Collaborative robots are a growing solution for system integrators

As the robotics industry is experiencing growth, realizing best practices from experienced robot integrators is the key to successful integration.

12/26/2016


Bob Doyle, Robotics Industries Association (RIA)As the robotics industry continues its post-recession growth, there continues to be a strong growth and interest in collaborative robots. Collaborative robots are robots that are designed to work side-by-side with humans. Companies who may have never used automation before take their first step by integrating collaborative robots. Companies take the first step with collaborative robots for many reasons:

  • Cheaper and faster to setup
  • Easier to integrate into existing systems
  • Take up less floor space than a traditional industrial application
  • Their flexibility to operate more than one machine
  • Collaborative robots have multiple uses which allows for a quick return on investment (ROI).

Many industries across the board are finding success in collaborative robots. 

Robot integrators and best practices

What does this mean for the robotics industry supply chain? It means they are busy-especially in the system integrator community. Robot systems integration is the Grand Central Station of an automation project. The robot integrator is the hub for all communication, coordination, purchasing, logistics, and planning. The goal is to provide a turnkey automation solution while optimizing efficiency, safety, and quality. Ultimately, the responsibility to the end-user lies with the integrator.

Experienced robot integrators adhere to a system of best practices. For most, it's a mindset, a methodical approach to the integration process that ensures the highest rates of success. Qualified integrators follow industry best practices along with the latest technology and processes being used to make robot systems integration more reliable and efficient. These include:

Simulation: Integrators are using robotic simulation to visualize and demonstrate work cell concepts before a single piece of equipment is purchased or a part is processed. Simulation software has become more advanced. Integrators are able to test robot reach and tool efficiency, detect collision risks, estimate cycle times, and evaluate safety threats, all during the design phase.

Offline programming: An offshoot of simulation, offline programming (OLP) is the process of converting simulated robot motions and operating sequences into robot controller-specific tasks. In an offline scenario, programming can be done in parallel with system assembly and other integration processes. OLP reduces onsite programming time, freeing up the system for production.

Fault recovery: The ability for the operator to quickly and easily recover from interruptions to system operation due to errors or unexpected variations in processing is a critical element of any robotic solution. The troubleshooting interface must be intuitive and easy to use.

Project management: Managing all the phases in a system's integration lifecycle can be a herculean task. From design and procurement to build and installation, the robot integrator must be skilled at managing the calendar to ensure on-time delivery. Project managers need to carefully plan and schedule multiple subcontractors to handle parallelization of work.

Safety: Safety compliance is a vital step in every systems integration project. Effectively selecting from and integrating the range of robotic safety devices available require experience and a thorough understanding of industry standards. These standards include ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012:Industrial Robots and Robot Systems - Safety Requirements and ISO 10218-2011: Robots and Robotic Devices - Safety Requirements for Industrial Robots as well as the new ISO/TS 15066: 2016 - Robots and robotic devices - collaborative robots released earlier this year focused on collaborative robots.

Growth within the robotics industry

Since the end of the Great Recession, the industrial robotics industry in North America continues to break records.

According to Robotic Industries Association (RIA), a total of 14,583 robots valued at approximately $817 million were ordered from North American companies during the first half of 2016. The number of units ordered in the first six months marks a new record to begin the year, growing 2% over the same period in 2015, which held the previous record. In the same timeframe, 13,620 robots valued at $838 million were shipped to North American customers.

These figures represent the second-highest total for units shipped and a new record for shipment revenue in the first half of a year.

The number of robots ordered by automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and component suppliers increased 16% and 4% respectively to begin the year and was the largest driver of the market's record performance. Similarly, the food and consumer goods industry soared in the first half of the year, ordering 41% more robots than the same period in 2015. Total orders to all other nonautomotive industries decreased 14%.

In terms of applications, the biggest increases were realized in inspection (69%), assembly (38%), and spot welding (21%). RIA estimates that an estimated 265,000 robots are now in use in North American factories, which is third to only Japan and China.

Third quarter results are coming soon, but at this rate, 2016 will continue to set new records. In 2015, a total of 31,464 robots valued at $1.8 billion were ordered from North American companies during 2015, an increase of 14% in units and 11% in dollars over 2014. Robot shipments also set new records, with 28,049 robots valued at $1.6 billion shipped to North American customers in 2015. Shipments grew 10% in units and 9% in dollars over the previous records set in 2014. 


Robotics Industries Association-certified Robot Integrator Program

Established in 2012, the Robotics Industries Association (RIA)-Certified Robot Integrator Program has gained recognition for providing robot integrators with a way to benchmark against industry best practices while at the same time allowing robot users to develop a baseline for evaluating robot integrators.

To become certified, robot integrators go through a rigorous process that includes an onsite audit, safety training, hands-on testing of key personnel, and other important criteria. For more information on the program and to see a listing of the current, certified robot integrators, visit http://www.robotics.org/Why-Use-Certified-Integrators .


-Bob Doyle is director of communications for the Robotics Industries Association (RIA).



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