What Is Easy and What Is Hard to Automate with Robotics?

As you look at your entire manufacturing process, there are probably hundreds of different steps that can be automated. Some are easier than others, some ask for more dexterity and some are really tough to accomplish.

Tasks

The complexity of the automation process usually depends on the task itself. If the task is a simple pick and place, this is ideal for a robot since robots are really good at repeating the same position again and again. However, if the task requires vision or a sense of touch, the level of complexity rises quickly. If your application requires more “senses,” then the integration will be more complex.

Picking and placing is easier for robots than polishing or precision.

Easy vs. hard robot tasks to accomplish. (Source: ISA.com)

Parts

The choice of the part you will handle is critical in a robotic application. Regular part geometry, such as squares, parallel flat sections, or cylinders is easy to grasp with a robot gripper. If irregular or fragile parts have to be handled by the robot, this increases the complexity of the grasping process. Adaptive Grippers or custom made grippers might then have to be used in order to grasp the part correctly.

Part Presentation

You need to think about how to present the part to the robot. The best way to accomplish this is to structure the parts so that they make the same presentation to the robot before the robot grabs them. If the parts are all mixed up and the robot has to identify each part or if the parts are running on a conveyor, for example, this increases the complexity of your cell. In this case, you will probably require a vision system that adds complexity to your automation project.

Integration With Other Machines

Integrating a robot with another machine is often the most complex part of the automation setup. It is hard to find robots and machines that speak the same language. Most robots will have I/O entries that will make the life easier in terms of communication. If your machines don’t speak the same language, there is still a way to set up communications, but again it will be more complex.

Programming

Collaborative robots are easier to program since many use hand-guided programming methods. Classic industrial robots are generally harder to program, since you often need to perform the programming offline. This means that you need to hire a full-time robot programmer or to ask an external service provider to set up each robot program you want to use.

Robots are good for redundant, boring things, they are not yet good at decision-making. This is why in your program you should reduce the level of logic required to the most basic sequence.

These are the five basic areas you need to look at when automating a process using a robot. As your automation project has the potential to save your company time and money, it is important to make sure you are making a wise hardware selection. Once you have identified your process, and chosen what your robotic cell will look like, start small. Build from your first experience. Try to choose an easy application that requires little adjustment and that is stable when done by a human worker.

>Read more by Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette, ISA Interchange, May 9, 2016