For decades, robots and sophisticated automation and control systems were relegated to the likes of large manufacturers, such as Boeing, GM and Procter & Gamble. However, the gradual cost reduction of automation technology, including sensors, robotics and software systems, has spurred a paradigm shift that now allows for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) to take part in the convenience of smart manufacturing. In addition to cost reduction, robots have become easier to program, physically smaller, more mobile and flexible, offering more economical options for SMEs that may not have the budget or floor space to accommodate the robots of the past.
Here are three robotic advancements that have allowed SMEs to benefit from smart manufacturing.
The Introduction of Cobots
A new generation of collaborative robots, or “cobots”, has proven a game changer for SMEs in bolstering productivity, improving worker safety and providing a competitive edge. Perhaps the biggest advantage of cobots is their quick assembly. While traditional robots require teams of trained operators for unpacking, mounting and programming, most cobots weigh as little as 11 kilograms and can be fully set up in less than a day. Further, the nature of cobots allows them to work alongside humans in complementary operations, making large, costly and separate enclosures redundant.
Many cobots also make use of force-sensing technology that informs them to stop operating if coming into contact with a human. Even in limited manufacturing spaces, robots can now assume repetitive, mundane and high-risk jobs to improve worker safety and wellbeing. Economically, smaller cobots realize a much shorter payback period of about six months. Closing the ROI gap is immensely important for SMEs that typically require any investment to pay for itself as quickly as possible.
Ease of Programming
Both cobots and other modern robots make use of easy programming to prevent SMEs from investing in costly staff training sessions. Many robotics suppliers, such as Universal Robot or OnRobot, offer pre-programmed software packages to keep integration time short and user-friendly. This software can also be easily updated through USB-sticks. This plug-and-play model has been likened to using a smartphone, ensuring that both set-up and integration are seamless.
Of course, by reducing integration time, ease of programming also ensures that SMEs experience a quick return on investment. As soon as the robot is deployed, it simultaneously improves productivity and product quality, rendering this solution both time- and cost-effective.
Smaller, Mobile & Flexible
The creation of smaller and more mobile robots has catalyzed their flexibility and ease-of-use. Whereas older robots could only be programmed to perform one task at a time, and required significant programming and disassembly, newer robots can be moved and re-programmed easily using a portable touchscreen Human-Machine Interface (HMI).
Additionally, the equipment used to help support a robot in its task, such as feeding systems, is also becoming increasingly flexible. This flexibility allows the SME to switch equipment from task-to-task, transplant the equipment to different locations and enables them to introduce new products without necessarily having to buy new equipment. Using these robots to perform varied tasks also ensures consistency across products, resulting in less manufacturing waste.
Advancing technologies that have spurred the invention of cobots, and allowed for smaller, easier to use and more flexible robots have effectively eliminated the barrier to entry for SMEs to partake in smart and efficient manufacturing. With a newfound competitive edge, SMEs are able to realize a quicker ROI and implement agile manufacturing processes to ensure efficient and consistent production, and worker safety and wellbeing.
As robotic technology permeates the mainstream, there will be an increased need for robotics training and technicians. If you’re interested in learning more or pursuing a career in this field, check out our Robotics Technician Training online program or speak with one of our Program Consultants by phoning toll-free at 1-888-553-5333.