Changing ROI for Industrial Robotics Webcast: Questions answered

More answers about the changing return on investment (ROI) for industrial robotics, the topic of a Dec. 17 Webcast, are provided by a robotic system integrator for robotics and automation and a robotic and machine safety standards expert. Topics include safety, ROI, applications, integration, technologies, and trends.

By Jeff Fryman, Rick VandenBoom December 23, 2015

Collaborative robots, so called because they may be able to share a workspace with a human, have safe-speed, safe-torque, and other features that can make robotics more approachable. Expert speakers in the Dec. 17 Webcast, now archived, answer additional audience questions about robotics and safety. See links at the bottom to related information, along with a link to the Webcast. An exam will be available to earn a Professional Development Hour (PDH) after the Webcast.

Those answering questions below, also the expert speakers for the "Changing ROI of Industrial Robotics" Webcast, are:

– Jeff Fryman, principal consultant, JDF Consulting Enterprises Ltd., is a retired U.S. Air Force officer. His 21-year career included 11 years as program manager overseeing technical training. He then spent 17 years as director, standards development, for Robotic Industries Association (RIA), until retirement in 2013. RIA is a North American trade group serving the robotics industry with members including robotic manufacturers, users, system integrators, component suppliers, research groups, and consulting firms. At RIA, he was responsible for developing the 1999 and 2012 editions of the ANSI/RIA R15.06 American National Standard for Industrial Robot Safety, developed curricula for robot safety training, and taught hundreds of classes featuring the R15.06 methodology for conducting risk assessment. He was the convenor for ISO TC184/SC2 WG3, the committee responsible for developing the ISO 10218-1 and -2 International Standards for Industrial Robot Safety, from 2001 to 2014. Fryman is vice-chair for the ANSI/ASSE Z244.1 committee, responsible for the standard for Control of Hazardous Energy-Lockout/Tagout and Alternative Methods. He has been involved in other standards development on robotic and machine safety.

– Rick VandenBoom is automated systems group manager at Applied Manufacturing Technologies (AMT), a certified RIA integrator without a product or hardware agenda. He has more than 30 years of experience in the manufacturing automation industry with background including application engineering, sales, and operations management. He has worked for several international companies across multiple industries and has a track record of success in product development and new market introductions.

Additional answers from Fryman and VandenBoom follow below, related to collaborative robotics and robotic safety. 

Robotic safety, security, collaboration

Question: It was mentioned that several robotic standards or technical reports are pending: What are they and about when might they be available? Are there links to the standards bodies or committees?

Jeff Fryman: The main document mentioned is the ISO TS15066 which provides more information on collaborative robot applications and provides guidance on allowable values when designing power and force applications. This document is approved for publication and should be publically available in the next couple months. It will be available from the ISO book store. It will also be available from the ANSI standards store at ANSI Webstore. A link to the ISO committee is also at; but the work content is not accessible.

Q: Safety and security are obviously interlinked. What are security issues for collaborative robots?

Fryman: We do not discuss security in our standards. Our concern is safety of the workers.

Q: How should robotic software be secured to prevent hacking?

Fryman: Machine software is usually loaded directly to the machine and is not accessible through a public channel that would present a risk of hacking.

Q: Is it legal to use add-on sensors to enable a traditional robot to operate collaboratively? (At a tradeshow I saw a traditional, noncollaboratively designed robot with yellow and red safety zones around it, implying that it didn’t need to be caged.)

Fryman: There is nothing legal or illegal about safety standards; compliance is voluntary. The standard for robot safety—ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012—specifically requires dedicated robot capabilities for collaborative operations that are built-in features and not external or retrofitable. Be very careful judging what you see at trade shows. They generally have relaxed safety requirements to allow the vendors to visually demonstrate and sell robots. It is generally not possible to visually determine if a robot has the necessary features installed to make it suitable for collaborative operations.

Q: What are the most-often overlooked safety concerns for working on and around robots, especially collaborative robots?

