Between 2021 and 2026, the automated material handling equipment market is forecast to grow at a steady 12.0% CAGR. Manufacturers are using cheaper, more adaptable and agile robots to meet demanding requirements and remain competitive in the face of the global pandemic and beyond. This is especially true for applications involving material handling, such as assembly, picking, packaging and machine tending.
Manufacturers are increasingly using robots to increase operational efficiency, improve product quality and reduce manufacturing costs.
As the complexity of consumer demands increases, companies are moving from fixed automation designs to flexible automation options with more adaptable technologies. Fast, compact industrial robots are transforming many primary and secondary packaging requirements, while higher payload and extended reach models are optimising end-of-line tasks. Designed to work safely with or alongside humans, collaborative robots are also facilitating extremely productive workspaces.
The development of user-friendly robots and advancing safety standards have made it easier for companies to use robotic technology. Human co-workers can now work safely alongside or near robots, performing predetermined tasks as needed. Taking into account the following factors.
Robot stop mode is designed to detect the entry of people into a supervised workspace, momentarily stopping the robot’s movement until the person is free. The supervised safety stop uses a processor housed in the robot controller that monitors the robot’s range of motion as well as speed functions. Compatible with all robots that come equipped with a functional safety unit (FSU).
Power and Force Limiting (PFL) technology, present in robots such as the HC10XP and HC20XP, makes them intrinsically safe by design. These robots are perfect for frequent human-robot interaction, as they all include dual-channel torque sensors, which allow for quick response to contact.
Pushbuttons installed on the robots allow both safe human-robot contact and the use of manual guidance. Some PFL collaborative robots have a special function called manual guidance. By physically moving the robot from one place to another, a robot programmer can teach the robot a program path.
Pick-and-place robots are ideally suited for use in this mode, which requires regular human-robot contact to maximise cycle times. Speed and separation monitoring uses laser scanners or light curtains to detect human activity near the robot and FSU. The robot slows down to a safe rate when a human worker reaches the monitoring area.
Simple robots and tablet-based “teach pendants” are changing the way we engage with technology. Using a “click and program” technique, Smart Pendants allow humans to direct a robot using common instructions. The intuitive Smart Pendant revolutionises robot programming by making the operator the frame of reference, eliminating the need for traditional coordinate frames (X, Y, Z).
Programming languages that do not require proprietary languages are being used to program industrial robots. Using motion control platforms or programmable logic controller (PLC) solutions, such as the MLX300 controller software, operators can simply monitor the robots and the components around them. Manufacturers can meet the demands of dynamic packaging with Singular ControlTM of various mechanisms, such as industrial robots, servo systems and variable frequency drives.
Around 80% of distribution centres currently operate manually with limited manpower, increasing the need for robotic automation. Distributed manufacturing systems (DMS) are a network of regionally dispersed facilities that are managed by human workers and interspersed with industrial, collaborative and mobile robots. Dynamic factory and distribution environments are meeting diverse production needs by combining robots, vision systems, customised end-of-arm tools (EOATs) and more.
Before choosing a specific handling application, a full risk assessment with an expert robot supplier or integrator is strongly recommended. Space is limited, as most installations are designed for manual staff. Retrofitting everything for robotics and other forms of automation is virtually impossible without considerable expense, because most manufacturing and logistics organisations have already invested extensively in their existing infrastructure.
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