Practical Considerations when Deploying Robots

Robots could revolutionize your business—the trick lies in knowing when, where and whether to use them.

Industry 4.0 is here, bringing with it the rise of AI, the Internet of Things (IIoT), automation and the smart factory. A key player in this technological leap is the robot. According to Fortune Business Insights, the global market for industrial robots is set to rise from US$16.78 billion in 2022 to US$35.68 billion by 2029.

For many businesses operating a manufacturing or assembly plant, adding robotics can take performance, safety, and production to the next level, while also increasing flexibility. This is especially the case for high-mix, low-volume operations. Robots can reduce labor costs, replacing humans in tasks that are menial, dangerous/dirty, repetitive, or predictable, or which require a specific degree of flexibility. Examples of applications include assembly, pick-and-place, packaging, part alignment, cleaning, inspection, machine tending, and more.

Robots are not, however, a fix-all. They have practical limitations. Before trying to add a robot into an assembly line to resolve a problem or bottleneck, it’s vital to analyze the issue. Can it be resolved instead with traditional machinery, or with non-robotic automation? Or is it one of those jobs that need a human touch after all?

Knowing your needs

At Facteon, we guide you through the design and decision-making process when automating your factory. We know the strengths and limitations of robotics, and where you’ll get the greatest ROI.

We first examine customer needs. During this discovery phase, we find out exactly what you require from your operation, and what benefits you can expect from the robot. When you’re making a potentially large capex, we need to know what kind of maintenance and programming you foresee, and what you expect from the investment years down the line.

Most importantly, do you even need a robot—or could the task be performed by simpler, more rigid, easier-to-maintain machinery? This is a useful time to thoroughly assess operations, reviewing processes and requirements, to see what streamlining you can do before committing to new purchases.

Four of the key factors when considering industrial robotics include flexibility, simplicity, operators, and safety.

Robots are exceptional for flexibility

Compared to a more traditional machine, robots may offer greater flexibility in the tasks they can perform. For example, while a simple press might move in just one plane, a robotic arm with six degrees of freedom can reach almost any point within the volume of space around it.

A robot therefore has the potential to get into many more scenarios than a fixed machine, and this requires an investment into time spent in programming and simulation, conducted by specialists. Robots also offer greater potential to being repurposed once the initial brief is fulfilled, provided there is sufficient allowance for simulation and reprogramming.

Always aim for simplicity

Robots are great for repetitive tasks which require a degree of flexibility. Generally, if you need three degrees of motion, robots are ideal. We make this assessment after first looking at a process to see where we can simplify. And, if we can, we’ll advise whether a robot is the best solution, or whether a more traditional machine—with a simple servo function and a basic menu screen—can do the job instead.

We have had customers attempt to put every task in a sequence for their robot to process—but there comes a point where it gets too complex, affecting performance. If you choose to deploy a robot for your operation, look at it as a key tool in your kit, without expecting it to do everything.

Safety is always top of mind

While robots can greatly improve plant safety by taking the place of humans, they do add their own risk factors, with powerful effector arms moving rapidly in confined spaces. Accordingly, they are typically protected with guarding to keep people out of their range.

If a robot requires attention, it’s important to have processes in place for operators to enter safely into the guarding. The robot might be carrying a heavy load, for instance, or blocking access. Some robots use sensors to modify their movements when humans are near, but these high-end machines may be too costly for the task at hand. Safety, therefore, is another factor that brings its own considerations to be evaluated.

Assessment is a priority

Can you upgrade, streamline or simplify your process without buying in new and complex machines? Or, if you are committing to robotics, have you factored in set-up times, operator requirements, maintenance, reprogramming, and safety guidelines? Is there a specific task that will serve as the ideal ‘test bed’ to introduce robotics to your operation and staff? The decision on whether or not to deploy robots will come down to many factors; however, the first and most important step is a thorough assessment of your current operation.

Find out more:

Speak with one of our team to find out whether your business will benefit from robot technology. Contact Facteon here via our contact page.

Derek Neilson

Derek Neilson

Lead Automation Engineer

As Facteon’s Lead Automation Engineer, Derek is focused on the design, programming, commissioning, installation and support of control systems. He also works to implement data collection and manipulation. Derek is passionate about developing an in-depth understanding of the technology utilised in a manufacturer’s production line. This commitment ensures seamless integration and efficient project delivery. Derek’s work experience is backed by a Masters of Engineering specialising in Electrical and Computer Engineering.