Y-Blog / Making Room for Robots: Key Considerations for Your Factory Floor
Making Room for Robots: Key Considerations for Your Factory Floor

Making Room for Robots: Key Considerations for Your Factory Floor

Posted: 2/25/2022 2:46:49 PM by Josh Leath
Topics: Arc Welding, Collaborative, Handling

Evolving customer requirements, supply chain challenges and skilled labor shortages continue to reshape the domestic industrial landscape. To optimize workflow and increase capacity manufacturers are looking to advanced technologies, including robotic automation, to meet demand and stay competitive. However, for some, automating processes without maxing out valuable floorspace can be a challenge. This is where more flexible, yet still highly efficient, robotic solutions are making a difference.

Review the Options

Whether a small job shop is working around space constraints, or a large Tier 1 company is measuring production value per square inch, it is important to carefully weigh the options available before settling on a purchase. In fact, conducting a thorough site audit with an experienced robot supplier or integrator is highly suggested and may be helpful to answering any questions. Until then, consider the following concepts:

Regardless of the workspace size, the right welding robot with the proper peripherals can be a huge asset. A streamlined robot with a contoured, hollow arm is ideal for reaching into tight spaces or workpieces in high-density layouts, and a long-reach arm model is well-suited for improving weld accessibility on large weldments.

To maximize use of space, a growing number of manufacturers are also considering collaborative welding. Remember, for an application to qualify as collaborative, the entire robotic system must be assessed. This includes the robot, the workpiece, robot work area and even the end-of-arm tooling (EOAT). If any of these critical areas fails to meet the specified safety standards during a risk assessment, then the application cannot be deemed collaborative – unless identified risk is mitigated appropriately.

In light of collaborative welding, cobots currently do not offer external axes compatibility. Thus, applications requiring the use of specific positioners for coordinated motion or a robot track would need to be mitigated by fencing, light curtains or other means. With this in mind, other welding peripherals that Yaskawa experts are frequently asked about where workspace is concerned, include:
  • Safety Fencing: fencing can be expensive, and it is estimated that it can add up to 20% of the overall workcell cost. However, it can also be the simplest way to mitigate many risks.
  • Part Positioners: if using a fence is inevitable – due to cycle time requirements or part turning specifications – a positioner may be in order. If this is the case, positioner size can make a difference. For example, a Ferris wheel RM2 positioner with a two-station design is more space efficient than an H-frame turn table, optimizing floorspace utilization. The right positioner can also go a long way to meeting company goals for the number of welded inches per minute (ipm), when needed.
  • Stack Light: an EtherNet/IP interfaced stack light mounted on a robot cart or somewhere near the robot helps to visually confirm the status of a robot. It can also provide sufficient warning to those near the work area that the robot is about to weld. Tone-emitting or “talking” versions that give audible commands are available as well.
  • Area Scanner: an additional mode of collaboration to increase speed and mitigate risk, this typically uses one to two area safety scanner units mounted below the robot, allowing the cobot to move at full industrial speeds until the protected area is broken. Newer units can set up zones for multiple steps of safe speed options, and they are more resistant to weld spatter and smoke.
  • Cable Management Device: protects the torch cable, keeps it out of programming interference and prevents false PFL stops on the robot. Either an on-arm device or a cable balancer for overhead cable management is suggested. The latter helps to expand the robot work area.
  • Welding Cart/Table: a variety of pre-fabricated tables and carts are on the market to accommodate a wide selection of production and floorspace needs.
  • Hazard Mitigating Devices: where welding is concerned, a hood that captures weld fumes, especially for potentially dangerous chemicals like chromium, is advised. While a manufacturer may have existing welding tables with fixed hoods in place, there are also portable options available that capture the fumes at the torch level and feature their own filtration packs that can “ride along” with collaborative robots. Similarly, arc flash and UV exposure from welding should also be mitigated via curtains when needed. Lastly, proper PPE should always be worn, just as a welder would in a traditional welding environment.
No matter the robot type or robotic solution chosen, proper employee training should be offered and personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used, depending on the risks associated with a given application. For example, a human welder working in a collaborative welding environment will still need proper clothing and eyewear for protection from hot parts, weld spatter and arc flash.

Whether loading or unloading a CNC machine, or tending another piece of equipment for 3D printing, grinding, injection molding, stamping, trimming and more, highly repeatable robots are helping to orient and transport parts. Add in end-of-line tasks, like palletizing, and manufacturers are reaping many benefits. From minimizing human error and increasing worker safety, to optimizing system utilization and facilitating greater efficiency, robotic automation for repetitive handling tasks offers a winning solution for manufacturers of all sizes.

Where handling is concerned it is important for manufacturers to assess their current floorspace and be mindful of applications where the size of the potential workcell could create a hefty price tag. Whether a part is extremely large requiring multiple robots or whether a large part will need extra measures to be moved in and out of the work area, other options may be a better fit. From collaborative robots to safety devices and more, a range of options to keep the workcell as cost-effective as possible exist. That said, several concepts to keep in mind include:
  • Safety Fencing: depending on the application, safety fencing is not always required, allowing even traditional industrial robots the ability to operate without barriers. In some cases, a safety device, such as an area scanner or light curtain barrier, may be used. Depending on the option chosen, cycle time may be hindered – as robot speed needs to mesh well for operator safety.
  • Simplified Communications: adding to the appeal of robot integration into an existing line or workcell is that they can be easily managed via standard programming environments that eliminate the need for proprietary programming languages. Operators can now conveniently oversee robots and their surrounding components through motion control platforms or Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), easing robot setup through simplified communications to tackle diverse needs, especially for packaging.

    For example, unique interfaces such as Yaskawa’s MLX300 software option give a robot the ability to “know” the location of a specific product and act as needed. Widely accepted Rockwell drives can be wired back to the PLC for position, speed and feedback information, giving the robot program the information required to track products along a conveyor and keep robots operating within their safe zones.

Straightforward Robot Integration

The right mix of flexible robots and advanced technologies can greatly enhance current operations. This is especially true for easy-to-use collaborative robots that enable fast deployment and redeployment on demand. Regardless, any robotic solution – when implemented in a smart and efficient manner – offers potential for future success.

To gain straightforward advice on optimizing your factory floorspace with space-spacing robots, as well as more insight into determining what robotic solution will help your company reach its payback and productivity requirements, contact Yaskawa today.

Josh Leath is a Senior Product Manager

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