Basics of Robotics & Benefits to MSMEs
Published by : Industrial Automation
Fluid power-based machinery offers greater reliability and consistency of operations, says Darshana Thakkar.
Robot has become a buzzword in the manufacturing sector these days; and how robots can help manufacturers address some of the challenges they face in today’s market, such as increased productivity and the scarcity of skilled workers.
Primarily ‘Robots’ in generic terms is visualised as Humanoid Robots which we often see in movies. But what exactly does it mean in the context of industrial robots? What kind of tasks are being performed by robots? How is it beneficial for industrial operations? What are the benefits of robots, not only in monetary terms, but also with respect to human safety and business competition as well?
These are the questions I am trying to address for the benefit of MSME business owners of our country.
This article is prepared considering the owners and leaders of the MSME organisations. Because to start any kind of Automation and Digital Transformation in the organisation, one must first understand the basics of technology. And today robots are playing a big role in the process of automation.
Industrial robotics is a big industry and it changes very rapidly. The technology has changed dramatically in the past few decades, as has the volume and variety of deployments. We are providing herewith the basics of Robotics for those who are new to industrial robotics.
How different types of robots improve an actual manufacturing operation? For smaller manufacturers who are curious about robots but have never worked with them, it may be difficult to envision how robots might fit into their facility. Here’s an overview of four types of industrial robots that every manufacturer should know.
1. Articulated Robots
Articulated robots are classified by the number of points of rotation or axis they have – 6-axis is the most common. There are also 4- and 7-axis units available.
Flexibility, dexterity and reach make articulated robots ideally suited for tasks that span non-parallel planes. Articulated robots can also easily reach into a machine tool compartment and under obstructions to gain access to a workpiece (or even around an obstruction, in the case of a 7-axis robot).
Sealed joints and protective sleeves allow articulated robots to excel in clean and dirty environments alike. The potential for mounting an articulated robot on any surface (e.g., a ceiling, a sliding rail) accommodates a wide range of working options.
The only problem is the higher cost compared to other robot types with similar payloads. They are less suitable for very high-speed applications due to their more complex kinematics and relatively higher component mass.
2. SCARA Robots
A Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm (SCARA) is good and cost-effective for performing operations between two parallel planes (e.g., transferring parts from a tray to a conveyor). SCARA robots excel at vertical assembly tasks such as inserting pins without binding due to their vertical rigidity.
SCARA robots are lightweight and have small footprints, making them ideal for applications in crowded spaces. They are also capable of very fast cycle times.
Due to their fixed swing arm design, which is an advantage in certain applications, SCARA robots face limitations when it comes to tasks that require working around or reaching inside objects such as fixtures, jigs, or machine tools within a work cell.
3. Delta Robots
Delta robots, also referred to as “spider robots,” use three base-mounted motors to actuate control arms that position the wrist. Basic delta robots are 3-axis units but 4- and 6-axis models are also available.
By mounting the actuators on, or very close to, the stationary base instead of at each joint (as in the case of an articulated robot), and a delta robot’s arm can be very lightweight. This allows for rapid movement which makes delta robots ideal for very high-speed operations involving light loads.
4. Cartesian Robots
Cartesian robots typically consist of three or more linear actuators assembled to fit a particular application. Positioned above a workspace, Cartesian robots can be elevated to maximise floor space and accommodate a wide range of workpiece sizes. (When placed on an elevated structure suspended over two parallel rails, Cartesian robots are referred to as ‘gantry robots’.)
Cartesian robots typically use standard linear actuators and mounting brackets, minimising the cost and complexity of any ‘custom’ Cartesian system. Higher capacity units can also be integrated with other robots (such as articulated robots) as ‘end-effectors’ to increase system capabilities. For this type of Robot design, specification, and programming are challenging or out of reach for smaller manufacturers.
Cartesian robots are unable to reach into or around obstacles easily. And their exposed sliding mechanisms make them less suited for dusty/dirty environments.
Types of industrial robotic automation
Now after having an overview of basic types of Robots based on Design and the type of functionality they can manage, Let us understand the Types of applications handled by Robotic automation.
