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The Benefits of Implementing Robotics at Your Plant

EmilyNewton
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Plant managers increasingly assess whether robotics implementation could help meet goals and achieve gains in their facilities. Robots can’t address every issue a company faces, but they can bring proven benefits.

Keeping the Output High, During and After the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic brought numerous challenges to industries across the world. For example, social distancing requirements reduced the number of people allowed per area or shift, even when companies experienced increased demands due to consumers’ changing needs. On top of that, confirmed cases at a plant could result in dozens of colleagues needing to self-isolate.

The meatpacking industry was particularly hard-hit, with more than 17,300 workers sickened in April and May 2020 alone. Plastic partitions, protective equipment, and hand sanitizing stations can help stop the spread.

However, meat brand Tyson ramped up its investments in robotic solutions that could perform some of the same jobs that humans do now. They can’t match people’s abilities yet — particularly during highly detailed tasks. Even so, workers currently use other robotic equipment, such as carcass-splitting cutters.

Outside of that sector, robots help plants stay productive with fewer staff members. For example, some types bring goods to different stations, saving workers time and ensuring they remain stocked with the necessary supplies for their jobs. Moreover, robots don’t need breaks. Their output stays consistent, whereas humans typically become fatigued without adequate rest periods.

Reducing Injury Rates

One of the downsides of factory work is that it can cause repetitive motion injuries. People suffering from these often must take time off to rest. In severe cases, they have to assume other roles or leave the workforce.

Fortunately, robotics technology can reduce such instances. At a French glassmaker’s facility, a combination of two robots relieved humans from an arduous process that required polishing each layer of the material. Plant technician Christophe Legeay explained how the new approach helped workers. “It allowed them to no longer experience vibrations in their shoulders or perform repetitive movements. The installation of the robot was more than welcome.”

Robots do not always replace what humans do. However, if they reduce the number of repeated motions people perform, the chances for injuries could drop. Additionally, bringing robots into a plant typically requires setting aside ample time for programming a robot and helping employees get used to working around it.

Filling Gaps in the Second Shift

Plants that manufacture essential goods typically can’t only operate during 9-to-5 business hours. That’s why human resources personnel often hire people for additional shifts. For example, some people assigned to the second shift start in the mid-afternoon and work until midnight at some plants, then third-shift workers arrive after them to handle the overnight hours.

Working the second shift brings various benefits. For example, employees usually enjoy a significant pay differential to compensate for the odd hours. Assuming a second-shift position may also make it easier for a worker to accommodate child care needs or have smoother commutes due to sparser traffic. Even when companies have second shifts, labor needs may remain. In such cases, robotic implementation can meet those outstanding requirements.

For example, Interstate Lab Group makes prescription lenses. Vice president of production Ted Mabry noted, “You can get time-consuming things done on the second or third shift instead of being down during the day. We close down for maintenance during the second-shift lunch break.” The company supplements its workforce with a robotic system.

Similarly, at Pesch Optical, a representative says multiple shifts improve equipment payoff. That enterprise depends on robotic implementation for lens surfacing and inspection.

Avoiding Costly Disruptions

The most profitable plants are often those that run with the fewest interruptions. Installing robotic equipment at a facility could help companies cope with instances that ordinarily cause lengthy downtime periods.

By 2017, General Motors had connected about a quarter of its 30,000 robots to the internet. Representatives found that doing this prevented the potential failures of 100 vehicle-assembling bots in two years. More specifically, data sent to cloud servers for analysis alerted people to problems and urged them to act before breakdowns caused assembly-line stoppages.

Such issues previously caused downtime spanning up to eight hours. For example, besides diagnosing a problem with faulty equipment, a factory manager may need to install a replacement machine. Many of today’s robots include intelligent predictive maintenance sensors. They notify people of potential abnormalities, plus let them see which lines or factory areas are most productive.

Enhancing Quality Control Efforts

Keeping product quality high in a plant is essential. For example, if a regular client notices that about a quarter of their past purchases had quality issues, they may look for other companies to meet their needs. Then, if a person is deciding whether to make a first-time purchase, reading reviews or otherwise hearing about the quality issues could make them hesitant.

Some company decision-makers realized that investing in robots could significantly assist in quality control. For example, some of those machines include computer-vision cameras that can spot defects humans would miss. Robotic equipment also does not become distracted or tired as humans could and do. Robots do not take people out of the equation, but they often free them to do more rewarding tasks without sacrificing quality.

Hanover Displays makes digital passenger transport signage. Once the company experienced a sizable demand increase for printed circuit board assemblies, representatives began investigating whether automated equipment could help with some quality control needs. The resulting collaborative robotic implementation evaluated 156,000 of the components and ran for 1,400 hours independently at night.

Moreover, workers took the robot’s data and used it to make process improvements that led to a first-time pass rate of 94% to 99.5%.

Strategic Implementations Bring the Most Success

Many company leaders feel pressured to introduce robotic equipment into operations because they know competitors have already done it. The desire to remain competitive in a challenging marketplace is often a factor that causes people to move forward with investing in robots.

However, it’s even better if people in leadership roles also have specific ideas about what robots could help them achieve. What problems exist for robots to address? Having those aspects in mind is vital for enabling companies to make the most of the choice to deploy robots.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing articles for the tech and industrial sectors. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily at https://revolutionized.com/subscribe/

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