Robots For Automated Cells

Continuous productivity with multiple automated functions

Developing robotic applications for automated cells is usually straightforward, providing the challenges are recognized in the planning stage. These include machine spacing, robot reach and payload, and the target “takt” time. Robots often need less space than a human operator, allowing a tighter grouping of equipment, although more separation might be needed if there will be situations calling for manual operation of the cell. This will increase the reach needed in the robot. Likewise, end-effectors need careful consideration. If there's a big variation in the size and weight of parts being handled it may be worth providing tool-changing capability, and the payload must be chosen accordingly. It's often useful to simulate cell operation as a way of checking on the achievable “takt” time. If the robot turns out to be the bottleneck, the answer might be to use two.

The range of robotic applications for automated cells is virtually limitless. Any sequence of operations that can be grouped as a manual cell is a candidate. Adding a robot to a cell allows unattended “one piece flow” manufacturing consistent with “lean” ideals, cutting costs while supporting inventory reduction and quality improvement. For small- to medium-volume manufacturers this means all the benefits of dedicated automation but with more flexibility and lower cost.

To discuss known automation opportunities or discover new ones:

DISPELLING ROBOTIC MYTHS

Myth:
Automation is for high production jobs.
Truth:
Robots are NOT just for high production any more. Changeovers and small lots become minor concerns when considering that machine efficiency increases by 30% or greater with robotics. Like a CNC machine tool, robots can quickly change over from job to job by utilizing increased program storage, auto gripper changers and vision. The changeover should be the same or less time than changing over one of the CNC machines.