Using advanced robotics for material handling in a space already occupied by automated equipment offers numerous benefits to both manufacturers and machine operators.
Modern manufacturing has advanced so far in recent decades that almost every factory includes some kind of automation. As automation has become more ubiquitous, the role of human beings within manufacturing has gradually changed. People have transitioned from craftwork, producing whole goods by hand, to being line operators who complete only one task at a time, to being the operators of advanced machinery that accomplish thousands of tasks a minute.
Now, modern robotics is beginning to take over the operation of automated machinery, with humans moving to jobs that involve the large-scale tending and overseeing of factory operations. While this may seem like bad news for workers, this is, in fact, great news for both factory floor operators and manufacturers as a whole. Here are 5 advantages robots offer manufacturers in the machine tending space.
1. Reduce the number of human operators needed for undesirable jobs.
Automation—and especially robotic automation—is often presented as a threat to the workforce. However, robots are often replacing human workers in jobs that are dull, dirty, dangerous, and often a combination of all three.
The repetitive nature of many factory tasks leads to repetitive stress injuries in workers. Operating with mechanized parts exposes workers to grease, grime, and other particulates. And being in close proximity to heavy industrial equipment moving at lightning speed poses obvious safety risks.
Most workers don’t want dirty jobs that can lead to injury, and no good employer wants to see their workers injured. Robots provide a solution that benefits both parties and frees human workers for higher-level tasks that can’t be automated.
2. Improve production speed, quality, and consistency.
One of the proven advantages of automation is that it improves production quality by reducing opportunities for human error. If this is true for the automated tasks themselves, it is just as true for the material handling tasks that prepare machines for those automation. Whereas many factory jobs involving human operators currently require humans to place and position parts for an automated task, robots can take over this material handling process with greater precision and often greater speed.
Speed, in these circumstances, is a particularly important factor. Faster production processes mean higher output, but asking workers to work faster is a surefire recipe for accident and injury. Robots can increase their speed more reliably, and their components can be monitored for wear and tear, and scheduled for maintenance before a breakdown occurs.
3. Deploy robots in tight spaces or to handle components that are difficult to touch.
On top of increased speed and accuracy, there are some tasks for which human operators are simply not suited. Reaching inside an assembly to attach a component at an awkward angle, for instance, can be difficult for many human operators to achieve. In some specific applications, it may not even be possible. Human arms are only so long, after all. Robots, on the other hand, can be designed to reach difficult places, and have fewer constraints when it comes to the angles and positions at which they place objects.
Robots are especially applicable for material handling in injection molding, where the plastics involved are heat sensitive. Robots can pick and place newly molded parts using pneumatic grips and vacuum-powered suction attachments and quickly and accurately place them on the production line for the next step in the process.
4. Repurpose robots for different tasks.
One of the biggest advantages robots have over built-in-place machinery designed to accomplish one specific task is that robots can be repurposed for multiple uses. This reduces the risk any manufacturing company takes by investing in robots. If they change product lines or come out with an updated version, robots can be easily reprogrammed to handle the new task.
This has the greatest advantage for small manufacturers, who produce at a lower volume, and may want a robot that can take care of multiple tasks in a production cycle. A robot can be programmed to handle one task at Station A, then relocated to Station B to perform a completely different task within the same production run. And this can be done as many times as needed to finish the cycle. For small manufacturing, this flexibility is crucial to maintain efficiency.
5. Future proof your manufacturing company against the approaching skills gap.
As we mentioned earlier in this article, many machine-tending factory jobs are undesirable, which has contributed to a large-scale exodus in the workforce from manufacturing jobs in general. Unfortunately, with fewer and fewer qualified manufacturing workers available, and a large portion of this workforce nearing retirement, many companies are approaching an employment cliff where they will no longer have the labor they need to complete projects.
Robots help remedy this in two ways. First, they can take over the jobs that are soon to be left unfilled. Second, they create newer, higher-prestige jobs that pay better and are more likely to attract skilled laborers who want to work in a high-tech industry. Robots are showing that the days of gritty manufacturing are coming to an end. A sleek, high-tech industry lies ahead.
Eagle Technologies can design robotic solutions for your machine tending needs.
At Eagle, we have decades of experience designing automated solutions to improve the work environment for machine operators, the product quality for consumers, and the business efficiency for manufacturers. We can do the same for your company by putting our experience with advanced robotics to use in service of your manufacturing needs.
Whether you are a large company trying to improve conditions on the factory floor across several locations, or a small manufacturer hoping to invest in a reprogrammable robot that can be used in numerous settings, we can help. Contact us today to get started.
Eagle Technologies, headquarters in Bridgman, MI