Choosing to automate a shop or production line with robots is a decision that should be made enthusiastically, yet thoughtfully. Robots can boost production, improve part handling, and free workers from backbreaking and expensive manual labor.
There are several considerations in selecting a robot, the first being to determine what exactly the robot will do. Next, the payload that the robot will need to lift must be established. One caution with payload is to be sure to factor in the weight of the end-of-arm-tooling (EOAT) in the total payload consideration. End-of-arm-tooling can include implements like grippers, vacuum grips, welders, or drills. Then the space the robot will work in needs to be considered. This includes both how far the robot needs to reach and what its range-of-motion needs to be to effectively do the job. Based on that information, it will be clear if the shop has enough space to accommodate the necessary robot range-of-motion.
Once the specifications of application, reach, footprint, and payload are defined, the potential robot buyer must consider budget. Budget limits will define what robot manufacturer to shop for as well as whether a new or refurbished used robot should be considered.
A good example of how to choose the right robot(s) is the Mennie Machine Company of Mark, Illinois. The Mennie Machine Company specializes in high quality machined castings and forgings for the automotive and construction market. Mennie’s decision to automate its production took into account the fact that it had relatively heavy and awkward parts that are ideal candidates for automation.
In selecting a robot type, Mennie’s had to consider several factors. First, they had to determine how far the robots needed to reach, how they needed to move, and what they had to pick up or handle. Second, they had to determine if they had the space for the robots to be able to move and if they could even be mounted in the way that Mennie’s needed. Lastly, they had to determine what kind of dexterity and gripper type the robots needed to have to appropriately handle the parts. With all of these factors considered, Mennie’s selected the FANUC M-6i, M-16i, S-430iF and LR Mate 100i.
The Mennie Machine Company was able to choose the right robot to automate several complex processes from drilling, to heat-treating, and grinding. Mennie’s robot selection was effective because it considered what kind of part each FANUC robot would need to be working with and made sure to select the right robot with enough gripping or machining attachment options to assure the job could be done. In Mennie’s process, the M-6i and M-16i robots, capable of lifting 13.2 lbs and 35 lbs respectively, primarily load and unload metal parts into a series of different lathes, drillers and rollers. The S-430iF, capable of lifting 286 lbs, then sequentially loads and unloads pallets of the parts into and out of four machines that perform various groove and ream operations.
Mennie’s also made sure the robot cells would be easily accessible by fork trucks or conveyors for product movement and for robot maintenance. Overall, Mennie’s was able to increase its machine uptime by 15% and cut production costs by 25% because they chose the right robots for their production line. Clearly, once the decision to automate a shop is made, the most important thing is selecting the proper robot(s) to accomplish the task at hand.