Insights

A Guide to Implementing Industrial Robots

The closure of the Ford and Holden factories in Australia, whilst devastating for local jobs, also left behind hundreds of industrial robots with the potential to improve manufacturing processes for local businesses. In our experience, companies that have adopted this technology (applications include pick-and-place, material handling and welding, to name a few) have seen increased efficiency, output, and improved factory safety.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to introducing a robot to your business (because all factories and business goals are different) you can break the implementation process down into manageable tasks, making your plan more likely to succeed. This article outlines these steps and discusses some handy tips you should keep in mind along the way.

An Introduction

The intention of installing a robot is to automate a task that is currently being done at a manual cell or to achieve a totally new function. When you buy a robot, whether new or used, you will receive the robotic arm, controller (the computer that drives movement) and teach pendant (the operator interface).

What comes after the robot’s head, and what is added to the cell, depends on the application, but is necessary for the robot to work correctly. these include end-of-arm tools like grippers, manipulators, and welding heads, but also sensors, protective fencing and part feeding processes.

Step 1: Start at the Beginning

This step is about understanding the problem before trying to find the solution, and we do this by drawing a map of the manual process to get an idea of the starting point.

  1. Customer:
  2. Output: What is the end result? How are the parts organised at the output? (stacked, placed beside each other) How do they get there? How are they packaged? (In a tray, on a fixture).
  3. Input: What are the incoming parts and their characteristics (weight, dimensions, material). How do the parts arrive? (stacked, singular).
  4. Define the process: List the steps (and take a video).
  5. Information Flow:
  6. KPI’s: 

The Robot Map

Once you have completed this step, use this information to plan the robot cell layout. Similarly, you may want to sketch the future robot cell layout and the anticipated task list, keeping in mind that you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, and it’s OK for the manual and robot processes to be similar.

Determine the sequence of tasks that the robot will perform, such as:

        • Considering how will the parts arrive at the robot.
        • How the parts will leave the robot and move onto the next stage of production.
        • How the robot will complete the action

Planning the robot cell also means identifying the parts you’ll need (such as the robot, end of arm tools, sensors, safety checks, software, and how these will link to the robot). When choosing your robot, it is essential to think about:

        • What you want the robot to do (for example, pick and place objects).
        • The weight of the parts that the robot will handle (keeping in mind that the payload must also factor in the weight of the end of arm tools; like drills, grippers, and welding torches).
        • Think about the space that the robot will sit. Consider the robot’s work envelope such as reach and axes. Generally, 4-5 axes will suit pick and pack applications, whilst 6+ axes are suited to applications where the robot will need to rotate or move linearly to manage tasks.

Compare

Now you can compare the manual and robot tasks and cell layouts by placing the plans side by side. As you do this, break each task down one by one and identify the most critical and challenging functions.

        • What is the same, and what is different between the two?
        • Is the robot able to handle the incoming parts and perform the task?
        • Does adding a robot improve the process?

Step 2: Integrate

You’ve researched the manual cell, designed the robot cell, and compared the two tasks against each other. Now you will integrate your new robot by assembling the robot cell and writing the program.
The robot cell should be assembled separately from the current production line to prevent any disruption. Start by making sure all the equipment, parts, and tools you require are accessible, build the cell according to your design, and be sure to test each component of the cell as you progress.

4D Controls has partnered with local engineering companies that can assist with designs and installation as you repurpose your robot to suit the needs of your business. We also offer all parts necessary to create a complete robotic system.

Step 3: Operate

Preventative maintenance will ensure your robot lasts for many years, guarantee high performance, reduce repair costs, and prevent unexpected downtime. Although the manual for your specific robot will be the best place to find more information, preventative maintenance is mostly about practicing common sense.

You will want to keep an eye out for abnormal sounds like excessive vibrations, clean each part of the robot as it becomes dirty (especially fans and ventilators), and check over components to make sure there is no damage or cracks.

Occasionally, you may also want to double-check that there are no twisted cables, tighten loose bolts as they appear, and back up the controller memory just in case. Similarly, you should also check the robot’s repeatability every so often, replace batteries when necessary, and lubricate joints, bushing, and balancer housing (using only the grease that the manual recommends).

Conclusion

One final note as this article draws to a close: Strengthen your skills over time and expand your knowledge where possible, in the same way that technology is dynamic and ever-changing. Even if you work with an integrator, don’t miss the opportunity to strengthen your skills and reduce your reliance on external help for sudden breakdowns and future expansion.

Ready to automate? Check out our range of industrial robots and spare parts here.

References:
– Bouchard, S. (2018). Lean robotics: A guide to making robots work in your factory. Levis, Quebec: Samuel Bouchard. – Lean Robotics – Preventative Maintenance for Industrial Robots. (2020, June 24). Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.sdcautomation.com/blog/preventative-maintenance-for-industrial-robots/ – The Institution of Engineering and Technology. Guide to Implementing Industrial Robotics. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.theiet.org/media/2736/guide-to-implementing-industrial-robots.pdf