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How to use robots to streamline your production

How to use robots to streamline your production

In this article, you’ll see why industrial companies use robots in their manufacturing processes (it’s more than just efficiency), discover two real-world examples and learn how to start using robots in your manufacturing company.

Industrial application of robotics

Integrating robots into the industrial landscape has become a game-changer. When people think of robots in the workplace, they think of radical cost cuts, mass layoffs and dystopian futures. Bernhard Isenschmid, Technology and Innovation Expert at Hightech Zentrum Aargau AG, recognizes that there will be a shift, but not a negative one. Companies will need people who can operate and service robots. Know-how has to be brought in or built up.

Robots aren’t here to take away our jobs but rather to do the work we can’t, shouldn’t or don’t want to do.

Here are the main reasons to use robots in industrial production:

  • Enhanced data collection and processing. Robots can generate large datasets for process optimization and quality control with relative ease.
  • System adaptability and versatility. Robots can seamlessly adjust to various materials and welding requirements.
  • Significant time and cost savings. Robots can reduce needed time for almost any task like welding, painting, assembly, cleaning and many more.
  • Reduced need for specialized tooling. Robots can manipulate the welding horn and other equipment to achieve the correct orientation and approach for each weld, accommodating various shapes and sizes of workpieces.
  • Enhanced safety. Robots can take on dangerous work and operate in hazardous environments to minimize safety concerns for humans.
  • Taking on monotonous tasks. Robots don’t mind doing repetitive tasks for a lifetime.
  • Real-time monitoring and analysis. Allows for immediate data processing and analysis and, with the help of digital twins and AI, even automated improvements.

Robots are used in vacuum chambers for spraying coatings with plasma gas. You don’t want to be in this vacuum chamber for a long time. But the robot doesn’t mind. Here, in the Basel Area, we may not use vacuum rooms but clean-room environments. Humans simply can not enter because of the risk of contamination.

Bernhard IsenschmidTechnology and Innovation Expert at Hightech Zentrum Aargau AG

Use case: A robot does ultrasonic welding

Claude Wenger, Research Assistant at the FHNW University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, showcased a robot capable of ultrasonic welding — a significant advancement in the field of polymer and composite engineering. This solution was developed in partnership between the IKT Institute of Polymer Engineering and the IA Institute of Automation.

Ultrasonic welding is a process to create a solid-state weld. High-frequency ultrasonic acoustic vibrations are locally applied to workpieces being held together under pressure. This technique is particularly effective for joining dissimilar materials, which is common in polymer and composite applications.

The robot introduced by Claude is equipped with specialized end-effectors and advanced control systems to perform ultrasonic welding automatically with high repeatability and accuracy.

ABB robot arm (IRB 6700) equipped with a linear motor servo drive (LinMot), a 6d load cell, an ultrasonic stack (Branson), and an external load cell (ClipX).

Industries that rely heavily on polymers and composites, such as automotive, aerospace and consumer electronics benefit the most from robotic ultrasonic welding. The precise control offered by the robot allows for complex weld patterns, intricate designs and consistent application of welding parameters, ensuring high-quality joins. It also enhances safety and scalability in manufacturing processes, no matter where the robot has to operate. Robots can do their work in environments unsuitable for human workers and handle large-scale production with consistent performance. 

Integrating robotics into ultrasonic welding opens a new frontier in polymer and composite engineering. By leveraging the precision and consistency of robotic systems, we're not only enhancing efficiency but also pushing the boundaries of what's possible in manufacturing. This synergy between advanced robotics and ultrasonic welding technology is set to revolutionize how we approach complex and intricate welding tasks in various industries.

Claude Wengeron Robot Driven Ultrasonic Welding of Polymers and Composites

Use case: A robot measures radiation hotspots

Wolfgang Fischer, Technical Consultant for Applied Robotics and Mechatronics at the FHNW Institute of Automation, introduced a robot being used in an environment that’s too dangerous for humans.

Radiological characterization is the detailed analysis and measurement of radiation levels in different objects or environments. It’s a critical process in various sectors, including healthcare, environmental monitoring and nuclear energy, to guide treatment or research, assess environmental contamination, comply with safety standards and properly manage radioactive materials.

Measuring radiation levels poses significant health risks for humans due to potential exposure. Robotics has revolutionized radiological characterization in both safety and efficiency. Equipped with advanced radiological sensors, robots can measure objects and environments to collect data without human involvement. In industries where radiation is a constant presence, for example, in nuclear facilities or during environmental clean-ups, the use of robots for radiological characterization is especially valuable.

Besides the health benefits, robotics in radiological characterization greatly improves operational efficiency. Robots can cover larger areas, handle more objects and perform measurements faster than manual methods. This increased efficiency is cost-effective and crucial in time-sensitive scenarios like emergency response situations.

The application of robotics in radiological characterization marks a significant leap in ensuring safety and accuracy in environments where radiation is a concern. With robots, we can conduct thorough and precise measurements while substantially minimizing the risk to human operators.

Wolfgang Fischeron Robot Based Radiological Characterizing of Objects

How to start your company’s robotics journey

Integrating robots into your production processes can be a transformative move towards efficiency and innovation. In a post-event interview, we asked Bernhard for advice he’d give a production company that wanted to explore using robots.

1. Evaluate utility

Every production company should evaluate whether they have the potential for robots in their production process. It’s almost certain that they do. 

Although, in some cases, robotic automation isn’t possible or desirable. This can be due to various reasons like tasks that require human flexibility, the high cost of implementation versus the anticipated benefits, technological limitations within a company’s current infrastructure and the potential for significant workforce disruption.

Additionally, regulatory constraints or ethical considerations in certain industries may limit the feasibility or appropriateness of deploying robotics. It’s better to know early on if your company belongs to that category.

2. Define roles and responsibilities

Decide who spearheads your robotics project internally by identifying someone with a strong understanding of the production process, a vested interest in improving operational efficiency and the capability to manage cross-functional teams. Typically, this leads to selecting the production manager or someone in a similar role with the necessary leadership, technical knowledge and vision for integrating robotics into the company’s operations.

3. Identify the stakeholders

A robotics project often impacts the entire production department of a company. You might need employees with different skill set. That means hiring new people, training your staff and maybe even letting people go. Processes from production schedules to handling of the goods are likely to change, too. Even design changes to the product may have to be made to allow robots to work with them.

4. Get started!

Develop a proof of concept project that is manageable yet significant enough to test the implications of robotics in your operations. This could involve automating a single but critical part of your production line. More important than a big increase in efficiency is that you learn what it means to work with and alongside robots. Gather data on performance, identify challenges and solicit feedback from operators and management to refine your approach for a broader implementation.

5. Bonus: Get in touch with the Interreg Robot Hub Transfer!

You’ll never be able to start your robotic endeavour as easily as with the Interreg Robot Hub Transfer project. If you think about incorporating robots into your production company or you’re developing a robotics solution, get in touch and receive a free consultation if you qualify.

Never stop innovating, never stop collaborating

Innovation and collaboration go hand in hand. It’s only when we merge ideas and expertise that true advancement occurs.

The Basel Area Industrial Transformation initiative offers a powerful ecosystem for tackling the transition of the manufacturing industry towards smart technologies and sustainable production methods. The initiative offers a collaborative platform with events and catalyst projects within the broader Basel Area (Upper Rhine including France and Germany) and is the host of the i4Challenge program, the accelerator that develops startups, SMEs and new ideas in the field of Industry 4.0.

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Sébastien MeunierDirector Industrial Transformation