John Levan details how cobots are transforming the machine-tending sector
Are you in charge of a production line that relies heavily on machine tending? If so, then it's time to get familiar with cobots. Cobots (short for collaborative robots) are the perfect solution to the challenge facing manufacturers everywhere: how do you maximise automation without costly downtime or compromising worker safety? From their ease of implementation and flexibility to their ability to integrate seamlessly with existing processes, cobots provide an innovative approach unparalleled by any other robotic technology.
Why are companies using cobots?
Cobots bring many benefits when used for machine tending tasks in modern manufacturing environments. Thanks to their built-in safety features, the primary advantage is their ability to work safely alongside human operators. This human-robot collaboration can significantly increase productivity levels.
Cobots are highly versatile, and manufacturers can program them to handle various tasks, from loading and unloading materials to operating tools, machines, or other equipment. This versatility allows for a more efficient utilisation of resources, as one cobot can handle multiple tasks.
Moreover, cobots can perform tedious and repetitive tasks with consistent precision, reducing the risk of errors that could result in product defects or waste. They can also work continuously without breaks, maximising productivity and minimising downtime.
Also, cobots are relatively easy to program and reprogram, making them a flexible solution for production lines that may need to switch between different manufacturing tasks. This adaptability makes cobots a cost-effective choice, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises that may not have the resources for multiple dedicated machines.
Finally, using cobots for machine tending tasks can reduce workplace injuries. They can operate in hazardous conditions without the risk of fatigue or injury, improving workplace safety. In sum, using cobots for machine tending tasks elevates efficiency, flexibility, and security in the manufacturing process.
How to identify an opportunity for cobot automation?
Identifying an opportunity for cobot automation relies on a few key factors. To begin, analyse repetitive tasks. Cobots excel in performing repetitive, mundane jobs that human employees may find tiresome. A task requiring consistent accuracy and precision over a long duration is a potential candidate for cobot automation. Next, review studies that present physical risks to humans, such as heavy lifting or exposure to harmful substances. Cobots can operate in such environments with no threat to human health.
Additionally, examine production bottlenecks. If a task slows overall production, introducing a cobot can enhance efficiency. Lastly, consider the flexibility and adaptability of cobots. Cobots are an excellent choice if you require an automation solution that an operator can quickly reprogram for various tasks.
What are the best practices for implementing cobots?
• Complete a thorough assessment: before implementing a cobot for machine tending, take the time to thoroughly assess your current operation, identifying areas that could be optimised using cobots
• Choose the right cobot: not all cobots are the same. Choose one that best fits your operational needs, considering payload, reach, speed, and flexibility factors
• Ensure proper training: operators should be provided with appropriate training to manage and troubleshoot the cobot when necessary effectively
• Prioritise safety: implement safety measures such as proper fencing, safety sensors, and emergency stop functions to ensure the cobot operates safely within your facility
• Regular maintenance: schedule regular preventive maintenance checks to ensure the cobot remains in optimal working condition
• Monitor and evaluate performance: regularly monitor and evaluate the cobot's performance to identify improvement areas and ensure it delivers the expected results
What are some of the machine-tending applications for cobots?
Cobots are highly versatile and can handle a variety of machine-tending tasks. They perform precise, repetitive tasks such as loading and unloading machines, transporting parts between devices, and even complex assignments such as CNC machine tending. Cobots can also do inspection and quality control because of their ability to follow programmed paths and compatibility with advanced vision systems precisely. Furthermore, cobots are often used for injection molding tending and metal casting operations, demonstrating their flexibility and adaptability in machine tending.
In a typical CNC machine shop, cobots are ideal for the following:
• Material handling: cobots can load and unload parts into the CNC machines
• Machine tending: they can oversee the running of machines and alert human operators to any issues
• Post-processing operations: cobots can handle deburring, polishing, or applying finishes
• Quality inspection: cobots can conduct detailed inspections of finished components for quality control using built-in cameras or sensors
• Sorting and packaging: cobots can sort finished parts and prepare them for shipment or storage
• Routine maintenance: some cobots can perform simple maintenance tasks like cleaning or lubricating machine components
As you can see, cobots are transforming how companies approach machine-tending tasks. With rapid setup and deployment, low cost, safety features, and a more extensive range of applications than typical automation solutions, cobots are an attractive proposition for organisations looking to increase efficiency, agility, and flexibility in their production lines. So what are you waiting for? Identify opportunities in your organisation's process that could be served well by introducing a cobot solution and take advantage of this emerging technology to accelerate success. Your organisation will reap its full potential from faster cycle times, increased quality control, lower costs, and other benefits. Take your business to the next level with the help of intelligent cobots.
John Levan is with AX Control