The Growth of Manufacturing Automation and Collaborative Robots

  • Collaborative Robots

    Manufacturing automation has been public since the 1970s. Advances in technology, including robotics, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things have improved manufacturing process since then.

    Collaborative robots (also called cobots) are far-reaching across the industry. Rather than take over for humans completely, cobots can work alongside them to improve efficiency and reduce hazards.

    What is a Cobot?

    A cobot or co-robot (from collaborative robot) is a robot intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. This is in contrast with other robots, designed to operate autonomously or with limited guidance, which is what most industrial robots were up until the decade of the 2010s. Cobots can have many roles — from autonomous robots capable of working together with humans in an office environment that can ask you for help, to industrial robots having their protective guards removed. Collaborative industrial robots are highly complex machines which are able to work hand in hand with human beings. The robots support and relieve the human operator in a conjoint work flow. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobot )

     

    Here are some robotics/ collaborative robots trends in manufacturing automation.:

    Raas is the new trend in manufacturing automation. Software as a service and cloud computing tools have transformed all industries, especially smaller startups and midsize operations. Not only do they help organizations for maintenance and operation of their systems, but also lessen the burden of costly adoption for smaller businesses/manufacturer.

    Robotics as a service (RaaS) is similar to SaaS (Software as a Service), and it involves the rental or temporary acquisition of hardware to keep costs more manageable. This has allowed more advanced technologies and robots to penetrate different industries.

    What is a Robotics as a Service (RaaS)?

    Robotics as a Service (RaaS) is a unique model which is a combination of cloud computing, AI, robotics and shared services. With RaaS, clients don’t really need to buy an integrated solution; they can, instead, lease the robotic devices as a cloud based service. (source: https://suyati.com/blog/robotics-as-a-service-business-model/)

    How about Automation?

    Automation is the technology by which a process or procedure is performed with minimal human assistance. Automation or automatic control is the use of various control systems for operating equipment such as machinery, processes in factories, boilers and heat treating ovens, switching on telephone networks, steering and stabilization of ships, aircraft and other applications and vehicles with minimal or reduced human intervention. Some processes have been completely automated.

    Automation covers applications ranging from a household thermostat controlling a boiler, to a large industrial control system with tens of thousands of input measurements and output control signals. In control complexity it can range from simple on-off control to multi-variable high-level algorithms.

    In the simplest type of an automatic control loop, a controller compares a measured value of a process with a desired set value, and processes the resulting error signal to change some input to the process, in such a way that the process stays at its set point despite disturbances. This closed-loop control is an application of negative feedback to a system.

    Automation has been achieved by various means including mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, electronic devices and computers, usually in combination. Complicated systems, such as modern factories, airplanes and ships typically use all these combined techniques.

    The term automation, inspired by the earlier word automatic (coming from automaton), was not widely used before 1947, when Ford established an automation department. It was during this time that industry was rapidly adopting feedback controllers, which were introduced in the 1930s. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automation)

    What is Manufacturing Automation?

    To many people, automation means manufacturing automation. Examples of fixed automation include machining transfer lines found in the automotive industry, automatic assembly machines, and certain chemical processes. Programmable automation is a form of automation for producing products in batches.

    Today most robots are used in manufacturing operations; the applications can be divided into three categories: (1) material handling, (2) processing operations, and (3) assembly and inspection.

    (1): Material-handling applications include material transfer and machine loading and unloading. Material-transfer applications require the robot to move materials or work parts from one location to another. Many of these tasks are relatively simple, requiring robots to pick up parts from one conveyor and place them on another. Other transfer operations are more complex, such as placing parts onto pallets in an arrangement that must be calculated by the robot. Machine loading and unloading operations utilize a robot to load and unload parts at a production machine. This requires the robot to be equipped with a gripper that can grasp parts. Usually the gripper must be designed specifically for the particular part geometry.

    (2): In robotic processing operations, the robot manipulates a tool to perform a process on the work part. Examples of such applications include spot welding, continuous arc welding, and spray painting. Spot welding of automobile bodies is one of the most common applications of industrial robots in the United States. The robot positions a spot welder against the automobile panels and frames to complete the assembly of the basic car body. Arc welding is a continuous process in which the robot moves the welding rod along the seam to be welded. Spray painting involves the manipulation of a spray-painting gun over the surface of the object to be coated. Other operations in this category include grinding, polishing, and routing, in which a rotating spindle serves as the robot’s tool.

    (3): The third application area of industrial robots is assembly and inspection. The use of robots in assembly is expected to increase because of the high cost of manual labor common in these operations. Since robots are programmable, one strategy in assembly work is to produce multiple product styles in batches, reprogramming the robots between batches. An alternative strategy is to produce a mixture of different product styles in the same assembly cell, requiring each robot in the cell to identify the product style as it arrives and then execute the appropriate task for that unit.

     

    The design of the product is an important aspect of robotic assembly. Assembly methods that are satisfactory for humans are not necessarily suitable for robots. Using a screw and nut as a fastening method, for example, is easily performed in manual assembly, but the same operation is extremely difficult for a one-armed robot. Designs in which the components are to be added from the same direction using snap fits and other one-step fastening procedures enable the work to be accomplished much more easily by automated and robotic assembly methods.

    Inspection is another area of factory operation in which the utilization of robots is growing. In a typical inspection job, the robot positions a sensor with respect to the work part and determines whether the part is consistent with the quality specifications.

    In nearly all industrial robotic applications, the robot provides a substitute for human labor. There are certain characteristics of industrial jobs performed by humans that identify the work as a potential application for robots:

    (1) the operation is repetitive;

    (2) the operation is hazardous or uncomfortable for the human worker;

    (3) the task requires a work part or tool that is heavy and awkward to handle; and

    (4) the operation allows the robot to be used on multiple shifts.

    (Source: https://www.britannica.com/technology/automation/Robots-in-manufacturing)

    And finally, Cobots come to manufacturing automation

    In addition to being able to work alongside humans, cobots can be very handy. They are smaller and can handle multiple tasks, such as pick-and-place operations for goods on a production line.

    Cobots can help eliminate rote or dangerous work, freeing humans for more satisfying jobs. People can aid with perception and avoid repetitive stress.

    In addition, cobots are increasingly backed by machine learning and AI platforms that let them perform more advanced tasks and share lessons learned. Manufacturing automation doesn’t just include brand-new technologies. Older systems and known setups can be made more compact, get new controls, and become more efficient and accessible.

     

    AB Controls, Inc.  offers services to help manufacturers evaluate where they can modernize, and apply manufacturing automation.

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