There are many different types of automation applications that industrial robots are equipped to handle. Often, robots are designed or integrated with a specific task to be performed and customised to meet the unique needs of that task. Some common forms of industrial robotic automation include:
a. Robotic welding
b. Robotic material handling and packaging
c. Robotic pick and place
d. Robotic dispensing
e. Robotic cutting
f. Robotic non-destructive inspection, and
g. Robotic process automation /Software automation.
While the physical operations mentioned above are easy to understand, owing to space constraints, we are not discussing that in detail. I would like to share some details about the processes managed with Robotic Process Automation or software automation.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Robotic Process Automation or RPA is the process of using software and hardware or software only to achieve the desired results. The entire process revolves around automating monotonous and repetitive tasks that are adding up to the costs. For small businesses, every penny of increased cost leads to reduced profit. The cost can be reduced by introducing RPA to handle such repetitive tasks. The automation process can be customised considering various factors like current business processes, understanding IT infrastructure, and budget of the organisation. Depending on the size, volume, and nature of business processes, the right robotic process automation is being drafted by the solution provider. By choosing the most appropriate model, businesses can reduce their overheads and improve productivity.
How to choose the right automation model
After deciding to automate the process, the next step is to identify high-cost processes and choose the right automation model. A robotic automation expert will help in the selection of an appropriate model.
Primarily, there are three types of robotic process automation models to choose from, depending on the business requirements.
In most of the MSME organisations in our country cost increases on account of labour. This covers repetitive, manual, structured and logical tasks. For example, when an e-commerce company receives an order that needs to be converted into an invoice and emailed to the registered e-mail ID of the one who has placed the order. If this is done manually the person requires about 20 to 30 minutes to complete the task. And handling several orders a day in a time-bound manner requires deploying more manpower. Which ultimately increases a labour cost. On the other hand, it requires only a minute for the automated software to complete this task.
One more example of this for a manufacturing organisation I would like to share. In a good ERP system, when the stock of any item goes below the pre-defined level, the Purchase Order is generated and emailed to the vendor automatically or after approval of the purchaser depending upon the parameters set in the system.
This is the robotics automation model that combines the power of sophisticated applications and innovatively designed hardware. Intelligent automation can be used to do everything from floor cleaning to flipping burgers. This is a more complex robotics process automation model than the agent augmentation and is best reserved to minimise the costs involved in running expensive processes.
The most common picture that comes to mind when we hear the term Robotic Process Automation is the Sci-fi movies with robots doing all the work. Now that’s more specifically referred to as the virtual workforce. In our country where labour is available in abundance and as the initial cost of Robots is high that is difficult to afford for MSME organisations.
Benefits of robotic automation in industry
In conclusion, there are several advantages in deploying robots in industry as part of the automation process. The main benefits are:
a. They complete tasks more quickly and uptime is significantly higher than manual labour, resulting in lower operating cost
b. Improve the consistency of production dramatically, boosting overall product quality and reducing waste.
c. Industrial robots deliver a greater return on investment (RoI) despite high initial costs. The productivity gains from efficiency, consistency, and reduced operating costs add up quickly.
d. If programmed properly it will almost certainly outperform manual labour.
To sum up, robotic automation ensures performance improvement, cost savings and optimum utilisation of the organisation’s existing resources. Cost-saving and improved quality and delivery performance helps MSMEs become competitive in the global business environment.
Darshana Thakkar is MSME Transformation Specialist and Founder, Transformation – The Strategy Hub. An Electrical Engineer followed by MBA – Operations with rich industry experience, Darshana is an expert in transformation, cost reduction, and utilisation of resources. She has invested 25 years in transforming Micro and Small Enterprises. Her rich experience in resolving pain areas and real-life problems of SMEs helps organisations achieve quick results. Her expertise in managing business operations with limited resources helps clients transform their business practices from person driven to system driven with existing resources.
Darshana has helped many organisations to increase profitability and achieve sustainable growth. She is passionate to support the start-up ecosystem of our country. She is associated with CED, Government of Gujarat as a Business Function Expert in the Entrepreneurship Development program, as faculty for industrial subjects in the Second Generation Program (SGP), and as a start-up mentor and member of the start-up selection committee in the CED incubation centre.