Robot Automation - Beginners Guide

Flat table cell, arranged in an internal "V" configuration

The decision to integrate industrial robots into production environments is often taken as a result of cost-down demands from existing customers, to overcome a skilled labour shortage or to combat the competition from lower cost economies.

At ICS we aim to change the reason businesses implement robot automation from the need to save money to the desire to make more money by producing higher quality products at improved margins.

In summary, robot automation can significantly improve your profitability and a typical payback on your initial capital outlay can be 6 months to 18 months, derived from Increased Productivity and Quality and Reduced Costs

Once an organisation has established an installed base and competency with robot automation, many businesses find that they have the greater potential to attract new customers, often in new markets. This is because they gain more confidence to take on new, more complex industrial processes; new capacity is created; the cost base is reduced; the quality of output is improved; staff satisfaction and productivity is increased as more mundane or unpleasant tasks are now performed by robots.

However, we realise that it can be seen as a big step and it is essential that you choose the right partner to make the transition as painless and lucrative as possible. We have compiled some Frequently Asked Questions which you may find useful if you are trying to decide whether robot automation is right for you.

Isn't Robot Automation very expensive and just suitable for large companies? 
Like all technology products, the price of robots has fallen dramatically over the last decade. The initial capital outlay needs to be considered against the reduction in direct labour costs; newly created capacity opportunities; reduced WIP; reduced downtime; improved quality (less scrap and rework); the residual value of the equipment and the potential reuse of the robot for other products /processes for the next 10-15 years. Most importantly; robot automation can help secure your existing contracts as customers look for lower cost alternatives (mainly from abroad).

ICS will work with you to ensure that the most suitable products and processes are selected for robot automation and thus develop a robust automated system with the performance, flexibility and functionality to suit your budget and payback requirements

I'm not sure that many of my production staff will have the skills to cope with robot automation?
Such is the reliability and accuracy of modern robotic equipment that intervention by an operative is infrequent and control of the robot cell to commence a production cycle can be achieved by the push of a single button. As for the robot itself, the menu style interface screens on the control unit will be familiar to anybody who uses Windows PC Applications, so that navigation and subsequent execution of commands is straight forward. Many industrial manufacturers already have CNC equipment or bespoke automated machinery and therefore, the transition to robot automation should not be daunting.

ICS will work with you to develop Full Training Packages to suit the individual needs and abilities of your team to help you maximise the benefits of robot automation.

Surely robot automation relies on complex and expensive fixtures to ensure that the standard quality requirement of the output is achievable and repeatable?
Almost all production environments need fixtures, whether processing is manual or automatic but such has been the improvements in standard solutions for fixture components and signal processing hardware that integration with robot automation is now extremely cost effective. Moreover, today's highly accurate industrial robots are now equipped with interfaces to additional technologies, such as vision systems, so that the reliance on complex, engineered fixtures is now reduced.

ICS has the experience and design capability to develop fixtures using 3D modelling software to produce tooling solutions that are fit for purpose. However, we are happy to work with customers existing fixture suppliers and develop the appropriate scope of supply. We may even be able to reuse your existing manual fixtures with little or no modification.

I have heard that robots can be expensive to fix when they go wrong?
The reliance on robot automation by the automotive sector has led the major manufacturers of Industrial Robots to drive up the standards of reliability and maintainability to an outstanding level of performance. Most robot manufacturers quote a Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) in excess of 50,000 hours on a naked robot system.

ICS offer a full range of Customer Service Programmes to help you maximise the value of your equipment such as Comprehensive Operation and Maintenance Training on our systems; Telephone Support; planned or routine Service Visits; Breakdown Support; Remote Diagnostics via the internet.

My production is made up of small batches rather than volume serial production, is robot automation suitable for my business?
Robot automation certainly has the flexibility to deal with batch production. Systems can be designed to deal with multiple fixtures and vision system technology can be used to recognise products and product features, thus reducing the engineering required to manufacture multiple products. Robot programming is also easier than ever and software tools are available to help you copy and modify programmes very quickly, even offline.

ICS will work with you to identify which of your products are most suitable for robot automation and which ones will give you the best return on your investment by estimating all relevant performance data, set against your current costs burden.

I thought robots were mostly used for welding metal together or material handling?
Although you may not weld metal; you will surely have a number of material handling processes in your production flow that could benefit from robot automation to improve your productivity and reduce WIP. Also, take a walk around your production facilities and see the number of operations where direct labour (or inflexible bespoke machinery) is being used to tend machines; assemble products; remove material from your products; dispense material; inspect your products; pack and palletise your products and you might feel that robot automation is worth further investigation.

ICS will offer you an honest assessment of the suitability of any application for robot automation. Contact us for a free Consultation Visit. We pride ourselves on delivering robust automated systems that are fit for purpose and perform at, or exceed the levels that we specified in our initial proposal.

We are being asked our customers about the carbon footprint on our products - Can robot automation help us become "greener"?
It has been a key driver, amongst the robot manufacturers, to make their equipment the most energy efficient on the market, as this has a significant cost benefit on automotive robot populations where there could be up to a 1,000 units on a particular site. The equation does not stop there, however - lighting/heating can be reduced or even switched off if the robot is running unattended; less floor space may be needed; fewer shifts may be required to complete your production; unnecessary movement of parts can be reduced; over-processing and rework can be reduced - All of which will also reduce your costs too! Most significantly, if you can remain competitive by producing your products locally and resist the need to outsource sub-processes to lower cost economies where huge transportation burdens are inherent, then you can continue to claim your commitment to minimising your carbon footprint. 

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