Collaborative robot deployments often have high visibility throughout all levels of an organization, whether it’s manufacturing, packaging, or research. What also is highly visible is the process for overcoming the learning curve and the ease with which a robot is put back online if and when hiccups occur. Easy programming and maintenance are beneficial to an organization; here are six reasons that emphasize their potential benefits for manufacturers.
1. Return on investment (ROI)
Implementation times quickly add to the upfront cost of a new robotic implementation. Even if one robot is repurposed as needed, each new application requires some amount of time investment on top of any needed hardware. Minimizing this time not only increases the flexibility of a platform but the ROI, as well.
2. Capacity and capability
Depending on the scale of the operation and associated goals in implementing the robots, it is not always feasible for a single person to evaluate opportunities and program them all. Lowering the technical threshold needed to deploy and monitor them makes it much more likely that the same employee(s) doing the automated tasks also can serve as robot deployers. An easily programmable system can act as a labor multiplier.
3. Elevation of the workforce
It is increasingly common for a manufacturer to have difficulty finding employees to do dull, dirty, or dangerous work (“the three Ds”). The historically low unemployment rate is undoubtedly a good thing for the economy at large, but manufacturers looking to fill operator positions are finding it tough to make laborious jobs appealing with the widespread availability of work.
An automation platform with a gentle learning curve makes it possible to redefine a traditional line position with greatly reduced additional investment. Strategically assigning unskilled workers to new or varied positions not only enhances the organization but also the workers’ skill sets. It can justify pay increases to match the added value of the position and help to increase employee fulfillment. This benefits all sides. The employee gains added skills, expertise, and job satisfaction; the organization is able to be competitive as an employer and reduce employee turnover.
4. Improved downtime and recovery
Given enough time, any sophisticated system will need troubleshooting, debugging, or fixing at some point. The loss of production caused by this downtime can detract from ROI and throughput, and often cause intangible drawbacks such as frustrated technicians. It is important not only that the platform itself be easily and quickly serviceable but also that it have a robust support system in place to help the end user in times of need.
5. Opportunity cost
Because time and resources are finite, there is an opportunity cost for each project, whether during deployment or servicing. Making programming and support accessible minimizes this opportunity cost and further improves the ROI of any particular project.
6. Total cost of ownership (TCO)
The cost of training courses (both for programming and maintenance) easily can add up to several days and thousands of dollars per trainee. An intuitively programmable and easily serviceable platform mitigates—or may even eliminate—this ramp-up time and can reduce the TCO of the system.
An alternative to obtaining an easy-to-use platform is to develop an internal robotics team and build their expertise in deploying other major robotic brands, effectively creating an in-house integration team. While this does require certain personnel to be retrained and investments in training/resources for the first application, every subsequent project takes less time as the team overcomes the learning curve. This internal innovation and expertise can provide a competitive advantage by granting the ability to quickly expand capacity and capability in industries where new products regularly are brought to market.
If developing a team internally is not possible, it also could be feasible to bring in a third party to provide support and integration. By outsourcing the expertise, there is no need to reallocate resources or shift focus away from immediate production needs, with the tradeoff that non-recoverable engineering work now carries a markup for a company.
Manan Banerjee works for Cross Co. This article originally appeared on Cross Co.’s blog. Cross Co. is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keywords: Collaborative robot, cobot, programming
- Regular maintenance and good programming can enhance the lifespan of a collaborative robot.
- Immediate benefits include improved return on investment (ROI) and reduced downtime.
- Long-term benefits include a happier and more skilled workforce.
What other long-term benefits can come from regular maintenance and programming of a collaborative robot?