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The Future of Robotics and Automation in Manufacturing

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Factory robotic automation is the process of using industrial machinery to perform routine tasks in manufacturing such as welding, material handling and assembly, freeing up the human workforce for more complex requests. There are different types of automation: fixed, programmable and flexible. Robotics is fundamental to flexible automation, which exhibits some form of ‘flexibility’ when supporting manufacturing because it is capable of producing a variety of part types or unit batches in a short time frame. Fixed and programmable automation both require manual input to produce a different type of product. In this article, we will look at how robotics is driving automation in manufacturing, and how this could help you improve efficiency and quality on your production line.

Types of Robots Used in Manufacturing

There are several different types of industrial robots that are reshaping the manufacturing process. Here are a few examples:

  • Collaborative Robots. These are specially designed to work alongside people in factories. Their primary function is to carry out tasks that require human supervision, where using typical manufacturing robots would be too dangerous or impractical. Examples of applications include using mechanical arms to move pieces from storage to the workplace. Due to collaborative robots working so closely with humans, they possess unique safety features such as sensors that can detect if a person is in the way and trigger an emergency stop.
  • Autonomous Mobile Robots (ARMs). ARMs are factory robots that can move through work environments without any human input. They use artificial intelligence to “see” their surroundings to avoid obstacles and workers’ movement. They’re fundamentally used for moving items, often being programmed to move heavy loads that would usually require multiple workers or heavy-duty equipment to shift.
  • Industrial Robot Arms. Robot arms are one of the most common types of flexible automation because they can be programmed to perform several different tasks on an assembly line, for example screwing bolts, welding, or painting. They’re commonly used in factories that manufacture large goods, like vehicles. They’re also commonly used to move heavy items from one plant to another or hold up products for inspection. They use a system that generates compressed air and sends it to an actuator, or motor, to control the arm’s motion.
  • Robotic Blacksmithing. Robotic blacksmithing is a new form of automation that could be a replacement for other production methods like traditional machining or 3D printing. It uses special tools, robotic arms and sensors to shape metals and other material. The sensors help the robot detect the shape, and the lasers are used to reshape the entire component. The main benefit of using robotic blacksmithing is that it is more sustainable and resource efficient.
  • Robots with Machine Vision. Machine vision technology enables other types of robots to perform routine inspections. Quality control can be one of the most tedious steps in the manufacturing process, and robots with machine vision such as quality control robots can help automate this task. Quality control robots use AI to detect issues and inspect parts, freeing up the human workforce for more complex issues.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Industrial Robots

As a business, if you’re considering implementing industrial robots into your manufacturing processes, it’s important to know the advantages and disadvantages. In this section we will talk about the pros and cons of factory automation and robotics.

Advantages of Industrial Robots

  • Increased Efficiency

    Industrial robots will perform tasks faster and more efficiently than humans because they are specifically programmed to complete them with high accuracy. They also automate processes that are very time consuming, increasing the efficiency of production lines and saving time and resources.

  • Improved Quality

    The high levels of accuracy can be used to create better quality products. This in turn, reduces time and resources spent on quality control.

  • Improved Health and Safety

    Tasks that could be considered dangerous to humans can be performed by industrial robots, improving working conditions.

  • Increased Profitability

    More efficient processes and improved quality can only ensure higher profitability and money saved on time and resources.

  • Longer Working Hours

    Humans are required to take breaks during the workday and can also be prone to distractions. Industrial robots can work 24/7 at 100% efficiency. On average a 40% increase on the production line occurs when one key person is replaced by a robot working the same hours.

  • Prestige

    Clients will be impressed by a business that uses industrial robots to automate production and improve efficiency.

  • Reduced Waste

    Automation allows you to calculate exactly how much material you need and avoid having too much left over.

Disadvantages of Industrial Robots

  • Cost. Implementing industrial robots can be very expensive, but they do provide an excellent ROI. Thorough consideration is important before investment. You need to think about initial costs and the ROI you expect to achieve.
  • Training and Expertise. Set up doesn’t just incur a high capital cost, but it also requires people with the right skill set to ensure implementation is successful. Good automation companies provide a support package of their expertise; however, training can be given to engineers to allow them to program the robots.
  • Limitations. Industrial robots still have limitations as to what tasks they can perform. It’s worth liaising with automation companies prior to purchase or implementation to assess the options available.

Role of Robotics and Automation in the Factory of the Future

Factory robots and automation are constantly evolving, in this section we will look at why future manufacturing capabilities revolve heavily around these new technologies.

  • Falling Robot Prices. As robot production increases, costs have fallen. Over the past 30 years, the cost of robots has fallen by half, and even further relative to labor costs. This trend is not set to slow down, and this makes robotics and automation more accessible to manufacturers.
  • More Specialists. With factory robots and automation becoming fundamental to the future of manufacturing, education and training has improved. This has allowed people with the right skill set to operate and implement this type of machinery more accessible to businesses. Advancements in robotics has also made them easier to program and reduced engineering time and risk.
  • Ease of Integration. Advancements in software and computing power have made assembling, installing and maintaining factory robots much faster and cheaper than before.
  • Increased Capabilities. Advancements also mean robots are becoming smarter, increasing their capabilities. While robots once blindly followed the same path, the latest generation can integrate information from multiple sensors and alter their movement in real time.
  • Improved Collaboration. Robots are now far more capable of working alongside their human counterparts, providing companies with more freedom when it comes to deciding which tasks to automate and which to carry out manually. For example, many robots are now installed with sensors to indicate the risk of a collision with an operator. This signal will automatically halt activity or take action to avoid accidents.
  • Agile Production. Automation robotics are becoming increasingly intelligent. They will adapt their behavior in order to maximize output or minimize cost per unit. The speed of an entire production line can be increased or decreased depending on what the critical constraint is for a given batch.
  • Complex Tasks. As technology improves, factory robots can perform increasingly complex tasks. General-purpose robots can control their movement to remain within 0.10 millimeters, with some configurations having a repeatable accuracy of 0.02 millimeters. These figures are only going to become more precise, expanding the complexity of robot capabilities.

The examples laid out here are just a few of the improvements manufacturers can expect in robotics and automation in the coming year, showing that their value is only set to increase.

If you’re interested in implementing robotics and automation software into your production line, you can find more information on automation and smart manufacturing on our website.