If you’ve used the saying, work smarter, not harder, you’re likely seeking ways to improve the quality and quantity of work without extra time and monetary investments. And if that old adage works for people, it should work for industrial robots, too. After all, automation is a huge investment and must be frequently customized to meet increasingly shortened product cycles. So, industrial robots that can change jobs with virtually no lost production time for retooling and setup have become a strategic lever for manufacturing.
Every company that develops products looks for ways to decrease manufacturing costs. Sometimes, a manufacturing partner is chosen solely on cost. But the strategic landscape has shifted. Forward-thinking manufacturers, armed with mature and advanced technologies baked right into their robots, provide much more than a mere cost-controlled service.
Flexible automation encompasses a diverse set of manufacturing principles that accommodate multiple robots and processes that can be reconfigured with minimal downtime and cost. Therefore, when your product needs an upgrade, robot systems can quickly absorb large-scale changes in volume, capacity and capability.
Flexible assembly is just getting started. Current systems can be reconfigured quickly, adapt to new requirements easily, and increase quality, but the future promises something even more compelling: Artificial Intelligence.
Researchers at the University West in Sweden created an automation scheme where robots adapt to external conditions by making decisions. In fact, the robots work independently from other machine equipment except for a shared connection to an intelligent software program. The intelligence built into the system allows robots and machines to adjust the process when something goes wrong, continuing to work as they adapt to changing demands. Best of all, the system operator doesn’t have to be a programmer — simple instructions resembling a PowerPoint sketch is all that is needed. From there, the system generates the software “agents” it needs to communicate with all of the machines in the system.
Right now, manufacturers are redefining their roles in the economic landscape. Once viewed as a commodity, forward-thinking manufacturing partners increasingly leverage amazingly sophisticated technologies to create strategic long-term advantages for customers. Utilizing flexible automation that minimizes initial investments and retooling costs, manufacturing partners offer customers considerable long-term differentiation from competitors. And it gets better.
Because manufacturers are peering into the future, they’re working with researchers to develop increasingly flexible and intelligent systems. But it isn’t just about the number of robots — it’s about strategy.
What will manufacturers do with the robots they’ve got? When choosing a manufacturing partner, don’t forget to ask, “What can your robots do?”