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WORLD OF INDUSTRIES - Industrial Automation 5/2017

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WORLD OF INDUSTRIES - Industrial Automation 5/2017

The two sides of the

The two sides of the coin CONTROL AND DRIVE TECHNOLOGY This new industrial trend human-robot collaboration implies a lot of talk and discussion: Are robots killing jobs? Isn’t working with collaborative robots still dangerous? Is their implementation costly and time-consuming? With all these questions, it is worth taking a closer look at both sides of the coin. Human-robot collaboration holds a high potential and numerous chances for both companies and their employees. It naturally takes time until a new technology is generally accepted. What was true for the automobile at that time now also holds true for automation – and, of course, for human-robot collaboration. This new industrial trend sees workers and so called collaborative robots (dubbed ‘cobots’) moving closer together and ideally working hand in hand without any or with minimal protective fencing. Although there is a lot of talk and discussion going on about this new form of cooperation between humans and machines, it has not yet found full-coverage use in industrial production. The new technology still poses a lot of questions, which need answering. Why robots are getting ever more indispensable Business leaders always have to think ahead. In times of globalized markets the pressure of worldwide competition and pricing is higher than ever. Each and every investment – especially in new technologies – not only has to be useful, but also sustainable. Therefore, many companies see automation solutions as the key to meet the Author: Helmut Schmid, Managing Director of Universal Robots (Germany) GmbH and General Manager Western Europe, München, Germany economic changes and challenges of coming years. Adidas Speedfactory is a very good example to illustrate what those challenges will likely be: The Speedfactory is able to produce a unique pair of sports shoes in only about five hours – with the help of robots. At the moment, the development and serial production of sports shoes including the designing in Germany and the fabrication in Asia takes up to 18 months including all transportation routes. The Speedfactory will enable adidas to produce cost-effectively and with high quality in Germany as well as offer their customers individualized products, tailor-made to their needs and requirements. Thus, adidas not only meets the trend for individualized goods, but also relocates parts of their production from Asia back to their original enterprise location – a strategy other Western companies also pursue and that can only come to success via automation. From quantity back to individuality and quality The aspects illustrated by adidas’ example also apply for almost any other industry, company size and production method: Whereas the variety of products rises, the product life cycles grow shorter. While faced with a real overkill in terms of the range of available consumer goods, consumers’ demands for individual, high-quality and sustainable products are increasing. However, meeting those varying customer demands and still operate on a profitable level is very challenging, as it means an ever-decreasing production volume down to lot size 1 with an ever increasing product variety at the same time. Companies are confronted with the need to implement highly flexible and adaptable production processes. Cobots can be seen as a suitable measure to meet these challenges. Combining the best from two worlds Human-robot collaboration means bringing together the best from two worlds. In consequence, humans and robots end up doing what they are best at. One complements the strengths of the other – and vice versa. It is advisable to automate tasks with cobots that show the following four characteristics: They are monotonous, like tightening bolts or machine tending, or ergonomically disadvantageous WORLD OF INDUSTRIES – INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION 5/2017

01 Employees and collaborative robots complement each others’ strengths at Swiss components supplier FME Feinmechanik AG 02 Implementing collaborative robotics enables companies of every size to raise their productivity and stand up to the global competition and repetitive activities, e.g. the manual cutting of certain components. Furthermore, these jobs often require the same constant speed and precision to guarantee a smooth production process and satisfactory product quality. Not only are humans generally overqualified for tasks like that, but they are also at a potential disadvantage compared to robots as regards speed and precision. Cobot solutions provide two advantages here: While the robot may take over repetitive, monotonous, ergonomically disadvantageous or even potentially dangerous tasks, it will free its human colleagues to pursue more creative and demanding jobs. As a result all resources will be used more efficiently. For the practical implementation, it is indispensable to find the right cobot for one’s needs: One that can not only work safely alongside human colleagues, but also function as a multi-purpose tool for many different tasks, be it Pick & Place, CNC, quality inspection, assembly or packaging. One robot – multiple applications Flexibility, ease-of-use and intuitive programming are the most important criteria that robots should fulfill in order to help businesses, especially small and medium-sized ones, to meet current and future production challenges. Only collaborative cobots, like Universal Robots’ UR3, UR5 und UR10, bring all necessary qualities to make automation for companies of all sized and industries successful: They are not only cost-efficient and flexible but can also be programmed easily and intuitively. This means that no highly specialized robot or IT experts are required to implement or operate these cobots. Instead, any employee can learn how to handle them. With robot arms against competitive pressure A quick glance at the production of a Swiss component supplier illustrates how this works in practice: With the help of cobot technology, FME Feinmechanik AG freed their workers from displeasing and monotonous tasks. Moreover, the small company’s robot application boosted productivity so successfully that a new employee had to be hired, contradicting the common prejudice of robots killing jobs. FME is a component supplier in high-precision mechanics and medical technology. It is a small company with around 15 employees and for a long time automation technology was not even up for debate: Traditional industrial robots were too big, too expensive and too dangerous. At the same time, the manifold product portfolio requires a highly flexible production, because FME produces anything from prototypes to series and on to ready-toinstall modules. Their products are as diverse as the produced lot sizes ranging from 50 to 10,000 pieces. Rising price pressure, dreary and tiresome tasks and the wish to be able to produce larger lot sizes eventually led to the implementation of cobots at FME. Today, a stationary UR10 robot and a UR5 on a mobile platform robot carry out all arduous tasks. Employees no longer have to put a screw collar into a machine every 13 sec. for eight hours during a shift. Not only did the two cobots bring the required flexibility, but also caused far-reaching changes within the company: As production could be tripled and the pricing is more competitive today, the cobots made it necessary to hire additional staff. Human-robot collaboration helps companies and their employees to optimize processes For manufacturing companies, collaborative lightweight robots are the new, economic alternative to expensive, traditional industrial robots. They make automation affordable and thus a realistic choice especially for small and medium sized enterprises. They can be handled and programmed intuitively, require very little space and allow for an easy and fast implementation everywhere. The cobots are flexible and, if required, mobile tools that can be retooled for different tasks within the manufacturing process. Downtime is reduced to a minimum. Therefore, cobots are ideally suited for companies which produce a wide range of products and small lot sizes. For employees on the other hand, cobots are the right tool to free them from monotonous and wearisome tasks. As a result, they can dedicate themselves to more creative jobs and work as productively as possible. Thanks to additional safety functions, it is possible for the cobot to work alongside its human co-workers without or with only minimal safety fencing. Therefore, it is one of the most outstanding characteristics of cobot technology to create additional value for both the company and its employees. Photographs: lead Adidas, 01 – 02 Universal Robots About Universal Robots The product portfolio includes the UR3, UR5 and UR10 robotic arms named after their payload in kilos. They are sold in more than 50 countries worldwide. The company, a part of Boston-based Teradyne Inc., has subsidiaries and regional offices in the U.S., Spain, Germany, Singapore, Czech Republic, India, and China. Universal Robots has has about 400 employees worldwide. WORLD OF INDUSTRIES – INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION 5/2017