The answer might not be what you think.
There are a lot of romantic notions about what a collaborative robot application is supposed to look like – especially if you are talking with a cobot manufacturer. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of cobots and human workers cohabitating and being productive. You know, the human doing human things and then handing the work piece to the cobot so it can do its cobot things and so on. Two ‘workers’ in close proximity, making productive music.
That said, in PCC Robotics’ experience as a certified integrator for Universal-Robots, we see a lot of applications from initial idea to implementation, and beyond. Of course, the notion of fast implementation, limited physical guarding to design & install, and relative ease of programming are all very attractive. All that aside, I truly believe the number one reason customers invest in this technology is the ability to repurpose the solution when things change. And in 2022 things are most certainly going to change.
Believe me, I am not saying this in a I bet this happens a lot kind of way. I say this because three of the last five installs we did, the customer had to make a major pivot shortly after implementation. In two cases, things changed the day we installed. Yep, that’s life in 2022! It is bad enough manufacturers are struggling with one of the worst labor markets in history, rising material costs, and a lack of available material. I am also hearing not many people are getting written commitments from customers, putting a real strain on their ability to plan and deliver, especially when it comes time to invest in capacity and/or automation.
So, what does a “repurposing” of a collaborative robot installation really look like?
Well, let’s look at a real-world example. Case in point – local manufacturer installs system to feed a spot-welding machine on a piece of business they expect to have for several years with a major small engine manufacturer. Lots of planning went into this one:
- complete with integration to an automatic nut feeder,
- a spot-welding machine,
- an indexing conveyor,
- and of course, a Universal-Robots UR10e.
Development and testing went terrific, and it was time for installation. On the day of installation, the equipment was landed in place and I/O testing went great. We even rolled into production early afternoon. But that afternoon word came down the small engine manufacturer was ending the program and would be canceling orders within the month.
Panic? Gnashing of teeth? Crying in the streets?
Well, let’s be real here, this was not a joyous occasion. But after some reflection and analysis of similar machines and processes, we identified a suitable replacement which largely protected the original investment. The robot, machine base, gripper, indexing conveyor, and some accessories were all saved.
About 80% of the original investment will be redeployed, with minimal rework and programming.
Of course, not every installation will have this level of recovery. But the nimbleness of a collaborative application not burdened by an entire infrastructure of physical guarding and application-specific machine safety controls, allows for a much simpler redeployment path. Sure, I love the romantic side of cobots as much as anyone else, but their ability to change uniforms and fight a new fight when things go sideways is what really drives a lot of these decisions.
Serving Midwest manufacturers, PCC Robotics delivers turnkey collaborative robot (cobot) based systems utilizing Universal-Robots as its foundation. These systems are often commissioned in hours/days vs. weeks/months allowing the manufacturer to quickly realize the ROI, which is typically less than 200 days.