Sharath Babu N, Head – Operations, MAC Machine Tools and Automation
In our increasingly globalized society, technology disruption is taking place at a tremendous pace. Technology advancements are constantly being challenged to enhance process, improve product quality and reduce manufacturing costs. It’s time for us to venture more into understanding how we can leverage the intelligence of humans and delegate the complex but monotonous tasks to the robots. With the result of a collaborative environment between humans and robots, we can reach new heights in terms of production efficiency while focusing on the “thinking work” rather than the “physical work”. The technological advancements in the robotics’ space is going to prove paramount as companies try to explore new ways to retain the aging workforce proving to be more expensive for a plateaued year on year output. At the same time, being prudent, with the younger generations stepping into the shop floor, they would be more interested in value added work rather than rote tasks. One the main drivers of such technology is ensuring safety when humans and robots share the same workspace. The guarantee of lesser risk to human injury is high with standards such as ISO/TS 15066 coming into effect. It is becoming increasingly popular for robots to embed technologies having power and force limiting wherein the robot completely stops on human impact without harming the individual. These robots can also be integrated with 3-D scanning systems, vision systems etc., which enables it to respond to variations in input conditions accordingly. With OEMs and end users handling repetitive tasks to complex assemblies, this technology can prove its worth across different industries and applications. The flexibility and adaptability of these robots also means that they can now be put to work on smaller batches, with high mix, low volume manufacturing, opening automation opportunities even to SMEs.
Flexibility is another important component to drive higher return on investments with lower costs of ownership. Multiple changes in component requirements pecked with the expectation of high quality standards, a collaborative robot can simply be programmed to the needs of the new application. In an industry that spends a considerable amount on tooling up the production line, collaborative robots offer the prospect of nimbler and more responsive manufacturing.
Digital and information technology will also play a key role when it comes together with robots to learn from past, predict what’s next and prescribe actions to drive positive outcomes. The robots can now be an enabler to collect several data points to measure the performance. With such data points being measured, we’ll be able to predict and single out defects, change motions to speed up and take on more work in a given span of time. The introduction of artificial intelligence and machine learning will pave a new way to leverage increased levels of collaboration with the robots as well. This allows for a leap in operational maturity of the supply chain. To conclude, while collaborative robots (known as “cobots”) might not be a direct substitute for industrial robots, it certainly is a lesser expensive option, friendlier to high-mix, low volume tasks adapting to process changes easily.
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