Redefining automation as a dynamic alternative for manufacturers
Garry Lewis, Market Development Manager at Omron, uses the example of end-of-line palletising to explore the opportunities for blended working, using collaborative robots (cobots) to redefine automation as a dynamic alternative for manufacturers.
Automation is often framed as humans vs machines, but in a post covid world, what piece of the strategy of employing humans and machines is most critical to achieving a balance? And what if, we can change the narrative from ‘people working like robots’ to ‘people working with robots,’ with proven results for health and safety, increased efficiencies and reduced wastage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way in which people view work. Right from hours to place of work, many have decided to turn away from roles that are repetitive, lack progression opportunities or pose risks to their mental or physical wellbeing.
At the same time, technology is advancing every day. Concluding the age-old debate around whether robots are trying to take over the jobs of humans, we can see another way to create a blended working environment with the potential to alter the story.
Rather than replacing workers, here, cobots can empower workers who want to work alongside robots. This has the potential to reignite a passion for automation and robotics with those who can share the cobot vision and future potential, even much earlier in the process than originally considered.
Cobots of the future
Cobots need to be programmed, operated, and maintained. They enable creative problem solving and inspire solution-orientated thinking. These machines can now step in to tackle heavy, tedious or unpleasant tasks, freeing their human colleagues up for more high-value work that requires more thought or a considered human touch.The key to success is using these new technologies effiectively in roles that bring tangible benefits to a supply chain, where speed is of the essence as is the requirements for safety, maximum efficiency and flexibility.
Setting the scene
End of line palletising is one example that is perfectly suited to use of cobots automation. The simple yet repetitive and physically demanding process of getting goods stacked has traditionally led to complications when performed manually. In today’s world, staff shortages and an ageing workforce are holding back on an ability to operate and capitalise on the post-pandemic supply and demand.
Most robotic palletisers are still large, bulky systems that take up significant space in an environment where it is at a premium. Space requirements in factories and warehouses, especially during end-of-line processes, is an important challenge in robotic palletiser implementation.
Robotic palletisers can positively impact the safety of employees, removing a significant cause of RSIs and more severe injuries. However they do introduce new machinery into the workplace, presenting a different kind of risk.
Palletisers must be installed and appropriately secured, plus staff have to be adequately trained to ensure safe use. They require safety considerations through fencing and light guards, which can increase the space palletisers use. Additionally, software design for robotic palletisers can often be based on complex programming languages that require costly and time-consuming training to master.
The cobot vision
At first glance, the hurdles to implement robotic palletisers may seem too great.
Recognising these challenges, Omron in collaboration with Reeco, has developed a new approach to end of line palletising. Creating an easy, flexible, safe, and compact solution to getting stock palletised and ready for transport.
The RB1200 is designed for small footprint installations. Giving facilities the benefits of robotic palletising without taking up too much space and restricting other operations. Coming with fully-integrated safety features, for quick deployment and compliance, each RB1200 system includes safety fencing for each pallet runway, thus restricting and monitoring entry points through the use of safety scanners.
Omron’s collaborative robots come with the TMFlow software package, ensuring ease to use without compromising on their capabilities. TMFlow’s intuitive interface makes software design quick and simple while interfacing seamlessly with the RB1200’s EasyStack Visual software, plus its offline editor offers the flexibility to create and modify programs without being connected to the palletiser.
Simple to understand
Reeco’s EasyStack Visual software, is designed to be flexible and maximise utilisation. The interface with easy to understand visual aids allows users to programme new pallet formats quickly. Configuration takes a few steps with only basic pallet/box parameters and layer design/stack preference inputs required. EasyStack reduces the changeover time for palletiser applications keeping business moving and more profitable. The tool is designed for use by line operators without the need for engineering support. Plus, the plug and play palletiser can be redeployed between lines quickly to meet facilities demands.
Its compact size reduces the footprint required for operation and comprehensive safety features allow for quick and compliant deployment. Its software design is based on an intuitive and easy to learn interface and flexible use that works no matter the application, reducing downtime and maximising utilisation
Ultimately, the RB1200 presents a pick rate of 12 items per minute and the ability to handle products up to 10kg, ensuring greater throughput in business. In some situations and with a reduced pick rate, payloads of up to 12kg are possible. Plus, all this comes with a lower price, saving up to 50% compared to traditional robotic palletiser systems.
Achieving the balance
In summary, much has been made of the growing investment in automation and robotics, especially in the past years since the pandemic struck.
What we are seeing is an awful lot of incremental improvements, rather than step changes as hesitancies remain over the human v robot debate. The UK was viewed as a slow adopter of such technology, but it seems we may have turned a corner as things like vision systems becoming more capable and easier to use as well as robots getting faster. Crucially, we are seeing cobots being developed that can carry higher weights, making them even more applicable for more applications.
This makes them even more viable to support the supply chain process and take on more processes. They are proving to solve concerns such as skills shortages and the potential for health and safety issues, which carry significant penalties for non-compliance.
Cobots such as the RB1200 Cobot Palletiser, offers greater flexibility and choice, with the potential to transform production and manufacturing environments, and in turn helping businesses better utilise the people they do have. Rather than replacing workers, cobots are a way to encourage a workforce to operate together, with renewed motivation not only to survive, but thrive, progress and succeed.