Process and control today | Limits of industrial robots

Today, industrial robots are used in almost every industry – from automotive to plastics processing and medical technology. They bring many benefits to manufacturing facilities and pave the way for the smart factories of the future. Nevertheless, there are certain limitations that manufacturers must take into account when choosing their robotic equipment. This is Neil Ballinger, EMEA manager at the automation parts supplier EU Automationdiscusses these limitations and how to overcome them.

The need for automated processes is growing, with the industrial robot market expected to reach $31.3 billion in 2028, according to Fortune Business Insights. Manufacturers are increasingly aware of the potential commercial and production benefits of implementing robots. Nevertheless, industrial robots are not without drawbacks. Here are some of their most common limitations and some suggestions on what manufacturers can do to overcome them.

Affordability

Typically, industrial robots require a large initial investment, including additional installation and setup costs. Manufacturers must also consider future maintenance costs and the need for additional components.

Likewise, robotics is an ever-evolving industry, with improved machines always appearing on the market. Investing in new robots on a regular basis can be difficult for some companies, especially smaller ones that could go bankrupt trying to keep up with industry trends.

However, industrial robots can help manufacturers reduce costs in different areas. They can reduce production costs and increase profits by optimizing work. With a clear investment strategy and financial plan, robots are most likely to bring a quick return on investment.

Another smart alternative is to invest in refurbished robots. As a general rule, used robots cost half the cost of new ones, while maintaining their efficiency and operability.

Security

Industrial robots have always been considered dangerous in factories. And for good reason: they are big, bulky pieces of equipment that can move at very fast speeds. Older machines don’t even have the sensory capabilities to detect nearby humans, making them prone to dangerous collisions and accidents. For this reason, many manufacturers add cages or dividers to separate robots from their human colleagues.

More recently, with the introduction of collaborative robots, which are smaller, lighter and designed specifically for working with humans, safety has become one of the main priorities in industrial automation. More regulatory practices have been put in place for large industrial robots and cobots.

While there is still some way to go to achieve absolute safety in the plant, there is no doubt that progress is being made. New technologies such as light curtains, laser scanners and presence sensing devices are widely accepted as a method to increase personal safety.

It is also good practice for manufacturers to carry out an individual risk assessment of their production line and to train workers on how to react in the event of a potential accident.

More difficult to train

Industrial robots require expert programming and training to perform tasks, so companies must hire experienced engineers and programmers to oversee robot installation. In addition to this, even experienced staff may need retraining when new software is developed or new robots appear in the market. If a robot is not programmed correctly, it can cause it to malfunction and injure those around it.

However, in recent years, a new method of training robots has been implemented: no-code or low-code programming. It allows employees with less coding experience to set up a robot using visual modeling and drag-and-drop user interfaces. Due to the easy-to-use format of the no-code and low-code platforms, the robots can also be reprogrammed for different jobs by simply adjusting their arm. Where businesses would once need multiple robots, a simple adjustment can now be done by a non-technical person, saving businesses time, space, and money.

The trend for low-code and no-code platforms is on the rise, with 84% of companies in the US, UK, Canada and Australia implementing low-code development platforms to reduce coding needs.

Industrial robots have been proven to simplify human labor, provide quick ROI for manufacturers, and streamline production. However, they are not without limits. They are more difficult to train than humans, require high investment and maintenance costs, and pose security issues. While these concerns are valid for manufacturers, they can be addressed with careful planning and new technologies to overcome them. At EU Automation, we believe that industrial robots are indispensable assets for smart factories and we always keep up to date with the latest news regarding their developments.

If you want to keep up to date with advances in industrial robotics, visit www.euautomation.com.

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Mavis R. Bernier