Golden rules for robot success

Precise, repetitive manual tasks are a classic cause of workplace injuries and lost productivity, making them the perfect job for robots. But just like their human counterparts, robots must be well-matched to their job descriptions.

Robotize MD Wade Leslie believes there are 12 golden rules for manufacturers to follow when selecting a robot. They are: Production Rates – When looking at production rates, it is important to differentiate between average rates and instantaneous (peak) rates as the robot needs to be designed for both. Where there are large surges in production followed by a lull, it is possible to average out the rate with a buffer.

System Control – The cost of an automated solution can vary greatly with the level of control. The robot teach pendant is typically able to keep costs down but this requires well trained operators. Pushbuttons to start and stop the system from a workstation simplify control but a better solution may include interfacing to a SCADA system with remote monitoring at the production office.

Find The Right Supplier – When looking to invest in a robot, consider the supplier’s area of expertise and whether the company has completed similar projects in the past. Also consider a supplier’s location and its preferred brand.

Essential Functions – A manual process often includes steps that are not required for an automated process, but don’t overlook the simple yet invaluable human elements. Some parts in your process are not a core function but do need to be managed. For example, do your operators check for leaking products as they pack them?

Specific Requirements For Components – Specifying brands and models can minimise spare part inventories and maintenance training costs. Typically companies specify their preferred PLC, electrical components and pneumatic components.

Redundancy – If the system has a back up, users should check whether it is a fully automatic back up or a manual contingency in the case of a breakdown. While it may not make sense to invest heavily in a fully redundant system for non-critical production, a few hours of downtime every few months might justify the extra capital cost.

Ease Of Installation – Manufacturers should also consider the installation process when purchasing a robot, as this will impact on design and cost. Will its installation interrupt production and how long will it take? Insist on a FAT (Factory Acceptance Tests). This is your chance to look at the robotic system, make sure the key functions work correctly.

Post-Project Support – Be sure the supplier has adequate personnel to support the robot on an ongoing basis.

Keep It Simple – Complicated solutions inevitably lead to more project risk and greater maintenance headaches in the long run.

Specifications – Have a concise well-written specification before going out to tender.

Sign-Off Protocol – The supplier should have a clear understanding of buyers’ expectations and how success is measured.