Buying, specifying robotics
Industrial robots and related hardware, software, peripherals, robotic safety, training, installation, integration, and maintenance were among topics covered in the 2019 Control Engineering and Plant Engineering 2019 Robotics Research survey. Summary survey results appear below; see the full research report at www.controleng.com/research and www.plantengineering.com/research. This is critical information for those interested in increasing throughput, quality and staying competitive. It’s not a question of if you’ll be buying and using the latest industrial robots, it’s a matter of when.
Robots, robotics, integration
About 70% of respondents buy or specify robots. Many other products and services include robot or vision sensors (64%); robot grippers (59%); robot software (52%); robotics as part of a larger machine system or workcell (50%), robot control panels and enclosures (49%). More than another dozen related products or services go with are noted. The diversity of robotic software, training, and components shows the need for a wider engineering effort when working on robotic specifications. There’s much more than the robot to consider. Especially important are robot sensor and vision, grippers and end of arm tooling (EOAT), which help a robot interact with its application. Without these, a robot arm is a moving enclosure of automation.
For those responding to this survey, more are doing their own integration (45%) than hiring others to help (34%). It seems robot manufacturers, like other automation providers, are making their offerings easier to set up, program, and operate, perhaps because time to productivity has become a more important metric with demographic pressures and the skills gap. Robotics experts can help shorten that time, whether on staff or from a robotic system integrator involved in the project.
Articulated robots are the most common robot type (72%).
Other common types (double digits) include robots applied or modified for collaborative use, collaborative robots (by design, speed or force limiting), cartesian robots, gantry robots, mobile robots, and selective compliant articulated robot arm (SCARA) robots. Since all collaboratively designed robots observed to date are articulated robots, these also could be counted as articulated robots. It also is worth noting mobile robots are on par with gantry and cartesian robots. A few years ago, mobile robots may not have made the top seven.
Software, controllers, applications
For open-source robot programming software, 27% said they use or would use; 31% said a controller from a third-party manufacturer guides robot movement.
Forty-seven percent of respondents have material handling/conveying applications; 34% said they have pick-and-place applications. Three types of machine vision are highlighted: machine vision, visible light (31%); machine vision 3-D (13%); and machine vision, infrared (10%). Machine vision can be involved in quality control, palletizing, pick and place, assembly and other applications.
Robotic safety, training
Just 9% find unacceptable safety risk associated with robots; 4% of respondents said a robotic safety risk isn’t being addressed. More than half of respondents (56%) don’t think those involved with robots get enough safety training. Of that, 14% could use a lot more. Respondents were clear they’re not receiving enough robot safety training. In addition to the human tragedy involved in robotic injuries or death, downtime and productivity losses related to worker morale can add up to more than what additional training would cost. This is an opportunity for those offering robot safety training, technologies, and procedures related to safety and risk reduction.
Consultants provide the most training (54%), compared to other robotic trainers (24%), RIA-certified integrators (21%), RIA online (17%), and other robotic system integrators (13%). Depending on position, 53 to 70% receive a sufficient or above average amount of robot training; 17 to 36% receive minimal or poor training, with robot maintenance staff receiving the least of the four roles at 36% receiving minimal or poor training. Robot safety training varies according to position, with robot maintenance staff (36%) and robot operators (27%) as the two positions getting least (or the most getting minimal or poor amount of training, as the question is phrased). Improvements are needed here.
Robotic purchase, specification
Just 12% have one or more predetermined robotics vendor.
Extremely and fairly important decisions for purchase or specification include safety devices (88%), throughput (87%), avoiding downtime (86%), and quality (86%). Throughput (64%) and quality (52%) are the largest purchasing reasons. Financing and justification are top obstacles to purchasing (42% each).
Robotic spending, timing
More than half expect their next robot purchase within a year. One-third of respondents said their next robot purchase is within the next six months; 4% within a year. Forty-three percent of respondents said they would be willing to consider a different vendor for their robot purchase, and 32% said “Maybe,” for a total of 75% that might switch vendors.
Advice from robotic survey respondents
Survey respondents were asked to provide robotic advice to peers in one or more of these topical areas. (Write-in responses are edited lightly for style and grammar.) General robotic advice includes the following:
Be familiar with your system.
Ensure you understand the robot capabilities before you purchase.
Robots are helpful if you get it right.
You need to have a geometrical mindset.
Robotic hardware, peripherals, software advice
Advice on robotic hardware, peripherals, software follows.
Beta test as much as possible. Remember once it goes live it’s harder to troubleshoot.
If you didn’t test it, it won’t work.
It pays to have a programming spec or programming standard for consistency and efficiency.
Know your trouble spots.
Robotic hardware, peripherals and software can be a challenge.
Robots need support from an in-house expert; attend training so you have the tools needed to support the entire system. Usually, these items are easy to fix but only if you go through the pain of struggling at the beginning. All of the parts of a robot system must work together, and you have to understand them; these skills can be learned.
Robots, software, and peripherals need better integration with other systems.
Robotic specification, installation, integration advice
Advice about robotic specification, installation and integration follows.
Be careful when evaluating collaborative robot applications. You need a safety risk assessment of the entire application including the robot tooling and parts to be handled.
Don’t forget about robot dress packages!
Know the big picture.
Robotic specification, installation and integration should not be difficult.
Specification, in my humble opinion, is the most-critical task.
Use simulation tools to prove reach-size/payload/cycle time and end effector design, if possible, before you buy the robot.
Work with an integrator who will partner with you to understand your needs and put safety first. Be detail-oriented. Don’t put yourself in a situation for failure when the system arrives at your facility.
Robotic diagnostics/maintenance, safety, training advice
Don’t get in over your head; seek help.
Get more training.
Get training for all involved from the robot manufacturer.
Learn how to collect data.
Robotic diagnostics/maintenance, safety, and training are essential.
Safety first, always!
Safety first. Embrace challenges, they are the fastest way to becoming a subject matter expert. Learn, learn, learn.
Safety is number one priority. Never put yourself in a situation where someone could be injured by equipment you installed. This will probably mean making some design compromises up front but they will be worth it. Provide your maintenance support with the required training so they can be successful. Anyone interacting with your system should have a clear understanding of what is and isn’t allowed and how to work safely with the robot.
The robot will probably be the most reliable part of your system.
There is almost always a reason for a “glitch” or a failure, dig deep to the root cause. If this were easy, everyone would do it!
Validate your robot safety and document it.
Mark T. Hoske is Control Engineering content manager, firstname.lastname@example.org; Hemdeep Kaur is CFE Media audience database technician; and Amanda Pelliccione is CFE Media and Technology director of research.
KEYWORDS: Industrial robots, robotics research
Robots, robotics, integration
Purchasing, safety training
Robotic advice from survey respondents.
How can robots increase your throughput?