moving of heavy loads is frequently cited as a cause of industrial injury. Innovative mobile robots can take over these tasks while also improving safety thanks to extensive features that avoid collisions and obstacles. When an obstacle is detected, the robot can react dynamically by slowing down instead of abruptly stopping. The most advanced models can also move at high speed in aisles as narrow as three metres. Other useful features are 360° safety coverage and stop position accuracy, supporting a collaborative and safe working space. As such, mobile robots are rapidly enhancing the safe automation of material transport operations in industries worldwide, not only to meet labour shortage challenges but also to manage the risks associated with the spread of the coronavirus.


How flexible is the solution, and what kind of add-ons are available?

Manufacturers such as OMRON are increasingly focusing on the ability of robots and machines to interact seamlessly. This enables production runs to be quickly and easily altered to allow for fluctuating lot sizes while reducing the need for workers to carry out repetitive tasks and heavy lifting. Autonomous robots can be programmed with artificial intelligence (AI) to recognise and learn from their surroundings and make decisions independently. A practical example of the use of mobile robots in food and beverage manufacturing is waste bin handling in the area of recycling. Supported by system integrators and with specialist add-ons, mobile robots can handle tasks such as picking up and emptying waste bins.


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