Four things to look for in a robotic integration partner
Partnering with an experienced robotic integrator that utilizes high-performance robots and leading-edge peripherals enables manufacturers to navigate the robotic automation journey.
- As supply chains are disrupted, baby boomers age out and the need for general use products continues to grow, manufacturers are faced with producing more with less.
- Robust yet intuitive robot capability is effectively addressing these issues, boosting manufacturing output and product quality for optimal productivity gains.
- While there are dozens of highly experiences robot integrators strategically scattered across North America, manufacturers should carefully consider several key integrator identifiers before selecting one.
Robot Integration Insights
Integrators that pull from their wealth of internal experts can better facilitate successful completion of new applications in their fields of expertise.
Integrators that dedicate themselves to a certain niche and focus on contributing innovative products to that area of the industrial landscape can help manufacturers looking to solve specific problems.
Along with process expertise and capable technology, another priority for integrator selection should be whether the company in question has the end user’s best interest in mind.
One of the most vital elements for sustaining and improving productivity in today’s manufacturing environments is the presence of advanced technologies such as robotic automation.
Companies new to robotics are realizing the value high-performance robots can bring to their operations, creating a “new wave” of robot integration. As supply chains are disrupted, baby boomers age out and the need for general use products continues to grow, these manufacturers are faced with producing more with less.
However, robust and intuitive robot capabilities is effectively addressing these issues, boosting manufacturing output and product quality for optimal productivity gains.
However, bridging the gap between an unknown automation system and full robotic implementation can be an intimidating process. The good news is dozens of highly experienced robotic integrators are strategically scattered throughout North America to successfully guide decision makers along the way. While there are many nuances to integrator selection, four key “integrator identifiers” should not be overlooked.
1. Process expertise and understanding
While it may seem obvious, process experience is imperative. For example, those looking to automate a welding application need to collaborate with experts who understand the thermal process, and not just robot programming.
Joe Gemma, former global vice president of sales and marketing for Calvary Robotics, said, “Experience is key. Many manufacturers are going in blind, and they rely on the integrator to lead the way. A robotic integrator that understands this, while combining technical know-how with leading edge technology is ideal.”
As a world leader in the design and development of custom turnkey automation solutions, Calvary Robotics realizes that true expertise comes from practice. To maintain the necessary skills to assist customers in with a variety of tasks in industries such as including automotive, electronics, energy, food and beverage, health and medical, and consumer products, Calvary engineers earn credentials from a third-party certified integrator program. Companies with employees that successfully complete multi-faceted training like this firmly establish themselves as a top-tier robotics integrator capable of providing best-in-class robotic solutions to customers.
Successful robotic integrators can better facilitate successful completion of new applications in their fields of expertise by leveraging their internal experts. In a situation like this, ascertaining the critical processes is paramount. Once those elements are established, selecting a strategic partner that can best fulfill customer requirements is possible.
Finally, integrators that dedicate themselves to a certain niche and focus on contributing innovative products to that area of the industrial landscape are especially qualified to help manufacturers. An integrator that touts a “we can do anything” mentality may not be the right fit for specific end user requirements. “Companies, such as Calvary Robotics, that provide quality, pre-engineered systems for targeted markets can set themselves apart,” Gemma said. “Furthermore, these solutions enable customers to scale and easily adapt to evolving requirements for a better ROI.”
2. Using the right technology
Availability to high-performance, top-quality robots from a reputable robotic supplier with a fluid supply chain and global supply network is a key qualifier for integrator selection. Increased demand and the fast pace of change continue to catapult high-mix, low-volume production, making access to capable yet flexible robotic automation for dealing with disruption a key element for operational success.
“Technology is a given, but helping customers integrate automation is more than that,” said Scot Lindemann, CEO of Mission Design & Automation. “At a deep level, it’s about wanting the customer to be happy — using innovative tools to help solve problems, making jobs easier and safer.”
To keep up with evolving technological change, leading integrators emphasize continuous improvement. They are striving to learn about advanced technologies and implement them where necessary.
End users also need to seek out integrators that have “corporate compatible” technologies. For example, if the majority of a company’s workforce falls into the novice robot programmer category, a turnkey robotic system that is ready to operate after being designed, built and installed is ideal. Likewise, robots with intuitive, graphical user interfaces (GUIs) can help facilitate quick deployment and changeover. An experienced integrator should have access to and knowledge about a wide range of peripherals to enable the most productive application.
3. Develop a long-term partnership
Along with process expertise and capable technology, another priority for integrator selection should be whether the company in question has the end user’s best interest in mind. Access to references or testimonials about successful integration projects with similar scope should be readily available. Furthermore, as the liaison between the robot supplier and the end user, the integrator should have a team mindset that seeks to bring everyone together, leveraging shared knowledge and assets that can help achieve preferred outcomes.
Lindemann said, “Choosing a robotic integrator that shares a passionate purpose to solve the problem at hand goes a long way to building the momentum needed to reach the end goal. This, along with being able to listen to customer requests and adapt on the fly to deliver reliable products, is also extremely important when working with end users.”
Therefore, cultivating a solid working relationship with an integrator for long-term success is advised.
“While technology may be considered ‘easy to use,’ the process can still be very challenging,” Lindemann said.
This is another reason why end users and integrators need to seek knowledgeable professionals who can weed through unpredictable conditions when they arise.
4. Have a strategic plan and vision
Not only should integrators have an in-depth understanding about how their customers want to move forward with their operations, but they should be able to achieve their goals in multiple ways — as adjusting robotic systems and production lines often takes place for expansion.
“Integrators that take a transformative approach to enhancing customer operations by practicing vertical integration — where all of the design, fabrication, tooling and service can be addressed — are well-suited to handle diverse customer demands,” Gemma said. “Integrators, like Calvary among others, use tested technologies and leverage experience to help customers.”
Integrators also should have a strategic vision of how they interact with their robot supplier. Integrators that maintain an open channel of communication with their robot supplier are better positioned to address customer requirements — as very few applications are integrated without issues on the first try. This is especially helpful when aftersales, technical support and spare parts are needed. If an integrator does not have a good working relationship with the robot supplier, it may be cause for alarm — as the ability to provide comprehensive robot support at every stage of the project life cycle is crucial for application success and long-term performance.
Forward-thinking advice for robotic companies
Gemma said companies new to robotic automation should “Start small and grow into automation. Small- to medium-sized companies should especially identify something within the plant that is easier to automate. Then, learn the technology and understand how to build on it.”
Lindemann said, “Robotic integration is a journey that manufacturers should embrace — it’s not one project to complete, then you’re done. It’s a path to be followed.”
When integrated well, robotic technology should optimize operations to the point where corporate growth is possible. Finding a robotic integrator understands this and maintains a partner mentality to achieve a strategic vision utilizing high-performance robots and leading-edge peripherals will lead end users down a productive path toward successful robotic automation.
Peter Tarbell, director of partner business development, Yaskawa America — Motoman Robotics Division. Edited by David Miller, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org.
What specific process experience is crucial for your system integrator to have?