The age of industrial robots is here. More than 2.7 million industrial robots operate in factories around the world today, according to the new World Robotics 2020 Industrial Robots report by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). In the manufacturing industry alone, there are 113 robots for every 10,000 employees.
For manufacturers hoping to increase productivity and revenue by adopting Industry 4.0 technologies, industrial robots are an important part of the plan. If you are not using robots in your plant yet, it’s time to get ready to embrace them.
Types of industrial robots
Traditional industrial robots such as articulated robots, delta robots, and cartesian robots have been on the market for more than 50 years. IFR reports that of the 373,000 industrial robots installed in 2019, approximately 95% were traditional robots.
However, the adoption of collaborative robots, also called cobots, is on the rise, increasing from 11,000 installations in 2017 to 18,000 in 2019. Here are some of the most common industrial robots and their applications.
Collaborative robots or cobots
Collaborative robots work closely with humans and unlike traditional robots, they are not fenced or caged. They are often equipped with machine learning capabilities and use human strength to reprogram the working space. Collaborative robots are compact in size and ideal in small spaces, as well as where collaboration with humans is an advantage.
These industrial robots work on a horizontal plane and can be extremely fast. They are modelled after a human arm with an elbow, shoulder, and wrist. With three axes for movement and an additional axis for the end effector, they can fold up and down to mimic wrist movements. They are ideal for palletizing, machine loading, and assembly.
Articulated robots have rotary joints that allow them to bend their arm back and forth. This flexibility is perfectly suited for applications such as painting, material handling, palletizing, and assembly.
These industrial robots have three arms that are connected to a base platform via universal joints. Their arms are arranged as parallelograms to restrict the movement of the end platform. Known for their precision and speed, they are used in packaging, high-precision assembly, and material handling.
Gantry or cartesian robots
These robots are simpler in design with three axes at 90-degree angles to each other. These linear robots have less flexibility but are well-suited for overhead pick-and-place operations. A gantry system is often combined with other industrial robots to include additional movements.
Benefits of industrial robots
The use of industrial robots in manufacturing processes brings many advantages to the operational landscape.
Better efficiency, speed, and productivity
When time is money, the ability to perform repetitive tasks even a few seconds faster results in significant savings. Rather than replacing employees, industrial robots take on work that is often monotonous and challenging to do quickly so employees can focus on more skilled, strategic work.
For example, a robotics start-up named Grabit uses static electricity or electroadhesion to assemble a pair of Nike trainers, which requires handling of as many as 40 material pieces. It can perform 20 minutes of manual work in just 50 seconds.
In warehousing and manufacturing, robots improve accuracy and precision rates, producing consistent results each time. In one instance, they were found to reduce gripper misloads by 40%.
Industrial robots also assist with work that may be too dangerous or difficult for employees to perform with precision. For example, a 5-arc robot has been put to use in the production of these sunglasses that have even been launched on NASA missions.
Rapid delivery and scalability
One of the advantages of industrial robots is their ability to support quick responses to changing market needs and cater to a larger demand.
To tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, an Italian manufacturer, Caracol-AM, used KUKA robots to 3D print 1000 head brackets for face shields a day.
Despite the upfront costs, many robotic solutions reduce overall costs significantly.
Ket-Met, a Finnish machine tooling shop, reduced its costs by 40% using cobots.
The cobots handled the monotonous parts of the job—in this case, moving workpieces on aged lathe and milling machine. It took just two weeks to install and program the cobots.
Industrial robots can also assist with quality control and monitoring. This can bring down the cost of production so you can pass on the savings to customers and stay competitive.
Challenges with industrial robots
The high cost of industrial robots can be a deterrent for some manufacturers. That includes not only the upfront capital costs, but the costs of retooling operations and retraining your team.
Industrial robots also have many moving parts, making them more susceptible to equipment failure. That includes breakdown of control software, cable damages, and changes in configured positions.
These failures can lead to lost productivity and high maintenance costs.
Not only are the parts custom-made and difficult to replace; they also require maintenance technicians with a specific skill set.
A good equipment inspection and preventive maintenance strategy can help you avoid these issues. That includes:
- Taking inventory of all robotic components and maintenance tasks
- Assigning tasks to appropriate personnel
- Developing inspection schedules based on guidance from OEM manuals and in-house knowledge
- Automating inspection schedules using preventive maintenance software
- Noting conditions that indicate potential equipment failure and flagging them during inspections
Maintaining industrial robots
Most robots are built with a specific purpose. To make them part of your Industry 4.0 vision, you need to create an interconnected environment where systems belonging to all stages of the manufacturing process work together.
The idea is to create an end-to-end digitized solution that links production, controls, and dispatch. Jeep achieved this by linking the plant’s 259 robots and 60,000 other devices with powerful back-end monitoring systems and a master data management system. This is equivalent to today’s IoT powered devices feeding data to one another.
In recent times, there have been many such implementations to take inspiration from. Here is an example of a robotic welding cell that communicates with all the machines on the manufacturing floor, integrating quality control measures and expediting the production process.
Before any of this is possible, however, you need a solid strategy for deploying, inspecting, and maintaining your industrial robots. That includes a platform for collecting inspection data and automating maintenance tasks.
The ManagerPlus Inspection Module makes this much easier. Operators can run through a pre-built inspection checklist before each shift to ensure all equipment, including your industrial robots, are working properly.
If they identify a failure or a condition that falls outside of normal range, such as overheating, they can assign a task to the maintenance team. They can see the status of the task so they’ll know when they can resume operations.
Industrial robots can be an important part of your Industry 4.0 strategy, but only you put in place the processes and technology to properly maintain them.
To learn more about how to take advantage of the other components of Industry 4.0, check out this resource.