Fryman: The most overlooked safety requirement is not establishing and guarding the restricted space properly. We have little experience with collaborative applications, but this and whether or not an adequate risk assessment have been completed will probably be the concerns. 

Collaborative robot ROI

Q: What factors most affect collaborative robotic ROI? What’s the easiest way to determine if a collaborative robot is worth the investment?

Rick VandenBoom: The perception is that with collaborative robotics, external safeties (guarding, lights screens, etc.) are minimized or in some cases not required. However, it is necessary to evaluate the application and the safe operation of the robot to determine the level of external safeties and control required.

Q: Please explain the importance of a team decision when selecting collaborative robots for a facility.

VandenBoom: Whenever new technology and applications are introduced on the manufacturing floor, we find that the most successful implementations are those that have team buy-in with clearly stated objectives. As collaborative robots are introduced it is important to clearly define the objectives and educate from the top floor to the plant floor.

Q: How important is it to measure a production baseline, since it provides a starting point to see where we want to go?

VandenBoom: The production baseline provides the starting point to build on. Will production rates increase? Will one robot or multiple robots be required to meet throughput? Are additional operators required … ?

Q: Since collaborative robots are supposed to be easier to set up and use, are return on investment (ROI) considerations different than traditional robots? How? Is ROI faster?

VandenBoom: We do not see the considerations for ROI to be different than traditional robots. As suggested above, the entire project must be considered (controls, safety, training, spare parts, material handling, etc.), not just the robot.

Q: Other than labor, what are other ROI quantifications that could be considered with collaborative robotics?

VandenBoom: Other collaborative robot considerations that could help return on investment include increased throughput, improved quality, improved safety, and reduced plant footprint.

Q: What’s an example cost per installation for collaborative robotics versus traditional robotics?

Fryman: We have seen examples of installations using the main enabling feature of safety-rated soft axis and space limiting resulting in savings of over $100,000 per cell and floor space savings of 30% to 40%.

Q: How can robotics help make America great again?

Fryman: Flexible automation allows industry to be more responsive at less cost, consistent quality, and repeatability. 

Robotic applications

Q: What are some of the new applications mentioned where collaborative robots are being applied?

Fryman: We have seen the auto industry apply collaborative robots in situations where ergonomic issues for the worker have been a problem.

Q: How is collaborative robotics changing the image of what a robot is and possible applications?

Fryman: Collaboration is opening new horizons and challenging the industry to apply robotics to areas not previously explored, as well as updating capabilities that are more traditional. Material handling and assembly offer the "low hanging fruit" for starters.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on uses or applications for the smallest "desktop" robots?

Fryman: Most of these units will find uses in material handling and assembly in the electronics industry or elsewhere where small part manipulation is needed.

Q: What are some key nonfactory opportunities and applications for industrial robots?

Fryman: Industrial robots are not for nonfactory applications by definition.

Q: What are key limitations for underwater robotic applications?

Fryman: Hostile environment. 

Robots, industry trends, technologies

Q: How can two robots from different manufacturers communicate? Are there standard robotic communications available?

Fryman: Most manufacturers offer a PC-type interface using Ethernet or other network types.

Q: Are alternative programming methods helping make robots more accessible (easier to program)?

VandenBoom: In recent years there has been an increased adoption and use of off-line programs (OLP) created in conjunction with many simulation software packages. In addition, we are seeing companies linking computer-aided design (CAD) software to aid in the generation of programs without the use of the teach pendant.

Q: Will 3-D vision systems help robotics?

VandenBoom: Yes. The use of three-dimensional (3-D) vision expands the use of vision for guidance and enhances many marginal applications of 2-D vision. A good example of the use of 3-D vision is for bin picking or locating a randomly placed part in a shipping container.

– Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager and Webcast moderator, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

ONLINE extras

Watch the related Webcast, "Changing ROI for Industrial Robotics," to see more on this topic. 

See more about robotic safety and related standards at the RIA site

Control Engineering has a robotics page

See selected Control Engineering articles on collaborative robotics and safety below.