What is the right mix of Automation, People and Robots?

 

Why don’t we just fill a room full of robots and let them work away without any people?  It would be cheaper wouldn’t it?  People aren’t fast enough, right?  People take too many breaks, don’t they?   Start with a strong foundation!

People may not be perfect, but they can still perform many tasks that robots can not.  People can:  read, comprehend, adapt, move, think, respond to verbal commands, use tools, inspect with their eyes and make judgements, they can even adapt to changes in parts, use their fingers to feel the smoothness, pick-up a part and inspect every surface.  People are the ultimate robot!  So for $25 an hour (or so) you get a lot of flexibility.  Also, you get a very inexpensive entry point.

Robots, on the other hand, are typically fixed in location, don’t have 10 fingers, or touch sensitive tooling.  They may have vision, but it is limited to a field of view, and can not make millions of logical decisions.  Besides, deploying robots takes significant planning and a lot of capital. Robots do however repeat the same task consistently, without taking a break, or calling in sick.  They are able to integrate with vision systems and conveyors easily.  Harsh environments are also not a problem for robots.  They can make many decisions based on their program, and can perform assembly, fastening, and material handling with ease on millions of components.

So here we are… robots are not perfect and neither are people.   What do we do?  The answer is always the same… it depends.  It depends on the process, the components design for manufacturability, the volume of the parts or families and the preparedness of the company to deal with technology.  Thinking you can go from no robots to all robots without significant planning and investment is fraught with problems.  We’ve seen it time and time again… facilities get robots in, and shortly there after, it’s sitting in the corner and we hear “we just cannot keep it running”.  Or we see a cell replacing an operator, and there is still an operator there loading the parts and unloading the parts.  Perhaps less stressful for the operator, however no money was saved.

Preparing is the key.  It’s important to have professionals review your:  process, parts, volumes, families, people and plant.  It all starts with process.  Ih fact, it’s just like buying a house… but instead of location, location, location it’s all about process, process, process.  Without a strong foundation, you can not build a house!

Once we’ve done our engineering we can integrate robots into the assembly process and balance people, robots and automation.