Commonly faster and more reliable than humans, the use of high-performance robots for inspection tasks continues to grow, enhancing a variety of factors for manufacturing operations. An uptick in the availability for sophisticated yet user-friendly software, along with an array of improvements for sensor technology and machine vision for heightened robot perception, are key drivers for this utilization.
Mounting a camera onto a robot arm (or nearby) allows additional angles and closeups. This is especially helpful for precision tasks and high-throughput production environments. As these advancements and others continue to permeate the industrial landscape, the evidence of their impact is clear, encouraging a wider user group to implement robotic technology for similar applications. Moreover, the combined use of robots with advanced vision systems along with robust tools like power supplies, sound analytics and more can provide a wealth of data for making informed production decisions. Several examples include:
The use of robotic automation for reducing contamination and optimizing workflow is nothing new. Their high repeatability, specialty ratings and food-grade offerings make them an ideal fit for a variety of food industry tasks. Quickly emerging as an application front-runner is the use of robots for food inspection. Machine vision systems enable consistent lights-out production while ensuring that only the best products make it to the end of the processing and packing lines. Detecting product defects and contamination issues in real-time, while freeing human workers to focus on less monotonous and higher-value tasks, is a win-win for companies looking to keep pace and save on costs.
High-performance robots equipped with sensor technology, such as force/torque sensors to ensure proper fit or mounting specification, can monitor many aspects of product assembly. This, along with the use of production monitoring software, is extremely beneficial to ensuring ultimate product or part quality, exposing potential problems and limiting the scope of recalls. Similarly, load cells can be implemented into end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) to ensure that a final product meets design requirements.
Part Testing and Weld Inspection
Providing an objective analysis of a process or a procedure versus a fixed criteria to determine if a part process can be verified, robotic inspection for part testing and weld inspection enables capability and consistency that humans cannot. Used in a range of industries including aerospace, automotive, electronics and plastics, this process is suggested for fabricators looking to improve part quality and product throughput, especially for parts with safety-critical welds. Paired with the right robot and software, testing and inspection are often achieved via the use of sensors, 2D or 3D vision systems, eddy current testers, laser scanners, profilometers, thermal imaging devices or infrared scanners.
A manufacturer can test a good part compared to a bad part, or process success can be tested versus process failure. Whether used to ensure the surface quality, weld integrity or part geometry on an in-house part, or utilized to check the caliber of parts being brought in from another part of the supply chain, part testing can be extremely beneficial for reducing scrap, maximizing good parts and optimizing OEE. Other added benefits of robotic automation include greater versatility over the use of costly and inflexible coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), and it is much safer than using a human when destructive testing is mandatory.
Similarly, adding a force/torque sensor to a machine tending application is an informal way that manufacturers can ensure vital characteristics of a finished part are met. From CAD/CAM-based process validation tools to using weight specifications for ensuring proper alloy type, there are a range of factors that can be monitored.
X-ray inspection systems incorporate industrial robots to load and unload parts from a batch, as well as manipulate parts for positioning to the x-ray/scanning source. These solutions are ideal for weld inspection of complex three-dimensional parts in medium volume production, or for the detection of material defects such as dry patches or bubbles in the composites industry. Robot usage keeps workers better protected from harmful x-ray side effects, and intuitive user interfaces with pre-defined parameters and workflows facilitate smooth operation and fast changeover.
Often a bottleneck for even the most fluid production environments is the process of manual part measurement, where inspection engineers use a variety of tools to test various points on a product or part. While many consumer goods typically test a random sample, other product segments demand testing of every product, which can greatly hinder workflow. Robotic systems with intelligent vision, sensors and software enable more accurate and consistent measurement at a faster pace. Ideal for pass/fail inspection, robotic metrology solutions excel at dimensional measurement and surface finish inspection.
While companies of all sizes continue to find balance between human workers and collaborative technologies, the use of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) will continue to grow. Flexible with high-performance capability, these machines – equipped with a variety of sensors, cameras and LIDAR, depending on the system – are frequently used for inspection purposes in aerospace and construction. These systems provide the highest level of accuracy, consistency and reliability when needed to meet safety requirements.
Intelligent AI-based inspection for greater quality control is a developing usage that allows for faster robot training on fault types and provides more thorough fault inferences. From food production to metal casting, the inspection process typically combines an image determination service with deep learning AI technology to analyze a variety of inputs for well-informed decision making. For example, the process of visual inspection for metal castings is significantly enhanced when these tools are used to generate realistic defect data via simulation– where dozens of photos can be taken for evaluation – then be used to prompt actionable robot behavior. The end goal is to gain every bit of performance out of a robotic system, making the most accurate decisions to keep operations moving and workers safe.
Often used for electrical substation inspection or gas leak inspection, robotic systems with thermal inspection capability enable unmanned evaluation of critical equipment in high-risk settings. More cost effective than training and monitoring of manual workers, thermal inspection uses a variety of software and hardware tools, including sophisticated machine vision, to recognize visual and thermal images. Data collected from this remote process is collected and sent to a control center for analysis.
Discover if Inspection is Right for Your Operations
As technology evolves, innovations will open new avenues for this application. If you think inspection may help optimize your operations, contact
our in-house experts to learn more.
Chris Caldwell is a Product Manager