Many manufacturers have already fully implemented automation, and to a high degree. Robots and automation have a clear value proposition, but achieving that return on investment (ROI) requires thorough planning and know-how.
For small and mid-sized manufacturers (SMBs) to implement robotics and other forms of automation, there are many fears and doubts. Questions arise, such as: How do we adopt a technology we are not familiar with? How do we decide which project to choose for an initial robotics project that will be successful?
That’s just the beginning. Once a robot workcell is implemented into production, how do companies create and grow that technology base so that they can formulate a robotics strategy that will scale and grow with their automation plans?
Creating an Automation Strategy
Many companies purchase their automation workcell through an integrator. Buying the first robot workcell is a large purchase, but then what? If the plan is to only implement a single robot, and that robot process will never change, then the robotics project is over once production is being run.
If this first robot is only the beginning, a robotics strategy is essential and a critical part of the business moving forward. In a world where product engineering is in-step with production engineering, where products are constantly changing, new products are going to market, and production numbers along with quality standards are high, the value statement for robot simulation software is quite compelling.
Owning the Automation
So much goes into an automated workcell, and it’s not just the robot. It also includes the resources and all those designs, along with model numbers, weights and center of gravity information, operating parameters, manufacturer of the component, workcell size and location and welding parameters.
All of this data is a part of the intellectual property (IP) of the manufacturer, but how do you collect and store all this information? And what about programming? If a company plans to implement 25 robots this year in five facilities, how do they store, manage, update, and compare the programs? And, then what happens next year when they double the number of robots? Is it scalable?
There is no doubt that standardization reduces waste and makes it easier for companies to operate. Having the ability to standardize on manufacturing components and programming methods reduces the number of spare parts on hand and simplifies the learning process for production and maintenance workers. Standardizing on processes allows for the retention of best practices and for the best ideas to be replicated and re-used.
In the post-COVID world of today, it is harder than ever to find qualified workers with the skills needed for a manufacturer. There just aren’t many skilled workers available for the thousands of manufacturing jobs that are available. Manufacturers need to enhance their product offerings and have the flexibility in their manufacturing systems so that they can meet market demands to compete in this global economy. To remain competitive, manufacturers look to automation.
Manufacturers must pair these needs with the workforce of the future, which today is made up largely of “digital natives” who were raised in the 3D world. Their knowledge of electronic devices and software interfaces lends itself very well to robot simulation and offline programming.
Robot workcells need to be engineered so that all processes are considered within a certain number of constraints. Robot engineering is part planning, part validation, and part programming. The workforce of today has been immersed in these types of activities for years.
The workflows used in Robot Simulation and Offline Programming aren’t too different from the imaginary stories that unfold in the gaming worlds. The main difference is that Robot simulation applies to the real world, eventually. Robot simulation software offers a 3D environment where they will find puzzles and problems to solve.
The goal is to lay out the workcell and all the components while minimizing the floor space used, and then validate the design integrity of all the resources to assure that all the designs are working together in harmony. They also need to be sure that the robot can complete all of the prescribed tasks within a certain amount of time.
Much like being in a video game, there are successes and pitfalls, and the decisions made will have results that are favorable, or unfavorable, so attention to detail and problem-solving are key skills utilized in the robot workcell-building process.
Once built, the workcell robots can be programmed, which is where the virtual meets reality. Executing a virtual robot program is one thing, but having the ability to load that virtual program into the actual production robot in the actual workcell and making it work, is not only exciting but is fascinating as it borders on science fiction. Virtual to Reality, or V+R offers something that no video game can achieve.
Robot simulation software takes the virtual and creates the reality. So when an engineer creates and programs that robot workcell and then has the opportunity to follow through to the build and execution of that workcell; there is no comparison to that feeling of achievement and the mastering of technology.
Learn more about how you can start building your workforce of the future and cut production costs by implementing robotics into your manufacturing by reading the white paper, “How Robotics Can Help You Build Your Workforce of the Future.” If you’re ready to try robot programming for yourself, check out our Robot Programer Academy page where you can download actual 3D files and then walk through each lesson.