Robots promise to improve the productivity of your operations.
But, what if you don’t have the production volume to justify using a robot for only one task forever?
Or what if your operations change often?
Wouldn’t it be great if robots were more agile?
If your production needs to respond quickly to changes, it can sometimes feel like robots are not flexible enough. It could take months to deploy or redeploy a robot. You haven’t got enough time to spend ages reprogramming the robot every time you need to change its task.
Good news. Robots can be more agile!
Back in January 2020, we predicted that agile industrial robots were going to be the secret to manufacturing growth during the year.
At the time, market forces suggested that agility was going to be a key way that manufacturers could respond to market volatility, higher costs, and uncertainty in the global supply chain.
As we now know, 2020 turned out to be even more challenging than we could have expected. The global pandemic threw entire industries into confusion. Everyone had to change how they operated or risk sinking below the wave of unfavorable conditions.
Agility was no longer just a tool to help manufacturers grow…
It was vital for them to survive.
Why Robots Aren’t Traditionally Agile
Robots aren’t generally considered to be very agile.
True, they are much more agile than conventional forms of manufacturing automation — the type of custom-built automation used for mass production of commodity goods. However, for a long time, robots have required a lot of time and investment to deploy to a manufacturing facility.
The idea of changing the robot’s task quickly seemed to be out of reach to most people.
This is no longer the case. These days, there are plenty of robots that can be reprogrammed and redeployed quickly. Depending on the tools you use to deploy the robot and the approach you use, you can make your robots more agile with just a few changes.
Agile robotic systems can help you to respond rapidly to changes in the market. In good times, they can allow you to scale your production to keep pace with your success. In hard times, they might be the only thing keeping you afloat.
What Makes a Robot Cell Agile?
The word “agile” is often used to describe a particular project management framework. However, this is not what we mean when we say that a robot is “agile.”
An agile robot is one that can adapt quickly and easily when you need to make a change to its programming and/or task. Rather than taking weeks or months to update the robot, it only takes several hours or days.
Agility is now more possible than ever with some robotic systems. As Johnny Albertsen, the CEO Rosborg Food Holding A/S, said in an interview “The technology is going so fast now, that in two or three years you can make the robot do almost anything.”
According to research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, there 3 key traits of an agile robot system:
- The robot should be able to be switched to a new task without having to shut it down for a long period of time.
- The robot should be able to recover from errors by itself.
- It should be possible to quickly swap in robots from different robot manufacturers so that the company isn’t tied to a single brand.
We’d add another trait:
- The robot should be quick and easy to reprogram without extensive robotic expertise.
7 Great Ways to Make Your Robot More Agile
How can you improve the agility of your robot setup?
Here are 7 great ways to make your robotic system more agile:
1. Invest in Better Programming Tools
Programming a robot can take a lot of the deployment time. Traditional robot programming methods are complex, time-consuming, and require extensive robotics experience.
Better robot programming tools can make a robot much more agile. For example, RoboDK TwinTrack can program a robot’s motion in just a few seconds.
2. Work on Smaller Projects
Traditionally, robotic deployments were a big deal, often affecting many parts of a manufacturing process and holding up production longer than was necessary.
One way to make robots more agile is to work on smaller deployments. Smaller projects are easier to achieve quickly.
3. Reduce Downtime and Reprogram Quickly
In most cases, the time it takes to reprogram a robot would be much less important if you were able to reduce the downtime. This is possible with offline programming tools.
With the right tools, you can keep the robot operational throughout the programming phase and only take stop production when absolutely necessary.
4. Deal With Errors Quickly
Problems can turn up in any manufacturing operation, especially with a new application. The key is to respond to errors quickly and reduce the impact they have on production.
With robots, this means having the capability to quickly update and reprogram the robot yourself if you notice an error creeping into its operation.
5. Become Robot-Agnostic
Ideally, you always want to use the best robot for the job. This is hard when you are tied into a particular robot brand, as often is the case.
By choosing programming systems that are robot-agnostic, you can easily switch out one robot for another without having to start from scratch.
6. Streamline Your Software Workflow
To achieve an agile robot, you need an agile software workflow. This makes it quicker and easier to change to the robot’s program when needed.
There are various ways to streamline your robot software workflow, such as ensuring CAD/CAM integration with your robot programming software.
7. Measure Performance
Finally, agility relies on good measurement. Keep track of the robot’s performance following any changes and learn what you could have done more effectively.
In this way, you improve your robot cells every time you make a change, helping you to become even more agile as time goes on.
Looking for a good robot programming tool for your agile robot? Check out RoboDK, the offline programming software, and TwinTrack for intuitive handheld robot programming.