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Southern Manufacturing & Electronics

Farnborough, Hants(GU14 6XL)

11/02/2020 - 13/02/2020

Southern Manufacturing and Electronics is the most comprehensive annual industrial exhibition in the (more)

Resist the urge to blame the robots

Production and packing lines will stop working for a number of reasons, yet the default assumption and human impulse will often be that a robotic malfunction is to blame. Paul Wilkinson of Pacepacker Services shares five reasons whey the buck does not always rest with automated intelligence.

Sometimes, when there is an element of complexity or variety in an operation, say on a packaging line, there’s an assumption that robotics is simply not up to the job. But let’s look at some of the issues around robotics that can impact on line efficiency.

A robot is only as good as its programming: It is essential that robots and other automated sections of your line are programmed to recognise and handle every stock-keeping unit, including all variants at the primary and secondary packaging stage. This means investing an equal amount of time understanding the full project scope as selecting and specifying equipment. Always check that the appropriate programming is available, compatible and easily accessible.

With product handling and case loading, problems may occur when integrators don’t fully consider the movement of the robotic arm from pick point to place point, the timings on the line, etc. To ensure all current and future expectations are considered, involve all personnel, from operator level up to directors, in discussions.

Keep your workforce on-side: Rather than being wary about the impact of automation, turn your workforce into champions of the technology. For operational reasons you may reassign them to more skilled or technical duties, however be mindful that in doing so you could be removing an essential layer of visual monitoring and inspection.

Instead of relying on short-term troubleshooting, encourage all operatives to stay vigilant and take responsibility for thinking through and resolving issues that might cause potential bottlenecks. Give clear, comprehensive training to those responsible for line changeovers.

Even the best teams need sound on-going technical support: The most clued-up your workforce can benefit from partnering with integrators that offer strong, on-going technical support. Even with the most well programmed robot, needs change after installation. Usually this will be driven by new customer production requirements. Yet, it’s surprising how often technology is mothballed when it can easily be reprogrammed to accommodate new production requirements.

Good Housekeeping is more than a magazine: Unless systems offer highly sophisticated self-diagnostics, routine actions like checking accumulation of product residues or dust can help avoid vital sensors being blocked or conveyor belts jamming which could trigger an overload.

Likewise, for smooth, uninterrupted operation, monitor wear and tear on key parts. Regular checks during scheduled downtime can help to prevent serious failures.

A good grasp on end effectors: As with programming, a robot is only as good as its end effectors. Where a single robot is performing multiple actions and handling a range of pack types and sizes, changeovers may involve substituting an end effector. Robust training and knowledge of processes will ensure the correct tool is selected for the job. To increase the longevity of different end effectors store them appropriately. For example, compressing a grippers foam pads when not in use can impact their ability to handle product effectively.

Overall, worker ‘buy-in’ at all levels is critical to seamless automated production success. A robotic malfunction is likely to be just part of the story and in most instances robots can’t be blamed for a production blip. In fact, well-programmed and maintained robots can liberate your workforce from mundane, labour intensive tasks, enabling everyone to use their time more productively and pursue more satisfying and professionally challenging career paths.

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