By Heath Clifton
Amid the current COVID-19 crisis, manufacturing companies are seeking ways to adhere to social distancing orders and avoid slowing or even halting their production lines. For example, one company we encountered had a need for end-of-line packaging. However, due to limited space and tight operations, the floor manager stopped running the line altogether, as the workers couldn’t be spaced far enough apart to accommodate the end of the line. Many organizations are addressing these issues by introducing robotics and automation into their manufacturing processes.
There are many benefits to transitioning to robotics and automation. With COVID-19, workers are getting sick or aren’t able to come to work. Robots don’t show up sick, they come to work every day, and they don’t take breaks. Although you generally have routine maintenance to perform on a robot, you can schedule a time to do the maintenance when it’s convenient for you.
A lot of processes in the stamping industry involve picking up heavy or large products. Robotics can safely perform heavy lifting jobs. This can help reduce injuries and workers’ compensation claims. In addition, tasks that require repetitive motion can lead to heavy fatigue and human error, and humans only move so fast. Robots perform the same task every time in the same fashion, achieving a higher, more exact throughput.
In addition, there are some processes that involve heat, dust, paint, or other variables that could be considered harsh to humans that robots can tackle. For example, Stäubli offers a humid environment (HE) robot that’s fully enclosed, allowing it to work in a dirty and/or wet environment. This HE robot isn’t affected by debris like dust or metal shavings, making it especially ideal for metal stamping, metal grinding, and welding.
A technology we often see partnered with robotics is a vision system. A vision system provides automated, image-based inspections to determine if a part has any issues. It can also use deep learning to teach itself to recognize when a part isn’t correct and then decide on its own if the part is good, bad, or needs to be rejected. In addition to inspections, vision systems are used for robot guidance, quality control, sorting, packing, and more.
While some may have reservations about replacing a portion of their workforce with robotic automation, it’s important to note that robots can’t do everything, and there are complex or difficult processes that inevitably require humans to complete. It’s crucial for companies to stay at the forefront of technology and change, and integrating robotics can help ensure their production remains efficient well into the future.
In addition, the manufacturing industry often faces high employee turnover, even during times of low unemployment, due to the demanding work required. We’ve seen customers unable to run presses because they didn’t have people physically there to run the lines. Robotics can help address the risk of labor shortage and enable you to continuously operate at high capacity while reallocating workers to higher, value-added roles.
Evaluation for Robotics Implementation
The first step to determining if automation can be incorporated into a production line is to evaluate the part you’re running, including its size, weight, and the processes that follow. Does the part change? If it’s the same every single time, it’s a great opportunity for robotics. If it changes a little bit each time, robotics can still be introduced, but the engineering may be more sophisticated. Whether it’s a simple setup or requires more complex automation, it’s important to partner with an integrator willing to understand your unique process and requirements.
One often overlooked aspect of robotics integration is the space needed for the additional equipment. Inevitably, you can find a robot that works perfectly for your application, but does your production floor currently have space? We’ve helped organizations evaluate their current production area and designed a custom cell that fits into their footprint. We can provide drawings of your floor with the robotic cell integrated so you can visualize the new layout and determine if any changes are necessary.
Another big consideration is the return on investment. We’ve helped customers understand what their ROI needs to be. Whether you’re replacing one or two tasks or a whole production line, we’ll work to develop a robotics cell to fit your ROI.
Contrary to popular belief, a company doesn’t need a full engineering team to move forward with robotics and automation. Press Room helps design and engineer everything you need, and we’ll come on-site to teach your workers how to run the robot, provide maintenance tips, and discuss potential issues you could encounter. In addition, we have a full customer service department you can call if you ever have any questions, and we can dispatch people to fix issues if it’s not something we can fix over the phone.
Reach out to a Press Room professional at (800) 688-2645 today to see how we can help.