Robots bring a myriad of benefits to the manufacturing industry, including increased flexibility and accuracy. But what happens when they go wrong and whose fault is it? Here Jonathan Wilkins from EU Automation, discusses the causes of robot malfunctions and how they can be reduced.
The ever-growing number of industrial robots bring an increased risk of malfunction, which plant managers must make every effort to prevent. Robots can malfunction because of human error, control panel problems, mechanical failures, power disruption or environmental factors.
The reason it’s so important to prevent malfunction is that robot failures can cause human injury or death and can also lead to expensive downtime. Instead of playing the blame game, manufacturers should manage the causes to reduce the risk of robot malfunction.
To function correctly, robots require programming specific to the application and environment they are operating in. Incorrect programming or incorrect activation of the teach pendant or control panel can lead to robot error that can leave staff at risk of injury. The programmer must be briefed fully by management to ensure that expectations are understood and the robot is installed and set up correctly.
The human factor
All robot operators must be fully trained in the robot’s operation and maintenance. Staff can be taught to recognise the signs of failure and their causes to reduce the risk of human error.
It is vital that only authorised personnel can access the industrial robots. Ensuring your plant has a secure system to prevent unauthorised access reduces the risk of cyber-attack. Facial recognition technology, for example, can be used to ensure anyone in close proximity with the robot is a trained operator and not a threat to safety.
Robot owners should ensure that they use good housekeeping practices to prevent accumulation of dust, as it can block sensors or jam belts, causing an overload.
As well as housekeeping, plant managers must ensure that they have a maintenance strategy in place. Robots may run sub-optimally when there is wear and tear, which can be detected by sensors. Proactively maintaining and checking equipment condition reduces the risk of a malfunction.
As robots advance, artificial intelligence and machine learning are enabling them to make independent decisions. Connectivity via Bluetooth or the internet means that robots can communicate diagnostic information, alerting maintenance staff when performance is suboptimal.
In future, instead of a technician discovering a fault and ordering a replacement part, robots could self-diagnose a malfunction before any damage is caused and either order their own replacement part or alert staff to contact a reliable supplier.
So, instead of playing the robot malfunction blame game, manufacturers must manage the risks by proactively maintaining equipment and training staff well.