Manufacturing industries are increasingly turning to industrial robots to optimize production processes, reduce costs, and address labor shortages. The integration of robots into manufacturing facilities has become more flexible and affordable, enabling existing workers to focus on higher-level tasks that enhance productivity. While many small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) are considering implementing industrial robots, the process can seem daunting. However, by following a few key steps and considering expert advice, manufacturers can successfully integrate their first robot and reap the benefits of automation. In this guide, we will explore the automation journey from concept to reality, outlining the best practices for implementing your first robot in the manufacturing industry.

Step 1: Building company-wide support

cobotsBefore embarking on the robot integration journey, it is crucial to gain company-wide support. Engage with senior management, plant managers, engineering teams, maintenance personnel, IT experts, safety managers, shop floor staff, and HR representatives to ensure that everyone understands the potential of robotic automation. Educate stakeholders about the short return on investment (ROI) of robotics, dispel concerns about job replacement, and emphasize the opportunities for employees to focus on quality control and higher-value tasks. By fostering a shared understanding and enthusiasm for robotics, you can lay the foundation for a successful implementation.

Step 2: Defining success criteria

To manage expectations and measure the success of your robot integration project, it is essential to establish clear criteria for success. One of the most important factors to consider is the ROI, with an average payback period of two years. However, success goes beyond financial considerations. Consider the potential for increased production, reduced cost per part, and improved worker safety. Industrial robots can work consistently and quickly, increasing production output and reducing labor costs. They also minimize the risk of personal injury, leading to cost savings associated with worker compensation, insurance, and hiring/training replacements. By defining success criteria, you can evaluate the impact of robot integration and ensure that it aligns with your goals.

Step 3: Assessing your robotic needs

Before diving into the integration process, carefully evaluate your manufacturing processes to determine where robotics can make the most significant impact. Assess the tasks that are repetitive, dangerous, or require high accuracy. Robots excel in these areas, allowing humans to focus on complex tasks that require human senses and judgment. Break down the tasks to be automated and consider the specific operations involved. For example, instead of thinking about a task in a broad sense, such as tightening screws, break it down into individual steps: removing the screw, placing the product on the jig, placing the screw in the designated location, tightening the screw, picking the finished product, and placing it in a box. By understanding the fine details of each task, you can design a robot-conducive environment and optimize the integration process.

Step 4: Creating a robot-conducive environment

To ensure a smooth integration process, it is crucial to create an environment that supports the operation of industrial robots. Consider the space requirements for the robot and any additional equipment or tools needed. Plan for storage space for equipment before and after the automated process to prevent delays. Design a realistic process flow that incorporates the tasks preceding and following the automated process. This macroscopic perspective will help you visualize the smooth flow of workers, robots, parts, products, space, and time throughout the production line. By creating a conducive environment, you can maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your robot integration.

Step 5: Partnering with experts: robot system integrators

Implementing your first robot can be a complex process, and seeking guidance from experts can greatly facilitate the journey. Robot System Integrators such as DIY Robotics are specialized engineering firms that can assist you in planning, designing, and deploying robotic systems. They act as intermediaries between you and the robot manufacturer, ensuring a seamless installation process. Collaborate with integrators to conduct preliminary meetings, field observations, and requirements analysis. Share your budget, schedule, cycle time requirements, workspace constraints, and other specifications to ensure a comprehensive understanding of your needs. Robotics Integrators will help you select the right robot and design a system that meets your specific requirements.

Use our payload calculator, available here, to accurately determine the robot’s lifting capabilities. The DIY Robotics payload calculator anticipates the moments and inertia that your designed end-of-arm tooling will apply to your robot, ensuring optimal performance. It is an invaluable tool for making informed decisions about your robot’s payload capacity.

Book an appointment with our team to receive personalized support for your robotic integration needs. DIY Robotics is committed to providing expertise and solutions to make your robotic journey a success.

Step 6: Implementing the robot system

Once the details of the system are established, a risk assessment is conducted based on the basic design. This ensures the safety of the robot and its compatibility with your manufacturing processes. Afterward, the manufacturing and programming of the robot system commence. The design drawing of the entire robot system is completed, followed by manufacturing, testing, delivery, and installation. However, the journey does not end there. Even after successful deployment, ongoing support and maintenance are critical. Robot manufacturers and Robot Integrators provide customer support, regular inspections, and assistance in case of failures. Establish a long-term relationship with your partners to ensure the smooth operation of your robot system.

Step 7: Calculating costs and ROI

Before implementing a robot, it is essential to evaluate the potential costs and return on investment. Consider the reduced costs associated with human labor, materials, and rework. Calculate the increased production output and the potential for higher profits. Assess the impact on worker safety and the associated cost savings. Additionally, consider the initial investment required for purchasing the robot, accessories, and related equipment. By carefully analyzing the costs and potential savings, you can determine the viability of implementing a robot and develop a budget that aligns with your financial goals.

Step 8: Gathering information for integration

To ensure a smooth and efficient integration process, gather all necessary information before engaging with a robot system integrator. Collect 3-D part models, 2-D part prints with tolerances and material specifications, and work definitions. Provide machine and fixture descriptions, manuals, models, and drawings. Supplement this technical information with pictures and videos that depict the current manufacturing processes. Non-technical information such as TAKT time, process cycle times, and annual volumes can also streamline the integration process. By providing comprehensive information, you allow the integrator to make accurate recommendations and estimates for your robot system.

Step 9: Empowering your team

As you embark on the robot integration journey, it is crucial to involve your existing experts who are familiar with your current processes. These individuals possess valuable insights and can contribute to the success of the automation project. Engage them directly in the implementation process to leverage their knowledge and address any process inconsistencies or challenges that may arise. By empowering your team and building on their expertise, you can ensure a smooth transition to automated processes and maximize the benefits of robot integration.

Step 10: Identifying a robotics champion

To facilitate a successful implementation and ongoing operation, identify a robotics champion within your organization. This individual should have cross-departmental authority and the ability to facilitate collaboration between engineering and production teams. The robotics champion will work closely with the implementation team, learn the system, and ensure that the integration aligns with your goals. They will be responsible for driving rapid ROI and fostering ongoing success in utilizing the robotic system. By having a dedicated champion, you can streamline communication, address any challenges, and optimize the performance of your robot system.

Step 11: Start simple and evolve

Introducing robots into your manufacturing facility brings significant change. To ensure a smooth transition, start with simple robot implementations and gradually evolve your usage. Consider converting a manual cell to automation, training key personnel, and minimizing the impact on production. By starting small and building on early successes, you can incrementally integrate robots into your processes and improve overall efficiency. Take a measured approach, learn from each implementation, and continuously optimize your use of robots to maximize their impact.

Step 12: Continuous improvement and future projects

Implementing your first robot is just the beginning of your automation journey. As you gain experience and success, embrace a culture of continuous improvement. Regularly evaluate your processes, identify areas for optimization, and explore new opportunities for automation. Maintain a close relationship with your robot system integrator and manufacturer, leveraging their expertise for future projects. By fostering collaboration and staying at the forefront of robotics technology, you can continuously enhance your manufacturing processes and stay competitive in the ever-evolving landscape of the industry.

In conclusion, integrating your first robot into the manufacturing process is an exciting journey. By following the steps outlined in this guide, building company-wide support, defining success criteria, assessing your needs, partnering with experts, calculating costs, gathering information, empowering your team, and embracing continuous improvement, you can successfully implement your first robot and unlock the full potential of automation. Get ready for the future of manufacturing, make things more efficient, and take your business to higher levels with industrial robots.