The main purpose of automation robotics is to optimize the work that has to be done to effectively complete the tasks required to manufacture products. Automation robotics has special purposes, to minimize the amount of time, effort, and energy that is required to produce a product. It is also needed to reduce the amount of waste of raw materials and rework of products that are not completed to specification. Tasks of automation robotics also include the maximization of quality in products that are finished and the safety that is needed in producing them. The definition of automation robotics is not as important as is the understanding of how to apply it to operate in a manufacturing environment for the purpose of making products in the most cost effective and safe way as possible. An engineer who is responsible for creating an automation scenario for a manufacturing company will draw from his knowledge of how robotics are used to accomplish tasks and his ability to apply robotics in an economical way to build an automation solution.
Automation robotics can have the following characteristics:
- an arm that can be configured in different ways
- a number of degrees of freedom which allows movement in multiple directions
- load-bearing capability
- defined work area
- some control system
- a source of power
- repeatability of tasks performed
- accuracy of tasks performed
- reliability in tasks that are performed
Least complex of the robots in industrial applications are those that do lifting and placing. These devices are the ones that do loading and unloading, pick and place, material movements, and palletizing. The ability to move heavier loads and work in unseemly surroundings are characteristics of these machines. Sometimes these devices replace unskilled labor and usually require low maintenance.
The next level of complexity in robots is occupied by the industrial application devices. These do tasks like spray painting, spot and arc welding, tasks that are normally done by skilled labor. A lot of these tasks are harmful to humans because of dangerous exposures that are generated. This type of device requires the ability of servo or spherical control in order to do their assigned tasks. These robots can use training to get their work defined before they are put to the automation tasks. In some cases sensors are used to help give them consistency in their work. Robotics of this type are very good at cutting operating costs and improving the quality of products that come off the production line.
Looking at the top level of complexity in robotics you can see the devices that perform tasks like assembly of products. Consistency and repeatability are high virtues of these devices. Tooling that is at the end of the arm of this devices has the ability to be very precise in placement of pieces in their proper places. These can make minor adjustment in their work to meet the needs of putting products together correctly.
Since it is the job of robotics to optimize the work in the production environment, it is important to define what tasks can best be done by robotics and what task should be best left to human accomplishment. If two tasks in manufacturing are very similar in characteristic, it is much easier to let a robotic move into the new operation, if it similar to an operation that the robotics has performed earlier. The less similar two jobs are the more likely that a human could make an easier transition to the new task. Human abilities accumulate over a lifetime, while the robotic has to start a new task from zero experience and will require extensive training to accomplish it. Robotics do not have any inherent characteristics like humans do. Some humans will better at some tasks rather than other tasks, while different robotics begin a given task from the same starting point that has zero knowledge or ability.
In deciding whether a human or a robot should do a certain manufacturing task there are certain possibilities that might help to guide you to a decision. If the task is too complicated for a robot to perform within economic reason, then the task should be left to a human to do. A robot would win the chance to perform a task if the job was too dangerous for a human to do, or space or other special considerations come into play. If a robot can generate lower cost, better quality, better consistency, or other positives then the robot would win the job.
There are definite decisions that you must make when you are deciding to put a robotic to work in the place of a human. Even the possibility of labor shortage would be a reason for putting a robotic to work.
John Mitchell is President of Provision, Inc, an online publisher of information about the application of automation in business. Mitchell has years of experience in the management of manufacturing, warehousing, and transportation. The company website, http://www.provinc.net, assists companies in the evaluation of the benefits and capabilities of production automation. Thoughts on how to evaluate automation for a business are presented, and ways to begin the automation process are discussed. Insights into the use of vision systems, RFID and other topics in automation are covered. Requests for quotations and questions about automation can be submitted to the consulting engineers of leading automation companies.