As the use of robots in manufacturing becomes more commonplace, you've probably given more than just a stray thought to adding one to your facility. And as you started to research them, it likely didn't take long for you to realize that choosing one is not as easy as you thought it might be.
However, that's not too surprising when you consider all the complex processes that your products go through before completion, including quality control. It's little wonder that finding the most appropriate robotics system can be frustrating for anyone but the most seasoned automation engineer.
While there are many types of industrial robots with various designs and capabilities, the best starting point for most manufacturers is to consider your application. For example, if you intend to use the robot for packaging, palletizing, or machine tending in proximity to human workers, a collaborative robot (cobot) would be a good option. In contrast, tasks performed at a distance from workers, or hazardous tasks like welding, may be best suited for a traditional industrial robot.
Keep in mind that when working with an automation integrator, you generally are not responsible for picking out specific equipment such as the robotic arm and tooling. Your integrator will rely on you to describe your production process and goals and use that information to determine the best robotic solution. However, it's still important to be aware of what goes into their decision-making process. The following are factors to consider when selecting the best robot for your needs.
Also known as payload, the load capacity is the maximum weight that a robot can lift and move as it completes a task. And keep in mind that payload includes any tooling required for the task. For example, if you're looking for a robot to lift and carry a workpiece from one position to another, you must add the weight of the workpiece and the weight of the robot's gripper to determine the load requirement.
Number of Axes
The number of axes the robot has indicates how many degrees of motion it has. You can think of axes as being like the joints in your arm or hand. The greater number of axes of motion a robot has, the more complex movements it can make.
It's important to think about all the motions the arm will need to make in order to accomplish a task, such as moving up or down, side to side, rotating, and reaching through or between things, as well as how near or far those things are (which also influences joint "flexibility").
The manufacturing environment determines the physical space available for the robot and the level of protection needed for both the robot and workers working around it.
Like most industrial equipment, robots generally have environmental ratings that define the conditions they need to function properly and maximize their useful operating life. Examples include temperature and humidity ranges, power requirements, and minimizing dust or debris. These considerations are especially critical in manufacturing environments that are extremely hostile, such as those involving welding, hazardous materials, or caustic fumes from cleaning or painting.
Operating Range and Speed
Picking the right robot is not based exclusively on its load capacity and the number of axes. As you choose a robot for your operation, also evaluate the maximum distance it needs to reach. The maximum vertical height is measured from the lowest point the robot can go, typically below its base, to the full height it can reach. Similarly, the maximum horizontal movement is determined from the center of the robot's base to the outermost point it can extend horizontally.
Most robots include multiple speed settings and have the ability to adjust speed across a wide range based on the needs of the system (this speed adjustment is usually a percent of max speed, so adjustment possibilities are almost infinite except in cases where payload is your limiting factor). One is usually a slower setting that is used when people are nearby, and another is usually faster - used when the robot is running unattended or when people are not present in the work cell. Safety features like this and others are especially common in collaborative robots (cobots) to ensure worker safety.
Some robots offer high speeds and incredible accuracy. Those that provide greater payload capacity and more axes usually sacrifice some speed. Buyers need to evaluate their work area and desired cycle time to select the robot that meets their requirements.
Need Assistance Finding Robotic Automation that Fits Your Manufacturing Operations?
There are many things to consider when automating a manufacturing or end-of-line packaging process, and you may decide you need assistance from an experienced automation integrator. At Force Design, we work with you to help you decide what you'll need in order to achieve your production goals. Connect with us on our website or give us a call at 937-473-3737.