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Busting Myths About Robotics in Manufacturing

Contributed By Guest Blogger- Acieta

Industrial robots aren’t new. The first went to work in 1961 and millions have been installed since. Given the advantages that flow from using robots to perform tasks as varied as welding, palletizing and assembly — why aren’t even more in use?

Many businesses think robots aren’t appropriate for them. Some are under the impression they are only for high-volume manufacturers like auto companies. Others believe that robots can’t do the type of work needed, or it’s not appropriate to use a robot. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths about robots and it’s time these were corrected.

MYTH 1: ROBOTS ARE EXPENSIVE

State-of-the-art factories produce robots in quantity, resulting in low prices and high quality. In contrast, dedicated automation equipment needs design and development effort before putting it on the factory floor. A robot can be purchased and installed in less time and for less money. (In fairness, end effectors, guarding and integration add some cost.)

Robotic automation is a lower-risk investment than dedicated equipment. If demand changes or new products are introduced a robot can be redeployed quickly. Dedicated, hard automation can only be reconfigured at great cost and has little to no residual value when the time comes for replacement.

MYTH 2: ROBOTS ARE ONLY FOR HIGH-VOLUME OPERATIONS

As programmable as a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, a robot is switched from running one-part reference to another by calling a new program. With careful design it’s often possible to incorporate enough flexibility in the end-effector for an entire family of parts. If necessary, a robot can swap grippers the way a CNC machine changes tools.

Advances in sensor technology have simplified part presentation. Vision systems locate and identify parts, reducing the amount of hard tooling needed. Force sensing helps the robot adjust for precise assembly tasks.

Modern robots can be used effectively in low- to medium-volume manufacturing. They are programmed and changed over quickly, resulting in economical high-speed production.

MYTH 3: ROBOTS ARE HARD TO PROGRAM

A robot is programmed via a teach pendant or through an offline PC program. With a pendant, the programmer or engineer guides the robot through a sequence of steps, fine-tuning and storing each point. The robot is then taken through this program to check for collisions, before running again in continuous mode at low speed. Only when the programmer is satisfied with the taught motion will he run it at 100%.

Offline programming allows a user to model a complete cell and develop the sequence of moves that the robot will use. How well the model confirms to reality determines how much modification the program needs once installed on the robot.

MYTH 4: ROBOTS SYSTEMS ARE COMPLICATED AND DIFFICULT TO SUPPORT

Robots are very reliable machines. Vendors quote Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) numbers of 62,000 hours or more, (about seven years.) A robot cell typically includes other equipment plus numerous sensors that may have lower reliability, but overall a cell is usually less complex than dedicated automated equipment.

THE BIGGEST MYTH OF ALL?

It’s sometimes said that robots eliminate jobs. Some hard data can correct that misunderstanding.

An independent study found from 2008 to 2011, between 500,000 and 750,000 new jobs were created by robotics. Furthermore, they estimate between 2012 and 2016, as many as 1.6 million additional jobs will be created.

How do robots create jobs? There are some jobs that robots do better than people — anything requiring repetitive motion, consistency, speed and precision. In fact, some miniaturized products can only be assembled by robots. Higher quality and increased productivity lowers costs, which stimulates demand that benefits everyone.

However jobs are created directly in robot and associated industries, in fields like programming, engineering, end-effector design and manufacture, and integration. Other jobs are created as manufacturing businesses grow, as well as more opportunities from onshoring as lower costs let manufacturers bring work back to U.S. soil. So robotics actually creates jobs than only people can do

Too many businesses mistakenly believe robots aren’t for them and haven’t looked at how robots could improve their quality, productivity and safety. These companies are putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage when compared to others who don’t believe the myths.

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