How can a robot help your application? Or should you add a robot to your operations?

Nov. 28, 2018
The latest generation of redeployable robots provides high flexibility, broad application, and fast ROI.

Consumers today demand more – more customization, more performance, and more value for their money. In response, manufacturers look for their OEMs and integrators to support them with equipment that is:

• Flexible: swapping from a three pack to a six pack, for example, just requires the click of a mouse.
• Accurate: able to generate quality product at high throughput but low price point.
• Easy to use: OEMs and integrators can’t afford to spend large amounts of time learning a new technology.

Robotic solutions have the ability to satisfy all of these requirements. The latest generation of robots is lightweight, easy to deploy, and flexible enough to support the transition to the elusive batch of one. Read on to discover whether one or more robots might be right for you.

Not your grandfather's robot
The mention of robotics in manufacturing evokes the image of a large fixed robot arm operating at high speed in an enclosure. These systems typically perform a single task or a handful of tasks. Sweet spot applications include aerospace, automotive, and packaging/shipping.

Traditional fixed robots can save a company significant money by replacing human operators, where appropriate, with improve operational equipment effectiveness (OEE) faster, more accurate, and more reliable fixed robots. In the right application, fixed robots can save the end-user money but these designs are not particularly flexible. The new breed of lightweight, redeployable robots provides an option.

The business model of today’s economy is minimal staffing and lean inventories marked by just-in-time manufacturing. Redeployable robots support this approach, bringing us ever closer to the elusive batch of one. Redeployable robots are fast, lightweight designs that can be redeployed from one spot on the factory floor to another in minutes. They typically include vertically articulated or SCARA robots. Proper choice of application will enable similar end of arm tooling to be used for multiple tasks. At that point, the changeover just involves a software update.

Redeployable robots are generally quite light. Alternatively, heavier designs can sit on platforms that can move them around the factory floor.

How can robots improve your operations?
For suitable applications, replacing human labor with robotics can provide many benefits. A task might be uncomfortable, difficult to repeat, or potentially dangerous for most people to execute on a day by day or hour by hour basis. A robot can reduce the chance of injury while freeing up staff for more complex tasks that cannot be performed with automation. Some companies introduce robots in order to reduce staffing costs. The capital investment may be high initially but cost of ownership drops rapidly. If a process step generates a high percentage of scrap, a robot might improve quality. Robots can almost certainly increase throughput compared to human operators. The result is reduced cost over time.

Robots provide the most efficient approach to flexibility. A purely mechanical system with gears and cams can be configured to run multiple products. That process typically requires new hardware and a significant update, however; changeover times can run from days to weeks.

Motion control systems are much more flexible. Dedicated machines can be modified to toggle among different recipes. Changeover can be more complex, however, and introduce more nuances. As a result, they can take from hours to days. If a machine does not perform properly, it can be tuned and modified. This process typically requires expertise and only addresses the problems apparent at a given time. Redeployable robots provide a more effective alternative.

Robots, particularly redeployable robots, are inherently flexible. Changeovers simply require a programming change and potentially a different end effector. When developers follow best practices, system performance and flexibility changes accordingly. Some systems even apply machine learning to develop the ability to solve problems independently. As a result of all of these factors, changeovers, even those requiring redeployment, only require minutes to hours to accomplish.

The path to success
A number of factors go into a successful automation program. It begins with selecting the appropriate application for automation. For this step, start with the operators. They know the processes that are difficult, uncomfortable, or even risky to perform. They may have special tricks they to use to get optimal results. They can help you identify the optimal process steps to invest your automation dollars.

The next step is to choose the appropriate automation technology. There are different horses for different courses, as the saying goes. Some applications are best served by dedicated machines while others are most appropriate for robotics. Making this distinction requires having a clear understanding of the trade-off between speed and accuracy.

There is an inverse relationship between speed and accuracy. The higher the speed of a system, the lower the accuracy, and vice versa. In terms of the overall performance, robots are faster than human labor but not nearly as fast as motion-control-based systems. Most system specifications do not exist in a vacuum, though. Other factors that should be taken into account include flexibility and budget. Here, robots shine. They are both more flexible and less expensive than dedicated machines for the same task.

To choose the optimal solution consider the specific needs of your application. If you require high speed and high accuracy but little flexibility, a dedicated machine using motion control technology is undoubtedly your best bet. This particularly holds if you’re not budget constrained. If you need high speed and accuracy along with significant flexibility, you’re better off choosing a robot. A robot solution will not deliver the accuracy and speed of a dedicated machine but the trade-off is the flexibility that the process demands.

One way to improve throughput for robotic systems is to use multiple robots processing in parallel. Remember your budget, however. It’s essential to conduct a full ROI analysis to be sure that this approach will work for both your financial and system requirements.

Requirements of the application Most effective solution
Speed Accuracy Flexibility
High High Low Dedicated machine
High High High robot
Lower Higher high robot
Higher Lower high robot

Once you have established the need for a robot, you need to determine which type. Choose a redeployable robot when:

• Applications are similar – e.g., one milling machine to another, a CNC machine to a lathe, etc.
• Changeover is efficient if setting up the robot takes 25% or less of the time it takes to set up a dedicated machine, then a redeployable robot is an effective choice.

Robots offer significant benefits to end-users, making them an important technology to consider for OEMs and system integrators. They are particularly effective for applications requiring significant flexibility. In these cases, they deliver better performance at a lower price point than a dedicated machine. In particular, the more recent generation of compact, real deployable robots cannot only switch from manufacturing one product or configuration to another, they can be rapidly redeployed to other positions across the factory floor. These redeployable robots offer fast commissioning and fast ROI. Talk to your supplier to learn more about the benefits and the financials of these solutions.

Product Spotlight: RH-CH Compact SCARA Robot Redeploys in Minutes
The feature-rich RH-CH line of industrial SCARA robots delivers high-speed performance in compact packages that are lightweight enough for easy deployment. Today’s industrial environment is marked by lean inventories and just-in-time manufacturing. The RH-CH line has been crafted to support these goals. It is flexible enough to perform multiple tasks at different points on the factory Floor and sized for quick installation

• Arm weight: 14 kg/17 kg/18 kg (3CH40/6CH60/6CH70 robot arm)
• Cycle time: 0.44s/0.41s/0.43s (3CH40/6CH60/6CH70)
• Required space: 512 mm/560 mm (3CH/6CH robot arm)
• I/O points: 32 inputs/32 outputs, capable of controlling up to eight axes
• Thru-arm wiring and piping
• 2-channel encoder interface

The RH-CH line offers affordable pricing without the need for compromise. Each model incorporates the same high-performance CR751 controller that is found on other F-series robots. Teaching can be easily executed via teach pendant or with the RT-ToolBox3 PC programming software. Applications include pick and place, assembly, packaging, and materials handling.

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