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2020/06/16
Collaborative Robots And The 4 Cardinal Questions For Successful Adoption

Cobots can be a game changer for companies, especially for those preparing for the next phase of growth when the economy recovers. Here are four key questions when considering where cobots can be put to work in your facility. Article by Darrell Adams, Universal Robots.

According to ASEAN Key Figures 2019 by the ASEAN Secretariat, manufacturing by foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow was 35.6 percent and contributed 36.6 percent to the region’s GDP. While manufacturing remain a key contributor to many of ASEAN’s member nations, there is an impetus to move up the manufacturing food chain for higher value manufacturing. High value manufacturing demand more investments, not only in automation and digitalisation, but also in skilled labour. All these investments are draining on small, medium and even larger sized manufacturers in this region due to cashflow. The manufacturing hub of ASEAN is also eroded by LATAM (Latin America) and the rising South Asia and Africa. 

Small and mid-sized manufacturers can be especially hard hit by sudden changes such as economic volatility, intense competitive pressure, seasonal demands or even an unexpected global crisis, like the current COVID-19 pandemic. When labour requirements increase or decrease drastically, having the ability to ramp up production when demand is high and remain sustainable during downtime is crucial.

For these companies, having a workforce supported by collaborative robots or cobots, would be a dream come true.

Cobots are the best assistants in the Industry 4.0 wave

Cobots are part of the Industry 4.0 revolution we are deeply entrenched now. With the notion of Industry 4.0, we are now experiencing the emergence of what some practitioners and researchers term “operator 4.0”. This means that with an advanced technological revolution in manufacturing, human operators must also rise up to meet the exacting demands of such an advanced manufacturing paradigm. With industrial robots and cobots, human operators need to be able to program such machines, and work with them.

Made to be affordable and easy to program even for small batch production runs, cobots today are smart and agile tools for small medium and large companies to quickly adapt to fast changing economic situations and labour demands.

Unlike traditional robot automation which requires difficult programming, long set-up time, and takes up valuable space, cobots can be easily programmed by workers in the production line for simple tasks without expertise in robotics or programming. For more complex applications, certified system integrators and authorised training centres will guide the team through the initial installation, and workers handle the day-to-day operation afterwards. Cobots are also safe to be placed next to humans without the need for much space or a cage. A risk assessment by experts will be made prior to deploying without fencing, to ensure the placement complies with safety standards.

Cobots can be a game changer for companies, especially for those preparing for the next phase of growth when the economy recovers. And cobots are symbiotic with human operators and do NOT replace them. This means that cobots will not replace humans, but supplement and assist them. Cobots have even made themselves into integrative and assistive technologies for surgeons in operating rooms.

However, most small and mid-sized manufacturers, do not have an army of automation engineers to manage this process, hence what I hear most often is “How can I get started?” Each company is, of course, different, but there are some key questions that manufacturers can ask themselves when considering where cobots can be put to work.

  1. Which employees are not smiling due to menial and repetitive tasks?

If a person’s expression or body language reflects boredom, frustration or apathy, it is a good bet that you are not taking advantage of the full potential they have to add real value to your process.

PT JVC Electronics Indonesia (JEIN) is part of the JVCKENWOOD Group, a global leader in electronic and entertainment products. JEIN manufactures over 400,000 products each month to serve global customers. Turnaround time (time taken for a product to be produced) needs to be fast, with minimal defects, to consistently meet this production target. 

When JEIN added seven units of Universal Robots’ UR3 cobots to increase productivity and achieve consistent output quality, it proved to be a game changing move.

The adoption of cobots lessened the burden on workers to perform menial and repetitive tasks, including separating cut pieces of a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) and attaching a glass display on the car stereo units. The cobots also stabilised takt time, the cycle time of a specific process, while reducing the time per task by half.

“Through the adoption of cobots, we were able to improve production efficiency and our output quality is now more stable. With the move towards automation, our manpower can be redeployed to other processes. We have been able to reduce operational costs by more than USD 80,000 yearly,” said Agustinus Simanullang, General Manager, Engineering Division at JEIN.

  1. What tasks are clearly too simple for people to be wasted on?

Think things like putting parts into a box, transferring parts from one line to another, inserting screws, or loading and unloading of a rotary indexing table. If a cobot can do it, why wouldn’t you give the person something more valuable to do?

In Taiwan, with the help of Universal Robots cobots, BTC Mold, an injection moulding company saved over 35 percent of labour cost, solved a serious manpower shortage, and significantly reduced the risk of occupational hazard in the factory. Instead of repeatedly bending down to pack the finished products, causing employees to develop pain in their joints and waists over time, the cobots help do away with these repetitive tasks, and reduced the employees’ risks of occupational hazard caused by extensive period of hard labour.

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