Material Handling

Robots vs. Humans

Does automation eliminate jobs? The answer is both yes and no, which is to say that it’s a little more complicated than that. If we look at the global working population from the Industrial Revolution until today, the answer to that question is a resounding “NO, automation does not eliminate jobs.” Many more people are working today than were employed 200 years ago, even as technological innovations steadily eroded the jobs available to humans.

Perhaps a better question to ask is which jobs were eliminated by automation. You won’t find any buggy whip manufacturers in your town, unless it’s in a place like Colonial Williamsburg. Nobody is hand-making nails or binding books on a hand press.

The types of human jobs that are going to continue to be replaced by automation are the 4 D’s:

Dirty

Robots don’t complain about working conditions. Their “bodies” are built to withstand factory conditions that would not be acceptable to a human. This can give robots a huge financial advantage. No health care. No sick leave. No workmen’s comp claims.

Difficult

Humans are incredibly adept at doing complex tasks. The fact is, however, that humans do not complete those tasks in a repeatable fashion with near zero tolerance precision over an extended period of time with no rest. Robots can do very difficult tasks, like heavy multi-pass arc welding while making corrections and adjustments on the fly. They can sort, pick and place boxes that are coming from 6, 8, 10 different conveyor lines simply by reading a bar code. It’s more difficult to implement than it looks, but that’s why you pay an integrator. (Shameless plug)

Dull

Repetitive tasks can drive employees batty, but a robot never gets bored. It will perform the same task the same way all day and all night long, without making errors due to fatigue or other factors common to human labor. The old picture of an automotive assembly line with a bunch of people doing the same thing all day has been replaced by a sea of robots.

Dangerous

Toxic fumes, explosive conditions and other hazards can make human employment undesirable or impossible. Thankfully we can send robots in to do the work instead. Many industries have already incorporated robotic paint booths. Chemicals manufacturers are steadily adopting robots into their environments as well.

Robots will never replace humans. Humans are your most valuable and infinitely deployable asset. Robots will, however, take over more and more tasks. Your task is to figure out which ones. We can help you in that process.

Call or email for more information.

Dan Askins

Dan@isirobots.com

843-395-0508

Will Robinson Robot

Do I need a robot? Four questions to ask about robotic automation

 

Some industries are covered up with robot automation. The auto industry was an early and prolific adopter. Others lagged behind but are beginning to catch up. If your company has never added robot automation, it can be an overwhelming process to decide if this is the right thing for you to pursue. Below is a guide to help you figure it all out.

Car Factory

1. Are my components repeatable?

This might seem elementary, but it is usually the biggest hurdle we face in robot automation for new customers. You might think your parts are all the same, but most often they are not. What happens in many factories is that humans make allowances for part variation. A human can shimmy or shove or bend a less than perfect part. In most cases, robots are not quite that flexible or intuitive. Robots only do what they are told.

We do have tools in the toolbox, such as search functions and seam tracking, but those take time, which is a luxury. The auto industry now designs all their parts to be precise and without any large tolerance stackups. The higher engineering and design costs are offset by the savings generated by robot efficiency and cycle time improvements. In other words, their parts are designed to be automation friendly. Quality control measures will need to be implemented as a result of or prior to robot automation. The benefit to that is we see upstream processes improve, which is a positive unintended consequence of robotic automation.

2. Are my processes repeatable?

Do you make the same part the same way across part families? Gone are the days of huge batch production runs. One piece flow is the standard. Robot programming has come a long way in accommodating this new reality. The trick is to create a flow that can be broken down into manageable components that are somewhat repeatable.

We look for patterns that can be programmed across part families. Sometimes we can create a fixture that will hold more than one part family, because they all share a common location. This saves the customer a lot of money in fixture costs and changeout time. The other end of that spectrum, however, is that we can create a tool that tries to do too much. It becomes cumbersome and difficult to program. Finding the balance is a big part of our job as integrators.

3. Can I justify the expense?

Robotic automation is an incredible tool, but sometimes, it’s just not worth it. That might seem a little strange to be coming from a robot integrator, but we understand the realities of our business. One of the ironies we face is that very little of what we do in our own facility is automated. We have to hand-weld all of our fixtures, because they are all so unique. It wouldn’t make sense to program a robot for that task, as it would take longer to program than to weld it.

By the same token, it is important to look at all the costs associated with manufacturing your particular item.

  • What is the safety value of a robot doing this task versus a human?
  • How much re-work can you eliminate with a robot?
  • Will automation allow you to add capacity, since robots can work virtually non-stop?
  • Will automation free up labor to perform other, less automation friendly, tasks?

4. Is everybody on board?

Accountant
It is often difficult to bridge the gap between engineering and accounting. Their respective goals may seem to be diametrically opposed, but what we have found is that every actor in the decision process is trying to do the best thing for the company. Labor can be very resistant to robotic automation, viewing it as a threat to job security. How will employees react to this new reality? The most successful automation projects involve everyone in the decision process.

All these factors count for something and merit a close look. Robotic automation can give your company a huge competitive edge, but it can also be a burden that is too great to bear. Take your time and make an informed decision. Let us know if we can help.

Integrator Dater

Choosing a robot integrator is like choosing a spouse. You need to proceed with caution and patience, with a view toward the future. Many integrators have a great appearance, but are not equipped to follow through on the promises they make. Below are some questions to ask that can help you choose the right “mate”:

  • Have you done this before?Marriage
    • Plasma welding is far different from heavy multi-pass welding or aluminum welding. Your particular application might have unique challenges that the integrator has never faced before.
    • The same goes for material handling. Anybody can throw down a conveyor. Can they handle 64 unique SKU’s on 8 different lines?
  • What robots do you work with?Not all robots are built the same. Some brands are better at particular tasks than others. We work across several robot platforms, which allows us to be “robot neutral”. ISI works with the customer to make the best fit for their particular application and environment.
  • What is your specialty?Can do
    • If an integrator says, “Yeah we can do that too,” you might want to choose another partner. Nobody is great at everything. Perhaps a Porsche can get through that mud bog, but do you really want to try it out on your dime?Porsche Mud
    • At ISI we focus on two main areas: welding and material handling. We have a depth and breadth of knowledge in these two segments that gives us a great deal of confidence to do just about anything. We don’t know much about paint, however, so we don’t do it.
  • What is your timeframe?
    • It is a happy dilemma to be busy. Any integrator worth its salt should have a plate full of work, but they should also be able to give you a reasonable date to complClockete your project. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver.