As robotics industry grows, so do system needs

Solidifying best practices becomes the key to successful integration.

By Bob Doyle, Sofia Nordenstam December 17, 2018

As robots become more collaborative, there is a need for new mobility, deep learning, and artificial intelligence technologies. There are also advancements in systems integration and an increased need for robotic engineers and services.

This creates a challenge for companies searching for the best solutions for their company—and an urgency for system integrators to be able to deliver capabilities and preventive measures.

Companies that never have used automation are starting to integrate collaborative robots. There are a few reasons for this, which include:

  • Cheaper and faster to setup
  • Easier to integrate into existing systems
  • Take up less floor space than traditional industrial applications
  • Can operate more than one machine
  • Have multiple uses, which allows for a quick return on investment (ROI).

Advanced system integration

Companies new to automation are not always prepared for the safety and training considerations involved in the integrating collaborative robot, or aware of their responsibility to comply with industry regulations. Also, they often do not understand the total cost of ownership (TCO) associated with a collaborative robot.

This places more responsibility on the system integrator to inform, train, and coach the company through their transition to robotic automation. A system integrator’s goal is to provide a turnkey automation solution while optimizing efficiency, safety, and quality.

Taking the next steps

Experienced robot integrators adhere to a system of best practices along with the latest technology and processes being used in order to make robot systems integration more reliable and efficient. These include:

  • Simulation: Integrators use robotic simulation to visualize and demonstrate work cell concepts before a single piece of equipment is purchased or a part is processed. Simulation software has become more advanced. Integrators are able to test robot reach and tool efficiency, detect collision risks, estimate cycle times, and evaluate safety threats, all during the design phase.
  • Offline programming: An offshoot of simulation, offline programming (OLP) is the process of converting simulated robot motions and operating sequences into robot controller-specific tasks. In an offline scenario, programming can be done in parallel with system assembly and other integration processes. OLP reduces onsite programming time, freeing up the system for production.
  • Fault recovery: The ability for the operator to quickly and easily recover from interruptions to system operation due to errors or unexpected variations in processing is a critical element of any robotic solution. The troubleshooting interface must be intuitive and easy to use.
  • Project management: Managing all the phases in a system’s integration lifecycle can be a herculean task. From design and procurement to build and installation, the robot integrator must be skilled at managing the calendar to ensure on-time delivery. Project managers need to plan carefully and may need to schedule multiple subcontractors to handle parallelization of work.
  • Safety: Safety compliance is a vital step in every systems integration project. Effectively selecting from the range of robotic safety devices available and integrating them require experience and a thorough understanding of industry standards.

These standards include ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012: Industrial Robots and Robot Systems – Safety Requirements and ISO 10218-2011: Robots and Robotic Devices – Safety Requirements for Industrial Robots, as well as the new ISO/TS 15066: 2016 – Robots and Robotic Devices – Collaborative Robots released in 2016 that focuses on collaborative robots. 

Future safety documents

Technical reports (TRs) are informative documents that provide guidance on interpreting and adhering to the ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 robot safety standard. Two additional TRs are slated for completion at the end of 2018 and early 2019: RIA TR15.806-2018 and RIA TR15.706-2019.

  • RIA TR15.806-2018 describes test methods and metrics for measuring the pressures and forces associated with human contact with collaborative industrial robot applications. This TR also provides guidance on determining the conditions of the test measurements.
  • RIA TR15.706-2019 explains some end-user responsibilities, and provides guidance to end-users of robot systems to enable the safe use of the robot systems in their facilities. Compliance with this TR only can be achieved when using robot and robot systems that are compliant with R15.06.

Robotics industry statistics

Robot shipments in North America set a new record for units ordered in the first nine months of 2018, but new orders declined, according to RIA.

A total of 28,158 robots, valued at $1.39 billion, were shipped to North American companies in the first nine months of 2018, an increase of 9% in units but a decrease of 7% in revenue over the same period in 2017, which held the previous record. Robot shipments are a historically accurate indicator of the number of robots delivered and installed by North American customers. During the same period, robot orders—a forward-looking indicator of new bookings by robot manufacturers in North America—fell 17% from 2017 levels to 22,708, valued at $1.31 billion.

The record shipment volumes levels were driven primarily by strong growth in demand for robots in industries such as food and consumer goods (59% growth in units over 2017), life sciences (53%), and plastics and rubber (53%). Additionally, 5% more units were shipped to the automotive component industry—the largest customer base for industrial robotics in North America—in the first nine months of 2018 compared to 2017.

The decline in new robot orders in 2018 was tied almost exclusively to cyclicality in the automotive industry. Both automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and component suppliers did not purchase as many robots as they did to begin 2017. In the first nine months of 2017, the automotive industry (OEMs and component suppliers combined) ordered 18,490 robots, valued at $944 million. To begin 2018, they ordered 11,830, valued at $748 million (decreases of 36 and 26% respectively). Meanwhile, non-automotive industries continued to order more robots in the life sciences (30%), food and consumer goods (24%), plastics and rubber (16%), and electronics (14%) sector, all of them experiencing double digit growth in units ordered.

“Despite the cyclical swing in automotive orders, which we’ve seen before, interest in new robotics technologies continues to grow,” said RIA president, Jeff Burnstein. “Today’s robotics industry offers innovative products, fulfilling employment opportunities, and competitive advantages for a wide variety of companies.”

RIA sees the rising interest in robotics reflected in the growth of its membership and networking events. In October, RIA reached a new membership milestone with 530 member companies from across the globe. The trade group also concluded its International Robot Safety Conference in Detroit and Collaborative Robots, Advanced Vision and AI Conference in Silicon Valley (co-hosted with RIA’s sister association AIA), which each had record attendance.

Each of the events drew users, OEMs, integrators, and manufacturers of all sizes who were interested in learning about the latest in robot safety, collaborative technology, and other innovative developments in the automation industry.

These areas are changing quickly for robotics, which is why RIA and its parent group the Association for Advancing Automation are looking forward to more attendance records at the Automate 2019 trade show in Chicago. “With five months to go, the exhibit floor at Automate 2019 is already larger than our final 2017 event,” Burnstein said. “Small- and medium-sized companies, many of whom are just now beginning to explore automation, make up the core of the Automate 2019 attendee base. This event is designed to showcase the latest and greatest innovations in automation, and we are excited for a great event in 2019.”

Automate, North America’s largest automation show, will be held at McCormick Place in Chicago, April 8-11, 2019. The exhibition is free to attend, and event registration is now open on the Automate 2019 website. 

RIA-certified robot integrator program

Established in 2012, the RIA-Certified Robot Integrator Program has gained recognition for providing robot integrators with a way to benchmark against industry best practices while at the same time allowing robot users to develop a baseline for evaluating robot integrators. To become certified, robot integrators go through a rigorous process that includes an onsite audit, safety training, hands-on testing of key personnel, and other important criteria.

Bob Doyle is vice president and Sofia Nordenstam is manager of marketing and membership for the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). The RIA is part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media content partner.

Author Bio: Bob Doyle is vice president and Sofia Nordenstam is manager of marketing and membership for the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).