The idea of mass customisation is that organisations differentiate themselves by tailoring products to meet individual consumer demand. Although an attractive concept, it carries with it an implicit reduction in batch sizes and an increase in uneconomic ‘high-mix, low-volume’ (HMLV) production. New generations of collaborative robots like Mitsubishi’s Assista cobots enable manufacturers to meet the demand yet remain price competitive.
Cobots work in safety alongside and interact with human operators without safety barriers or shielding. Oliver Giertz of Mitsubishi Electric explains how they help manufacturers increase flexibility, boost quality, and lower operating costs.
High-volume production involving repetitive tasks has benefitted from the increased adoption of traditional industrial robots. But the same is not true for HMLV production, which may require several line changeovers in a shift. Moreover, the reconfiguration effort to change from one product to the next can have a big impact on productivity.
For many manufacturers, this means increased reliance on manual labour, which increases operating costs when compared with high-volume automated production. Yet it does not end there. HMLV production requires more stringent quality control processes to counter the chance for production errors increasing as the batch sizes reduce. To overcome these issues, we have to think differently.
New generations of collaborative robots like Mitsubishi Electric’s Assista cobots address the needs of HMLV production. They deliver the required flexibility and the ability to reconfigure processes quickly and without fuss. They are fast and accurate to ±0.03mm and handle delicate routines. Importantly, they can also store many programmes to further simplify line changes to accommodate product variety on the same line.
Assista cobots improved production flexibility
Designed to assist human operators on the shop floor, Assista cobots can take on simple, repetitive and strenuous physical tasks. They offer improved consistency and reliability in manufacturing while enabling humans to concentrate on more complex jobs. Assista cobots are also flexible and adapt to a variety of tasks, from picking and placing to machine tending.
Another benefit of cobots is their ease of programming, enabling frequent redeployment and fast set-up without advanced robotic programming expertise. An example of this is hand-guided teaching. It works by moving the cobot arm to the desired position and pressing the operation button to add it to the operating sequence.
Moving them to a new task is also simple and needs no complex programming. They can also work with touch-screen graphical interfaces for more sophisticated operations.
Digital twinning speeds up deployment
A digital twin can further enhance the speed of set-up and redeployment. It uses a digital representation of the physical cobot, including the virtual capability to evaluate performance. The digital twin simulates cobot interaction to ensure that it can safely and predictably fulfil the desired task before deployment.
By moving towards HMLV production, manufacturers are finding that they can differentiate themselves from their competitors, with the ability to tailor products to specific customer requirements, even in the smallest of batches.
Further, with the ability to quickly switch production to a different product, manufacturers can become more responsive to changes in the market, delivering an additional competitive advantage.
How much do cobots cost?