Why production robots are worth a second look

If you are not using production robots, or not planning to, you are not alone according to a report from ifr.org. Whilst worldwide manufacturing is seeing a massive increase in the use of robots, the UK has fallen out of the top 20 user countries.

If you exclude automotive, where the use of robots is a given, the UK manufacturing lags most of Europe. But the use of small production robots is reaching a tipping point. In the same way that electric cars were not viable before lithium cells and new generation electric motors, robots are changing.

With increased use of AI, vision systems and voice control, new generations of robots and cobots are more accessible. UK manufacturing will ned to be more competitive as we tumble out of the EU and loose access to skilled workers. We will need more production robots to stay competitive both at home and abroad.

The use of robots is like most automation. To begin with it is often easier to employ a worker to undertake work. But over time the product unit costs increase as the worker costs increase. If you need more production running time, you need to add another shift worker, but not with a robot. Tasks that operators find unpleasant, and repetitive tasks are another good place to start.

For some tasks, production robots are faster, more reliable, more accurate and lower in cost, delivering repeat accuracy of ±0.02 mm. A huge range of standard hands, grippers and tools are available from mainstream suppliers. Moreover, integrators can help with feeders and special electric or pneumatic tools. With basic robots costing from only £20k, the payback period is very fast. As an example, Riverside Medical Packaging, used a robot helped create a revolutionary new space-saving thermo-packaging machine.

Production robots in clean rooms

The new Shawpak cleanroom thermoforming packaging machine is under 2m in length. However, it can replace a packing line that may stretch out to 20m. This is a reduction of up to 95% in the space occupied by a traditional form fill sealing (FFS) machine.

This enables a producer to install six times more machine in the same cleanroom space. The cost advantages for producer is significant, as the machine frees clean room floorspace for other duties. A smaller clean room environment increases the benefits and reduces the ROI when using one. The result is an increase both productivity and throughput. The resultant Shawpak models are compact thermoforming sealing machines for manual loading. For a more speed and efficiency the design accommodates a second feeder robot.

The main innovation is the forming, packing and sealing process which is now carried-out on a drum, rather than a linear conveyor system. A precision servo controller indexes the rotary motion of the drum, and sealing film. The product and package manipulation use suction.

The innovative Shawpak design also increases versatility and flexibility during packaging operations. Different forming drums with cavities of various dimensions are available. They are simple to removed and replaced to accommodate different packaging. In addition, the new concept ensures using every piece of packaging material. This reduces the waste experienced by other designs from cut packaging material .

Mitsubishi Electric also provided a compact integrated control solution based on the company’s L-Series PLC. It also supplied with servo control and safety modules, HMIs and optional MELFA articulated arm feeder robot.