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Top five reasons to add a robot to your production line

19 January 2018

Now, as they say, has never been a better time to consider adding robotic automation to your facility. Mitsubishi Electric’s robot product manager Barry Weller, gives us his five best reasons why you should add a robot to your production line.

The cost of smaller payload articulated arm and Delta robots is coming down. Integration is getting easier and the flexibility they offer means if you are in the manufacturing and packaging business you can deploy them for a wide range of tasks. 

Here is the low-down on robot integration from Mitsubishi Electric’s robot product manager Barry Weller, including his five best reasons why you should add one to your production line:

1. In our experience the main requirement driving more installations than any other is to reduce costs. I realise it sounds counterintuitive – buy a (relative to other machinery) expensive robot to save money? However, most of the practical features and benefits of a robot installation boil down to making a process more efficient. It doesn’t matter if the robot is being used for pick and place actions, transferring items from one process to another, assembly of parts, putting items into packets or adding embellishments - it will be faster and more consistent than a manual process. Your process can run faster, with fewer rejects and hence deliver a reduction in production cost per item. When you make thousands of items, cutting costs for each one can have a huge cumulative effect on profitability. It is also likely that a manufacturing cell including a robot will have a smaller footprint than its equivalent mechanical system and where manufacturing space in factories is a real issue and at a premium, this is a real advantage.

2. The next one is almost always added flexibility; production lines need to be able to adapt quickly to shift changes or variations in product format. Thus, if your production line can switch over to another task instantly, then the benefits are really significant. If you are going to invest in automation, then spending money on equipment that can only do the tasks it was designed for from the outset means its use is severely restricted. The robot, by its nature has no restrictions beyond its full operating envelope. This means that the positional orientation of the task is irrelevant - as long as it is within reach, the robot can handle it. Manipulators and tools that fit on the end of the robot arm can also be changed relatively quickly and easily, which means the robot can be completely re-purposed in a fairly short space of time. This makes the long-term investment look a lot more attractive than simpler, single function machinery.

3. A very important aspect of a robot is that it can often complete tasks that either people, or other more restrictive motion control automation solutions find very difficult, tiring or monotonous. The anti-robot sentiment that suggests they take jobs from people is actually a great description of why they are so good – they take unpleasant jobs from people, allowing us to re-train and go and do tasks more interesting or cognitive. In short, tasks that require more skills and thought and ultimately pay more to the individual, because they are adding more value. We don’t have lines of people wringing out cloths or screwing bottle tops on anymore and we are all the better for it. Repetitive tasks such as packing, feeding, inserting and indexing are really better off done by a robot.

4. Quality is the next major driver in the industry. Better quality comes from better process consistency, finer positional control and superior data recording and management. One of the advantages of a robot is that its servo control drives and motors are fantastically accurate and can repeat tasks tens of thousands of times to within a fraction of a millimetre. The fact that the servo systems are controlled by a robot control module, either stand alone, or in the case of the Mitsubishi Electric MELFA Series, an option controlled by a module conveniently integrated on the PLC rack, means that operational and performance data can be recorded, captured and studied by software systems and operating personnel. This not only provides fantastic tracking and traceability information but it also enables convenient analysis of production processes allowing pro-active improvements to be made. Continuous improvement is a vital part of all manufacturing and process industries today but without accurate raw data it will always be held back from delivering the maximum benefit. The implementation of a robot solves this issue comprehensively.

5. Lastly, competition is another reason we see again and again. We all work in a highly competitive market and the pressures on businesses are becoming more global as logistics and infrastructures make it easier to shift large volumes of product around the world faster and with less effort. Even perishables are now travelling further around the world from the producer and the processor to the retailer. So if you are not investing in the latest, flexible automation solutions, then you can bet you will have a competitor somewhere else who is. The positive side to this is that the UK and Europe are very well served with automation vendors and system integrators who can provide excellent quality solutions that you can build rock-solid ROI figures around and hence invest in with confidence.

Now, as they say, has never been a better time to consider adding robotic automation to your facility.

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