In a market that dictates high-mix small batch throughput with impeccable quality, the utilization of fast, flexible and easy-to-use tools for robotic assembly is key to accommodating rapidly evolving customer demands. So much so, that by 2025 the use of smart technologies inspired by Industry 4.0, is expected to be the most important driver for success among manufacturers
. Furthermore, manufacturers are discovering that a high level of digital adrenaline and the subsequent use of robotic technology in assembly is vital to accomplishing highly-repetitive tasks with the utmost accuracy, providing competitive edge in a global marketplace
Benefits like set-up reduction, high-speed changeover, workforce supplementation, better ergonomics, greater throughput and increased product quality are being realized, cultivating transformative results for companies of all sizes. While the use of robotic automation in assembly operations is nothing new, greater accessibility to more affordable, precise, compact and agile robots, that are easily integrated, programmed and retaught, has many manufacturers taking another look at robotic technologies and the benefits they can provide.
With the growing demand for mass high flexibility, robotic automation is effectively addressing the need to execute faster and frequent changeovers. From a simple label change, to a complex changing of details for the complete adjustment of a production line, changeover needs today can vary.
Historically, automation solutions were customized around a single product or specific task. While effective, this type of fixed (or hard) automation was often wasteful and more expensive. And, from custom tooling and fixturing, to more floorspace and changeover time, a lot was required to modify, integrate and program automation systems of this nature.
Now, robotic automation can be easily re-tasked, evolving with a company’s process and demand. From vertical orientation options to space-saving layouts with multi-purpose capabilities, unique workcells equipped with more compact, capable and repeatable robots are improving precision and productivity while keeping costs in line to achieve faster return on investment (ROI).
The flexibility robots provide allows manufacturers to optimize workflow, increase capacity and produce a variety of products. Increased axis speeds, along with improvements in acceleration/deceleration control, have optimized cycle times, and compact robots with longer reaches and higher payloads are offering high performance capabilities. Moreover, the continuous expansion of robot options continues to bring specific advantages to each application layout.
: Ideal for high-speed handling and assembly systems, small footprint 4-axis SCARA robots are extremely fast and widely used in multi-process systems that require pick-and-place capability, flexible feeding and screw driving applications.
: Often used in high-density installation for food, pharmaceutical and electronic product processing, overhead-mounted delta robots enable precise high-speed operation.
: These robots offer a broad range of motion in a small footprint to complete more complex tasks. With seven degrees of freedom (DoF) in each arm, these dexterous robots easily emulate human motion.
Articulated Robots: Often designed with 4- to 6-axes, articulated robots offer great versatility for dozens of applications. While some of these robots handle small component assembly with high-speed accuracy, others move large components with steady yet powerful ease. Next generation robot designs, like the Yaskawa GP-series
family of robots, facilitate easy installation, operation and maintenance, increasing robot uptime. And, ultra-compact lightweight robots, like the MotoMini
, can now support small part processing in existing lines or cells.
: While traditional industrial robotic automation is still an ideal option for a wide range of assembly applications, collaborative robots (cobots) equipped with the proper safety features and end-of-arm tooling can handle the assembly of a range
of materials including plastics, woods and metals. More appealing, perhaps, is the ability for select portable cobots (as well as some industrial robots) to be controlled utilizing intuitive programming technology and methods that allow quick and easy implementation and development of a robot system.
A detailed risk assessment by a qualified individual will often guide robot and peripheral decisions. Whatever the application, robots in general are equipped and readily reprogrammable to accommodate production changes on the factory floor.
Graphical User Interface (GUI) teach pendants, like the Smart Pendant
, are taking robot programming to the next level with advanced Human Machine Interface (HMI) features and built-in Smart Frame technology that greatly simplifies user frame issues. This has made robot programming easier than ever, especially for novice users, creating more accurate path planning for safer production.
Advanced assembly operations require a great deal of precision, and a myriad of tools exist to facilitate productive operations, including a variety of robotic grippers. To facilitate the need for higher part changeover, manufacturers today want intuitive, multifunctional end-of-arm tooling. As a result, customer requirements have prompted the creation of smart grippers that offer ±0.1 mm repeatability, safeguarding to prevent items from dropping, variable grip force and electric operation, and higher IP ratings to eliminate contaminants.
From part identification, part sortation, bin picking and the flexible feeding of parts, recent advancements in the software and technology used in Vision Guided Robotics
(VGR) have enabled higher throughput and greater quality for advanced assembly operations. Speed enhancements for the acquisition of images and recognition of parts for 2D machine vision have expanded robot functionality to diverse markets, while more robust software algorithms have provided robots with 3D vision capability to find and handle a broader mix of parts.
In conjunction with this, many parts today are being designed with robotic automation in mind, making it easier and faster for robots to complete certain tasks. Vital to an assembly process, component design can make or break the effectiveness of a robotic application. Piece parts constructed for robotic automation follow strict design practices, mirroring each other with snap fits or other one-step fastening procedures for a bottom-up or top-down assembly approach. This type of design helps maintain part tolerance and facilitates consistent precision.
Initially, robots required a separate proprietary programming language, but factors such as the need for increased product changeover have prompted manufacturers to find a method of automation control that enables operators to oversee robots and their components in a standard programming environment. This is especially helpful for robotic applications that use feeding devices or conveyors, as having a common controller and language provides the flexibility needed to address many manufacturing challenges.
Unique interfaces, like Yaskawa’s MLX
, allow an entire robot system to be programmed in a selected motion platform or a widely accepted PLC brand programming language. This simplification increases the depth of personnel capable to maintain and program a robotic system, and it also speeds up integration time, delivering tangible cost reductions.
While the greater utilization of robots and smart tools can be extremely helpful, they need to be monitored to ensure peak performance, especially in the fast-paced world of assembly. For companies looking to monitor throughput alarms and manage risks, the use of a factory automation monitoring system is suggested. A state-of-the-art software platform
that can easily monitor, accumulate and visually deliver data in real time for an entire production environment should be used. Yaskawa Cockpit provides manufacturers the ability to synchronize all factory and operational knowledge to implement data-driven optimized planning for preventative and predictive maintenance which can maximize efficiency and throughput.
Finding the right balance among new technologies is key to achieving productivity gains and subsequent long-term yield. With nearly 89% of manufacturers having difficulty finding skilled workers
, the need for consistency in the production of goods is great, prompting manufacturers to invest in these advanced technologies as a “survival strategy” for maintaining the high level of throughput required on the assembly floor.