How to Solve Your Inspection Bottleneck With a Robot

Robot Inspection Bottleneck

Robots are a great way to tackle “the inspection bottleneck”. But, which inspection tasks should you give to a robot? Here are 5 steps to deploying your first robot to a metrology task.

Let’s say that you’ve decided you want to add a robot to your inspection process.

You have read our Manufacturer’s Guide to Robotic Inspection and you think that a robot could improve your productivity. It might even solve your inspection bottleneck! You’ve gone through our 5 Steps to Assess If You Need a Metrology Robot and identified a few tasks that you think might work.

How do you get started implementing robots into your process?

In this article, we’ll go through the 5 steps to solve an inspection bottleneck with robotics.

1. Start Small

You could decide to invest big in a completely automated inspection cell. You could spend many months and mountains of money integrating the most impressive inspection cell that anyone has ever seen… but that would not be a good idea.

The best way to start any robotic deployment — whether it’s for inspection or not — is to start small.

When you go through the following steps, you may feel an urge to address many of the tasks at once as you work out where improvements could be made. If it’s possible to combine tasks, this may be okay. However, if you find yourself saying “let’s get a robot for this task, then another one for that task, … etc” remind yourself: Start Small.

Pick one inspection task and do it well.

2. List Potential Bottleneck Tasks

You will get the most return on investment if you apply the robot to a bottleneck task.

The bottleneck of a process is the single link in the chain which limits the capacity of the entire process. For inspection, this is the one task which is responsible for delaying your entire inspection.

There can only be one bottleneck at a time. However, there will be several potential bottleneck tasks, e.g.: preparing the engineering models to import into the inspection software; physically running the inspection probe over the manufactured products; loading products into a quality testing machine; etc.

Signs of potential bottlenecks are:

  • Throughput — Look at the throughput of the whole inspection. Which tasks limit the overall throughput?
  • Accumulation — Are products piling up in front of a particular inspection task?
  • Capacity — Is one inspection task completely “maxed out” (i.e. it’s running continuously or engineers are performing this one task almost all of their time)?
  • Wait Times — Do products have a long wait at a particular step in inspection?

List all the potential bottleneck tasks in your inspection process.

A robot will probably not be able to perform all of the tasks, but list them all anyway.

3. Identify the Real Bottleneck

Once you have a list of potential bottlenecks, try to identify which is “the real bottleneck.” Remember, there is only ever one bottleneck at a time.

If you can solve your bottleneck task with a robot, you can improve the throughput of your entire inspection process.

The key to identifying the real bottleneck is looking at capacity. Which inspection task is constantly maxed out? In other words, for which task has demand exceeded capacity?

This is trickier to work out for an inspection task than, say, for a manufacturing task. Often, all inspection tasks are carried out by the same engineers so it’s harder to judge the capacity of an individual task. However, your inspection engineers are likely to intuitively recognize which task is holding up everything else.

4. Pick Your Robot Task

When you have identified your real bottleneck, consider how you can address it using a robot.

There are two ways that a robot can be used in this way:

  1. Deploy the robot to the bottleneck itself — In this case, your robot will help by improving the capacity of the task. For example, if the bottleneck is running an inspection probe over the products, the robot will carry out this inspection task.
  2. Free up time for the engineers to tackle the bottleneck — In this case, the robot cannot achieve the bottleneck task itself; for example, if the bottleneck task is analyzing the inspection data in your quality control software. However, imagine that an inspection engineer spends 40% of their time loading and unloading a CMM machine. The robot can be given this task so that the engineer can spend more time on the bottleneck.

You want to pick a task which has as many of the following properties as possible:

  • It doesn’t require lots of new technology investment — If the task requires you to buy lots of new technology, it’s not the best choice for a first robotic deployment. Where possible, try to integrate your existing inspection technology with the robot.
  • It will make a real difference to productivity — You can ensure that the robot will improve your productivity by making it address the bottleneck.
  • It’s an existing manual task — The robot deployment will be easier if you simply replace an existing manual task. This gives you a shortcut by using the inspection engineers’ existing knowledge and expertise. Of course, it is possible to use a robot for a brand new inspection task but it takes more work.
  • It doesn’t require lots of integration — The quicker you can get your automated inspection task up and running, the quicker you can see a return on investment. Using tools like RoboDK will save you integration time and give you a real head start.

See our previous article for even more details on picking a robot-suitable inspection task.

5. Calibrate and Program

Accuracy is vital for many inspection tasks. The key to accuracy is good calibration. See our robot calibration page for details of how to calibrate with RoboDK. Not all tasks will need this level of calibration. If your task doesn’t, you should still perform a basic tool calibration.

When you are ready, you can now program the robot for the task. The exact steps of this will vary depending on your application.

Make sure to check out our Examples page for demonstrations of how to perform many common tasks with RoboDK. When looking at these examples, remember that the task name may be different from your inspection task even though the action of the robot will be the same. For example, a scanning task with an inspection probe will be almost identical to a painting or machining task.

How could robotic metrology help your business? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or in the RoboDK Forum.

About Alex Owen-Hill

Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.

View all posts by Alex Owen-Hill

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