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13. January 2017 / By Andrew Pether / 0 Comments
The best automation solutions are smart, simple, innovative, and fully leverage technology to create significant business efficiencies and provide great benefits to employees and customers.
Today, Universal Robots collaborative robotic arms are being used to solve business problems with creative concepts and innovative solutions that can be integrated into all types and sizes of production.
Collaborative robots – cobots, are lightweight and compact, making the process of deploying and redeploying cobots to different tasks very convenient. There is often no need for additional safety equipment (subject to risk assessment) and combined with an intuitive programming interface, a simple pick and place task can be set up and implemented in less than one hour. However, not every business needs a straightforward pick and place application like this. If your production is more complex in nature, there are steps you can take to ensure your automation solution is flexible, collaborative and affordable.
Many companies run small batch productions with ever changing requirements, and it’s these companies that can greatly benefit from the flexibility of deploying cobots. A relatively low initial investment and rapid return on investment are critical for an SME to make the decision to implement the first robots into their facility.
If the proposed solution includes a large amount of inflexible automation in order to complete the task, and the robot only constitutes a very small part of the overall solution, many of the key benefits of a collaborative robot can be lost. The one-time engineering costs for designing all of the additional equipment will be very high, and if you decide to redeploy the robot, it is often not possible to repurpose this fixed machinery. In many instances, this isn’t the most cost-effective solution for a business.
Instead of designing a complex feeder system to align incoming products, a low-cost vision solution can allow the robot to identify any changes in position and orientation of products to be picked. If they’re implemented well, they won’t result in any reduction in reliability for the system. Modern integrated smart cameras are available for a very affordable price and are easy to integrate, increasing the capabilities of the robot. A vision system can also be redeployed just as easily as the robot to its next task.
While a simple pneumatic chuck may do the job for a current application and cost a little less, additional costs will be incurred if the robot is redeployed, either in designing/producing new jaws or purchasing a new end-effector as the original is not suitable for new tasks. Pneumatics also add complexity to the system with additional components and the requirement for an air supply to be accessible wherever the robot is deployed. By selecting an adaptive gripper the robot can handle a wide range of products, and with many grippers, be controlled in either position or force mode for handling of products with uncertain shapes/sizes.
When it comes to space, cost and scope of applications, cobots have a big advantage because they can operate without safety fencing (subject to risk assessment) and work alongside workers safely. This opens up new application possibilities, where people aren’t just allowed, they are required to be in the robot workspace.
While in many cases a robot takes over a repetitive task from a worker allowing them to focus on more engaging work, it’s also increasingly common to have a robot working directly alongside a skilled worker on a complex task to increase their productivity. Where it is not possible to completely automate a task, the robot can be used as a smart tool to assist the worker, with increased product output and quality; this can still be a financially viable option. In certain artisanal industries, having the worker involved can retain individuality and increase the value of the product.
A comprehensive understanding of the robots, the safety system, and risks are essential for the success of the deployment.
Easy programming of smart applications
The Polyscope programming environment is very easy to learn, and also offers some very useful advanced features to allow for rapid and efficient programming of new applications.
If you can create a program on your cobot in as little as 20 minutes, why wait 10 days for something to be fabricated by an external supplier? Time and cost investment is greatly reduced if you do it yourself, giving your designers and engineers the freedom to try out their ideas without consequences.
If a single robot can handle multiple stages of a process, the return on investment for the customer will obviously be even more attractive. For example, a robot in a plastic injection molding plant can apply labels to containers before packing them into boxes for shipping. A robot in consumer electronics factory can place multiple components into a plastic casing before screwing them into place and closing the casing.
The fewer non-recurring engineering hours that go into a solution, the greater the savings for the customer, with an entirely out of the box solution that can be replicated for multiple customers being the ultimate goal. While two projects will rarely be exactly the same, it’s a good idea to implement a solution so that as much of the work is reusable as possible. Writing the robot program in a modular manner makes a big difference when it comes to reusability. Splitting an application into sub-programs for sub-tasks within the program makes it easy to drop them straight into your next project.
Companies around the world have implemented smart applications using a collaborative automation solution. would you like to know how to get started with Cobots - then click here
Andrew Pether is Universal Robots (UR) Head of Technical Support for Southeast Asia and Oceania. Experienced in a wide range of robotics technologies, Andrew has worked in Asia for nine years, first working with UR products in 2011, before joining the company in 2014.